Audio Mixer: Ben "Bengineer" Cybulsky.
Recording information: 713 Studios; Cedar Park Recording; DMý; Heritage Mobile Studio; Lab of the Elite; Phat Buddha Productions; The Dugout; The Heritage Club.
Photographer: Samantha Levi.
Like his 2012 effort Rollin' Stone, Stevie Stone's 2015 LP Malta Bend presents itself as a "personal" album where the rapper's brain is sliced open and a difficult history spills out, but here, the self-exploration doesn't seem old, tired, or stale, partly because the good is remembered along with the bad. Part of it is also the St. Louis rapper's somewhat Southern delivery, which isn't all that different from his label boss' -- Tech N9ne's -- style, but the main reason is probably Stone's ability to sing the sufferer's song with style, a debt he owes -- according to the album's long intro -- to his mother, an ever optimistic and often majestic figure. As such, highlight "The Homies" punches through the roof during its verses, then sings the sweet song of unity during its chorus, which honors friends and family. Infectious baller "Run It" is one of the best balances of tough and tuneful since the Terror Squad released "Lean Back," and "Rain Dance" comes 'round with special gruff guest Mystikal tempered by a Native American Choir, although the topic is female ejaculation so expect that title to pay off metaphorically. Speaking of things kids shouldn't come across, highlight "Suicidal" makes "giving the middle finger to the law" sound much cooler and easy than it should, but the moral compass is back for the album's title cut, a rare hip-hop number that honors the working class for how far they can stretch a paycheck. Elsewhere, there are strip bars, fine weed, and all Polo everything, but Stevie Stone is always the master of balance, able to tell his story and see the beauty and worth of everything, and then communicate it with an attractive swagger. Kevin Gates, Tech N9ne, and Ces Cru help him deliver the goods, while skits and interludes keep the album from straying off concept. ~ David Jeffries
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