After further confirming his status as one of the best emcees in the game last year with the instant classic I Pledge Allegiance to the Grind II, Killer Mike [click to read] decided to do something admirable and create a definitive document of the current Rap scene in Atlanta. While there is no doubt that the city has its share of great rappers, many of which feature here, this collection makes it apparent that it also, as with any city, has its share of mediocre artists. At 32 tracks spread over 130+ minutes, Underground Atlanta is both a testament to the greatness of Atlanta and a chore to listen to. More than half the album features the production work of Brandon Matthews, and though he delivers several solid tracks his over reliance on blaring synths and stuttering drums can make the songs bleed together creating an at time monotonous listen. Also as frequently happens with any compilation the work of the great artists magnifies the limitations and faults of the lesser ones. For every memorable hook there is a forgettable one and for every inspired verse there is one riddled with clichés and delivered half-heartedly.
As far as highlights go there are several. First single “I’mma Fool With It” [click to listen] features Killer Mike going insanely hard as usual and Big Kuntry King matching his intensity verse for verse. Energy and dedication are what separates the good from the bad here. Gangsta Pill doesn’t say much on “Bunkin’” but damn if he doesn’t sound completely sure of what he does say, and it’s infectious, as is the goofy, bright backing track produced by Grade A Muzik. “In the Kitchen” [click to listen] is another highlight, featuring an electric piano line throughout and playful lyrics about cooking crack from OJ Da Juiceman and Killer Mike. Princess keeps up with the boys on her featured track “Stuntin’ Like a…,” her delivery is so forceful she puts a lot of the male emcees on display her to shame. “My Money” sticks close to Matthews' standard blueprint but strong verses from Mike and Soulja Boy [click to read] make it a standout. Soulja Boy seems to be continuing his attempt to shed his kiddy-pop image by aligning himself with more respected emcees, and here he delivers, though that will be hard for many people to believe or accept. Gucci Mane [click to read] continues his winning streak on “Trunk,” though it is slightly below the high bar he has set recently set for himself on various mixtapes and guest spots. Closing track “Niggas Down South [Remix]” would be really be something to talk about if T.I. [click to read] had bothered to sound like he cared to be given such a prestigious position on his hometown’s showcase. As it is the track is redeemed by Killer Mike and a phenomenal verse from the always reliable Bun B [click to read]. He may not be from Atlanta, but his influence is evident on so many artists here that his presence feels appropriate.
Unfortunately, the highlights make up less than half the album. Rich Kidz' cartoonish “Bowling” grates after only a few seconds with a chorus that is catchy in the same way a jingle is. But it is nothing compared with Travis Porter’s “Freaky Girls” one of the more irritating tracks of the year. Champ Squad and Dem Get-a-way Boyz deliver sleepy, by-the-numbers posse cuts backed by Matthews' formulaic production on “Charge It” and “Put On”, respectively. B.o.B. [click to read] gets a solo platform on “Generation Lost” and completely squanders it with clichéd “state of Hip Hop” lyrics which actually rhyme “Rap” and “crap.” Pastor Troy’s manic “I Want War” also falls in the tediously loud and needlessly busy category that too many of Underground Atlanta’s tracks inhabit.
The real star here is, no surprise, Killer Mike himself and his appearance makes nearly every song he is on a worthwhile couple of minutes. It says something about the album that one of best tracks, the triumphantly incredulous “2 Sides” [click to listen], is from Pledge Allegiance II. If more people had taken their cue from their host and his impossibly intense approach then this collection could have been something more than what it is: an uneven portrayal of a vibrant city.