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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 star 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. A dark, harrowing listening, Luca Brasi is about as perfect a calling card as one could hope for. —David Drake