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Lots of discerning hip-hop heads dig Lil' Flip and can't tell you why. They acknowledge that his rhymes are nothing special, his subject matter (the science of pimpology, the arts of cocking Glocks and slangin' rocks) tired. Still, they keep buying his records and wondering first why they bought them and then why they enjoy them so much.

As with Snoop Dogg, it's his instantly recognizable voice, his million-dollar lady-killing Down South drawl. Flip is at his best when that drawl is front and center on fairly minimalist numbers like the insanely catchy -- or is it catchily insane -- Pac Man-driven single "Game Over (Flip)," wherein he delivers his rhymes amid a barrage of call-and-response choruses, kind of like his hits from the old days such as "I Can Do That" and "The Way We Ball."

But there's too little of that, and Flip's voice is drowned by too much filler on this double-disc set that should have been distilled down to a single disc. Throughout, Flip seems to be trying to have his cake and eat it too -- he wants to break through to the mainstream while retaining his status as an underground legend. He wants Chingy money and Bun B cred. Thus there are guest shots from the likes of Ludacris and Cam'ron. Neither of them works all that well, and they seem to be attempts at breaking Flip in Atlanta and New York.

What you won't find are any guest shots by Houston rappers. Someone at Sony apparently decided that the best way for Flip to break through was not to have him conquer the country with the Houston sound that got him this far, but to fiddle with that sound until it sounded like something more generically crunk and Southern. He may represent the 713 and Cloverleaf with his clothes and tats, a couple of screw tracks and a few shout-outs in his rhymes, but he didn't drag anybody else into the national spotlight with him, and that's a wasted opportunity and a shame.

Still, there's few more worthy tracks on U Gotta Feel Me, most notably "Represent" and "Ain't No Nigga," the two David Banner collabos. Flip's icy cool and Banner's near-rabid growls go together well, as the smash old-school-style single "Like a Pimp" demonstrated last year. But with 85-plus minutes of total run time, U Gotta Feel Me's highlights are too often lost. Flip has the talent to make the definitive Houston hip-hop record, but to do it he needs to take more chances and enlist some more home folks.

Paul Wall may not take many chances with his subject matter either, but his solo debut, Chick Magnet, is definitely full of Houston's underground rappers: Mike Jones, Bun B, Slim Thug, Hawk and Trae are just a few of the almost 20 guests on the album, though oddly his old potna Chamillion is not one of them. Most of the production is handled by the Mo' Betta Grooves duo ("Pretty" Todd and Calvin Earl), and Flip's favorite team, Play-n-Skillz of Dallas. Wall is supremely confident on the mike and his lines are inventive, and these two strengths help separate him from the pack of his fellow Dirty South denizens. If you've been listening to the Box lately, you've probably already heard Wall's H-town shout-out-iesta "They Don't Know," but arresting and dramatic as it is, it's far from the best track on Chick Magnet. Some of the lesser-known producers contribute the most interesting material. There's Q Stone with his cello-driven "Oh No" here and Drathoven with a reggae-tinged, tuba-blasting "Tryin' to Get Paid" there, and a little rock guitar on the slow jam "Did I Change." All three of those numbers are more appealing than all but "Game Over" on Flip's record, and even if Wall raps mostly about the same old things and lacks Flip's distinctive drawl, his is the more interesting record.


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