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When Master P brought Fat Trel into the No Limit fold last year, it was easy to imagine the young D.C. rapper, with his bulky physique and chunky dreads, as some sort of cartoon sea-monster sidekick to the stout-sounding New Orleans rap mogul. But what P described as a partnership indeed played out that way: On Al Capone (a P solo album) and the mixtape New World Order (by Louie V Mob, a trio with P and Atlanta’s Alley Boy), Trel’s laid-back delivery and DMV bravado sounded essential.

The relationship functioned as a sort of industry internship, too, providing crucial seasoning for a rapper whose hometown has no true moguls. At a minimum, the self-styled Fat Fool has developed an appealing brand of certitude, and on his latest solo mixtape, SDMG, even the most questionable choices—including a brand-conscious pop/reggaeton tune, “The Latest,” a ridiculously gaudy strip-club jam, “Singles,” and two radio-rap throwaways, “Xtraordinary” and “My Girl”—are performed with cheeky professionalism. And the tape’s one truly inspired left turn, the bluesy sex joint “Willie Dynamite” (with stoner Smoke DZA and weirdo Danny Brown), sounds perfectly natural: “You know I’m blind, right?/Come get your mind right/Open your mouth, I’m tryin’ to see what your mind like,” Trel drawls, as if he could leave his regular trunk-rattlers behind.

He won’t, of course, but SDMG—which stands for “sex, drugs, money, guns,” emphasis on the sex—freshens up the sonic setting for Trel’s core persona (the vexed, pill-gobbling, horndog trap rapper with a pensive streak) for an era when the too-familiar, pseudomilitant Lex Luger sound is waning. The songs handled by JGramm Beats, an in-demand Canadian who prefers melodic digital basslines and atmospheric synths, provide much of the shift. The title track begins the tape with a jaded, late-night vibe; “Going Crazy,” with its sample of the theme song from the classic short film The Snowman (coke metaphor, yo), is somehow both campy and foreboding; and the mournful but guarded “Niggaz Dying” is a worthy take on the cycle of deadly street violence. All three show Trel at his most cinematic. (JGramm is also one of the executive producers of the project.)

When the topics are more raw and venal (nobody uses the word “pussy” quite like Trel does), the grooves are more orthodox: “No Lamez,” “Money Counting,” “Bitches,” “Shoot,” and other less-than-innovative tracks still crackle with well-selected street energy. Somewhere in between are numbers such as “Touch Her Soul,” in which producer Cardo layers trippy effects over ticky-tack percussion while Trel touts his dick skills, and “Make It Clap,” where the rapper vividly describes a strip-club tableau (“Damn, I got some strippers who be snortin’ lines with some nines on they sides/Them bitches don’t mind firin’”) and producer Lee Bannon gives him the equivalent of a big VIP-room couch.

As usual, Trel is deft with a hook, although there’s nothing quite as instantly memorable as “Benning Road” or “On Top of Your Girl” from 2012’s Nightmare on E Street tape. The most obvious contenders are “Thots,” with its bright, looping melody and supremely dirty verbiage (“I’m-a eat that pussy box”), and a track near the end of the mixtape, “Love My Gang,” in which Trel and his D.C.-based Slutty Boyz crew expound about loyalty over a sedate-but-forward-looking beat by Bass Hedz. It’s a table-setting moment, one that comes as Trel is rumored to have signed with Maybach Music Group, the home of Rick Ross and Wale. That tidbit made the rounds in July, but it hasn’t been confirmed. If it becomes official, SDMG will seem even more like the end of a phase—a perfectly imperfect expression of lessons learned.