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EJ

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1. Swagger may be the single most overused word in the modern hip-hop lexicon. Every other MC can’t shut up about his “swag” anymore. But there’s really no better way to describe the charismatic presence of a rapper like EJ: The guy truly has swagger in spades. The diminutive rapper from West Baltimore left a big impression on the city’s battle-rap scene a couple years ago, winning both the monthly Style Warz competition as well as the SuperStyle Warz tournament against other previous winners. On his new mixtape, The Westside Hustle, the sly wit that won those trophies is on prominent display. And with his loose, conversational delivery, EJ can even make a line as goofy as “shorty got a classic ass, damn, it’s a throwback” work.

More often than not, however, the outlook on Hustle is bleak and contemplative. Though many Baltimore MCs cite the city’s murder rate for the purposes of bragging rights, on “Same Ole Thing” EJ chooses to explore the sadness that comes with such a body count, the year-round mourning rituals: “I’ve been to one funeral, and another and another/ it’s been two so far, about five last summer.” He still finds time to lighten things up, but the results are rarely quite as memorable. On “B’More Girls,” both EJ and local R&B crooner Mykeey engage in an unpleasant bit of experimentation with Auto-Tune technology, resulting in a low-budget T-Pain knockoff. Still, the barrage of insults and punch lines that ends the mixtape, “Bitch Niggaz Pt. 1,” should satisfy fans of EJ’s sense of humor and penchant for turns of phrase.

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