The Animal (A.O.C.)

Twenty-seven-year-old Marcus Moore -- a.k.a. Marko-V -- is not quite gangsta and not quite "conscious," and that's what makes him so cool. His debut album, The Animal, was entirely produced by Kenautis Smith, the local luminary with Kanye West-caliber skills. "When you study some of the greatest albums in all of hip-hop," says Moore, "they all come from one person or one selected group, instead of a whole bunch of 'hot' producers. Like Public Enemy, how they had stuff with the Bomb Squad." True to Moore's boast-by-association, The Animal is the best St. Louis hip-hop album so far this year -- just listen to "Pseudo-Thug," where a Dre-like Casio hook surrounds rhymes as sharp as TV-advertised Japanese knives. Moore currently pays the bills through an apprenticeship at Woodbyrne Cabinetry ("A premier architectural woodworking firm in our region"), but he says he's in the rap game to win it. "I read the Riverfront Times," he says, "and y'all interview quite a few people, but I haven't seen too many take that next step. I don't know if they give up, or what happens, but you can definitely say I intend to make it."

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