New Orleans is roughly 500 miles from Atlanta, but the music emanating from each city makes that distance seem insignificant, the divide too great to be quantified, let alone traversed.

As the N.O. continues to pump out its signature, vacuous “Bout-It” sound, the ATL’s (and the South’s) finest hip-hoppers, OutKast and their stable of like-minded MCs, continue to challenge the boundaries of rap music, and their innovative sound indicates a persistent hunger and curiosity that make the music sincere and the risks taken authentic. Nothing is different simply for the sake of it. The latest manifestation of this admirable restlessness is Monster, the curious, energetic, intriguing debut from Killer Mike that again challenges the status quo.

This record is certainly a rap album, however it neither closely relies on heavy sampling nor programmed drums for its beats. Instead, a battery of instruments – guitar, piano, horn, organ – and an ample supply of synthesized noises make each track unique, many incorporating elements of funk, soul, R&B and rap music.

Radio-friendly single “A.D.I.D.A.S.” is likely as good a song as any to use as an initiation into the realm of Killer, however, fans should not cop Monster if they are expecting 15 songs like the pop ode to intercourse. That warning should not deter listeners, though, because the LP presents so many sounds that every music fan is likely to find several tracks that he or she will really enjoy. In fact, Mike so interestingly blends genres and various sonic elements that many songs will probably unite plenty of people with normally disparate tastes.

Straight hip-hop heads will find “All 4 U” and “L.I.V.E.” two of the better sanctuaries in the storm of rambunctious musical exploration, while less traditional rap listeners may feel comfortable listening to “Akshon” or the album’s hidden bonus track.

All of Mike’s daring does not work out wonderfully, and some songs on the album’s latter half, like “Dragon” and “Sex, Drugs, Rap and Roll,” become either boring or simply too much, overly rich in sound.

For his part, Mike flows well, and energy will become his calling card if it isn’t already. On every track, there is a passion and liveliness that enhances the listening experience; it absorbs fans, making them feel as though they’re riding in the passenger seat on Mike’s musical journey. He’d be best served to veer off towards the sonically gaudy less often, but on the whole, Mike’s initial trip is a fun ride.

3 Stars

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