Slim Thug 

Already Platinum (Star Trak/Geffen)

Lil' Flip's 2004 disc U Gotta Feel Me helped put Houston's mammoth rap scene on the national map, but the city was not behind him: The fiercely independent rap community there accused Flip of pandering to his major-label bosses. Watching this unfold, fellow Houstonian Slim Thug quietly signed with the Neptunes' imprint, Star Trak -- a smart move, given that the production team's consistently platinum sales give them freedoms that Flip's Sony handlers did not possess. Slim's resulting debut, Already Platinum, indeed lacks R&B-crossover bullshit or forced collaborations and has room for the creeping "Diamonds" -- complete with certified screwed-up hook -- and "Boyz N Blue," a posse cut with his crew. The Neptunes do produce eight songs on Platinum, but Chad and Pharrell bring in outside help -- crazy-ass superproducer Jazze Pha shows up twice, for better or for worse -- and know when to get out of the way and let Slim be himself. Fortunately, he still kills on the Neptunes' shiny funk. The title track has a haunting feel to it, with his voice slightly pitched down, while the somber real-talk jam "This Is My Life" is amazing -- despite barely even sounding like the Neptunes. Either way, this collab is ill. Welcome to Houston.

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