Philly emcee Reef The Lost Cauze has been paying his dues in the indie rap scene for the better part of this decade. Along with releasing a solo album every couple years since 2001, he’s also shown that he knows how to be a team player: his album with the Chief Kamachi-led JuJu Mob garnered critical love, and his membership with Army of the Pharaohs [click to read] put him in the company with east coast indie heavyweights like Apathy [click to read], Celph Titled and Vinnie Paz of Jedi Mind Tricks. Reef‘s fourth solo record, A Vicious Cycle, has everything that Reef fans have grown to love, but it’s not without its flaws.

Reef is at his best when displaying conceptual wit alongside his nimble flow, or pumping lyrical calisthenics over beats that can keep up. The fun, woodwind-heavy “Big Deal” sees him boasting about his skills, and Marco Polo serves up a surreal, dusty instrumental for “I Wonder,” on which Reef links music to other important areas of his life. “Amnesia” angrily laments about funny-acting friends, and despite its sigh-worthy song title, “Thug Fantasy” [click to listen] is actually a poignant breakdown of mislead goals throughout the ‘hood. “Nat Turner” sees him rhyming as the storied slave who slaughtered slave owners, and “Bad Lieutenant” is a meticulous portrayal of crooked cops.

Unfortunately, Reef‘s absolutely inept when it comes to songs concerning the fairer sex. He sticks to his guns and continues to use his usual dreary production while talking about women; and while this approach is an admirable alternative to blatantly dumbing down for an audience, these songs sound equally uninspired. “Not That Easy” shoots for seductive but lands on boring, with its unbearably bad backdrop and hook. “Listen To Me” fairs slightly better, but still fails with a beat that doesn’t fit the song very well. Insipid punchlines like “I glide by you like the strip at the airport” don’t help his cause, either.

Despite A Vicious Cycle‘s quality material and its horrendous material, its biggest flaw is that too much of it falls right in the middle. There aren’t many beats here that are noteworthy standouts, and the album gets off to a slow start, with most of its first half sounding like filler material. He picks up the slack by putting songs like the aforementioned “Bad Lieutenant,” “Nat Turner” and “Amnesia” at the end–unfortunately, a lot of listeners may not make it that far. More balanced sequencing, trimmed fat and a few more guest shots (the Termanology [click to read] and King Magnetic-featured “Gone” [click to read] bangs) would’ve made A Vicious Cycle better, but as is, it’s a solid album that’s worth the listen if you can pick and choose your offerings.