Release Date: July 16
Label: Young Money Entertainment, Bread Winners Association, Atlantic Records

Kevin Gates has been a regional star for some time, although in the past few months, he's gained a modest amount of national attention. How? First, he spent time on the guest-spot circuit, culminating in a scene-stealing appearance on Pusha T's The Wrath of Caine. He immediately followed that with the dense, impressive The Luca Brasi Story, which took a pretty epic tack for a free mixtape. Gates' mournful gangster fatalism and gift for melody is on full display on his for-pay follow-up, Stranger Than Fiction, an album-before-the-album in the vein of Kendrick Lamar's Section.80.

It hasn't generated the same level of discussion online as its predecessor—not only was Luca Brasi a well-timed, novel record for unfamiliar listeners, but it was free. That said, Stranger Than Fiction is a strong album which should sustain his growing buzz. Like Luca Brasi, it maintains an easy balance between street-oriented tracks, love songs, and songs which split the difference. In particular, don't miss "Strokin," which builds on particularly catchy production from underrated rising producer Dun Deal. —David Drake