There's a lot that's unusual about local rapper Z-Ro. First, there's his bio: While many rappers have had harsh lives, his stands out even amid that tough competition. His mother died of cancer when he was six, and since then he's been shuttled from relative to relative, shot and imprisoned.

Musically, he has a rare ability to sing and an even rarer willingness to show off his psychic wounds. His current radio hit "I Hate U Bitch" is one of the most vulnerable Dirty South raps you'll ever hear. Sure, the title and the chorus might make it seem like another slab of predictable ghetto misogyny, but this slow, sad jam is anything but. The song's narrator is too crushed to be genuinely angry. He "had no problem being faithful / I loved you so much I hate you / Because you left me, when I needed you the most / So now a bitch, is how I rate you." He helped raise her five kids, not one of whom was his, and is as hurt over the loss of them as he is the loss of the woman, whose own guilt over her two-timing made her accuse him falsely of doing the same. It's a Lifetime movie in a song, and it's wrapped in a nice guitar, keyboard and drum package. (There's even a rock guitar solo at the end and a nod to a Kenny Rogers song in the middle.)

Not that Z-Ro is some kind of oversensitive wuss. On "Crooked Officer," he takes on HPD. The cops in Z-Ro's world exist only to hinder and oppose, not to serve and protect. "Every time I had a flat, they'd just pass me by," he raps. "And if I was laying on the ground, they'd never ask me why / But when I'm looking great, and rolling in something they can't pronounce / They looking for any reason, not to let a nigga bounce / Whether expired registration, or inspection stickers / The only thing be on they mind, is we gon' get them niggaz."

Elsewhere, Scarface lends his vocal muscles to the slinky "These Niggaz," the album's funkiest track; "Why" serves up a fine example of ghetto paranoia; and "So Much" offers up another killer guitar-based track in an album full of them. Joseph McVey's Life might be hard for him to live, but it sure is easy for us to listen to.

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