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It’s lunch time at Suitland High School and someone’s pounding a makeshift beat on the wooden cafeteria tables. Truth Hall and I have just finished our semi-regular routine: debating about some off-brand hip-hop album, then finding a place to rap within the vast Prince George’s County school.

I’m on my usual bullshit—-rhyming about nothing in particular and thinking it sounds dope. Truth listens, nods in approval, then spits a verse focused well beyond his teenage years. Little did I know that he and his two brothers—-known collectively as Gods’Illa—-would eventually drop one of the D.C. region’s most important projects, CPR—-The Blend Tape, hosted by prominent soul singer Erykah Badu.

How that happened is still somewhat of a mystery. “One day, I saw on Twitter that I agreed to do something with y’all, and I didn’t remember agreeing to it,” Badu says toward the end of the tape. “Then I asked for the music, and I guess it was fated.”

Released last Tuesday, the 21-track mixtape is full of memorable one-liners, traditional boom bap and cosmic rhythms, topped with Badu’s musings about the world’s perils and life’s “beautiful struggle.” Blend Tape blazes a new trail for mixtapes, showing local rappers that hip-hop shouldn’t strictly rely on glossy, radio-friendly beats to gain exposure. There’s still room for country music, assertive wordplay, and innovative concepts.

That’s not to say other local MCs aren’t pushing the creative envelope. Kokayi, a D.C. hip-hop pioneer, trots the globe to showcase his eclectic brand of alternative hip-hop. The Cornel West Theory, with its polarizing blend of intellectual rap, has cornered the conscious market. But Blend Tape is an all-in effort, and arguably the DMV’s most refreshing hip-hop release since Diamond District‘s In The Ruff. That album, released two years ago, told a story of despair in D.C. and its suburbs. Much like In The Ruff, the Blend Tape is authentic and lyrical, carried by the passion and raw talent of three impressive MCs with something noteworthy to say.

Above all, the Blend Tape is another step in Gods’Illa’s growth. In summer 2009, the Forestville trio dropped The PreLease, a six-track EP that served as a decent introduction, even if the material only showed flashes of the group’s potential. Eight months later, Gods’Illa dropped The Album to significant buzz, even if it didn’t make this year-end list (Truth whined about that for a little while). Conversely, the Blend Tape is the year’s best DMV hip-hop project so far, and a game-changer for the local scene. For the most part, mixtapes carry the same format: freestyles over popular beats, throwaway tracks that couldn’t make the album, glitzy singles for radio airwaves. Gods’Illa reminds its peers that artists can break the mold and be successful, and that it takes time to build a solid reputation.