Buckin? A: Nashville?s link in the G-Unit chain holds his own.

With the percentage of African-American players in Major League Baseball at a 20-year low, the powers that be at MLB should be grateful for any reference to the game in a hip-hop song, no matter how indirect. “Clean Up Man,” one of the stronger tracks on Young Buck’s second release, Buck the World, makes the power hitter’s spot a metaphor for the pressure he feels to succeed now that his teammates on the G-Unit label have whiffed at the plate: The latest albums from Tony Yayo, Lloyd Banks, and Mobb Deep have all had sub-platinum sales. With phrases on “Clean Up Man” like “records ain’t selling” and “took a couple losses,” spirits can’t be too high at the G-Unit clubhouse. But though dipping CD sales aren’t exclusive to 50 Cent’s inner circle, Young Buck seems to be taking on the task of repairing the damage personally: “I can carry the weight, 50 just put it on my shoulders/G-Unit is the gang, and I’m a motherfucking soldier,” he raps. The crew’s lone Southern member stands out by tempering his street bravado with grim gravitas; the album has just one party anthem, “Puff Puff Pass,” a predictably laid-back collaboration with reggae scion Ky-Mani Marley. Otherwise, “Buck the World” features guest artist Lyfe Jennings crooning the phrase “Fuck the world” (Buck’s intended title for the album) and offering depressing details of a failed custody battle. On “Slow Ya Roll,” Young Buck cautions about growing up too fast, rapping, “Live life, young people/Quit tryin’ to be grown.” Topical bummers aside, the overall tone of Buck the World is more rambunctious than depressing. “Get Buck,” boosted by Polow Da Don’s bouncy, brassy production, is an early highlight. (And its lyric, which references a “Tennessee Titan” and “making it rain,” is eerily prescient of the legal run-in that pro footballer and fellow Cashvillian Adam “Pacman” Jones had earlier this year.) “Hold On,” featuring Dr. Dre’s relaxed, blaxploitation-theme-inspired production, is the best song on the album, though it would’ve been nice if the track gave more room for Young Buck to establish his own identity instead of spotlighting 50 Cent. Still, Young Buck has kept the filler tracks, pointless skits, and obligatory collaborations to a minimum. Most rap albums have an average below the Mendoza Line, but Buck the World has more good tracks than bad; it may not single-handedly save the G-Unit squad, but it’s a big league performance.