Label: Bread Winners Association/Atlantic Records

To many, Kevin Gates seemed to come out of nowhere in 2013. In and around his native Baton Rouge, the rapper is a regional hero, a superstar whose music crosses demographic lines, particularly since he was released from prison in early 2012. On the heels of his popular single "Satellites" and a guest spot on Pusha T's Wrath of Caine, The Luca Brasi Story propelled the rapper to a slight form of national attention, as internet "tastemakers" realized that the singing rapper from the boot-shaped state had something to say. 

Gates happens to have a deft ear for hooks, which initially prompted comparisons with Future. But it's as likely that Gates (who has been singing hooks since before Future was a household name) simply shares similar musical influences. And Gates' rap style is considerably more lyrically-oriented: dense with knotty turns of phrase, his rhymes combine emotional heft with craft-conscious poeticism—without sacrificing musicality.

His lyrics demand rewinds to fully process, while his smoke-scarred vocals push every bit of pain to the surface. Dark, harrowing listening, The Luca Brasi Story is the rapper's best offering to date. Now, with an album due out July 16 (he released "4:30 AM" as a lead single in June), we'll see if he can deliver on his impressive promise. But even if he doesn't, Luca Brasi is about as perfect a calling card as one could hope for. —David Drake