Gold Rush: Boosie tries to move units, not crowds.

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Hip-hop critics may still prefer the verbose, behind-the-times stylings of Northerners like Jay-Z and Nas, but Southern rappers have ruled the charts this decade, and Atlanta has settled in as hip-hop’s new capital. But just as the majority of critics are starting to get over their New York bias and get behind Southern MCs such as Lil Wayne, T.I., and Ludacris, a more country, drawling class of rappers—which includes Gucci Mane, Plies, and Lil Boosie—has emerged.

Baton Rouge, La.–bred Lil Boosie is the latest Southern wunderkind to attempt a crossover into the mainstream. He’s been working his way toward becoming a Gulf Coast legend for nearly half a decade and sells out concerts all over Louisiana, Alabama, and Texas. With his squeaky, feminine voice and oft-crude lyrics, he’s less polished than the Southern rappers fans are used to, but he’s received national airplay in the past two years for his appearances on hits like Webbie’s “Independent,” DJ Khaled’s “Out Here Grindin,” and his remix of Foxx’s “Wipe Me Down.”

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More important, Boosie has successfully employed the promotional model perfected by Lil Wayne: By bombarding fans with free albums like Superbad: The Return of Mr. Wipe Me Down and Thug Passion, he has rallied his core demographic of street fans. Even a smattering of critics has begun to notice Boosie’s increasingly sophisticated wordplay, preternatural flow, and tendency to write honest, devastating lyrics. “It was you that helped me feed my children when they needed me,” he raps on “Long Journey,” which discusses his faith in God. “It was you that helped me out with this shit called diabetes.” Boosie’s songs regularly refer to his real life challenges: Only 25 years old, he has six children by four women, and after being pulled over in East Baton Rouge last year with marijuana and a gun in his car will likely serve at least a year in jail (sentencing is set for Nov. 9).

His mixtapes have thoroughly primed the pump for his second studio album, Superbad: The Return of Boosie Bad Azz, which touches equally on his successes and his problems. “Fresh off the project steps it’s Boosie/We went from shooting Uzis to shooting movies,” he raps on “Lawd Have Mercy. “Parked in the school with a tool and a bag of weed/Never knew that the feds would be after me.” Unfortunately, for the most part the album lacks the intensity of his mixtapes.

In a commercially-savvy attempt to appeal to the female rap fan demographic, he has a number of slower, romantically themed tracks here, which feature lines like, “I miss sippin’ on your daiquiris/I miss your macaroni and cheese,” from “Miss Kissin’ on You.” The rap ballads aren’t all bad or so sappy and silly; “Who Can Love U,” with a soaring melody and inspired chorus, courtesy of R&B singer Bobby Valentino, makes it an album highlight.

The disc’s biggest problems are unimpressive, logged verses from Boosie’s lesser-talented Trill Entertainment label mates Foxx, Lil’ Trill, and Lil Phat, as well as the subpar beats supplied by cohorts BJ and B Real (who should not be confused with the Cypress Hill rapper). Their tinny drums and recycled-sounding synth lines feel amateurish and certainly don’t belong on an album that could potentially sell well. (One exception is B Real’s “Loose As A Goose,” which is delirious, aggressive fun.)

The best beats come from Atlanta’s Nard & B, Boosie’s crewmate Mouse, and Orlando’s the Runners, whose “My Avenue” supplies the necessary bounce to permit Boosie to string together a series of uptempo verses. Boosie almost always sounds better when he’s rapping fast, which sadly is not often on Superbad. Further, the songs feel guarded and formulaic, and they fail to display the honesty and lack of inhibition of his mixtapes.

Perhaps it’s understandable that someone so young, with such a heavy burden, would try to break through to the mainstream by sticking to the script. But that’s not why so many people fell for Boosie Bad Azz, or the rap of the South, in the first place.