The latest member out of Ludacris‘ DTP camp is Willy Northpole [click to read], and with a title like Tha Connect, one can already tell what kind of outing it’s going to be. The question is, does Northpole‘s album fall prey to present-day Hip Hop’s played out conventions, or does the Phoenix rapper get it right?

Willy Northpole takes a page out Ludacris‘ [click to read] book with an intro that hits the ground running. The subsequent “Hood Shit” is exactly what you think it’s about, but Willy ends up throwing a bit of a curveball with “The Story,” which does an excellent job of recounting his experiences with G-Unit and DTP: “…and then I got a call from Fif/ We talked for an hour, he was real as shit/ We flew to his house and I stayed a while/ But it was niggas in his house that was kinda foul/ Everybody wanted to rap, so the hate was out/ They told Fif I was selling drugs at his house/ I’m like, ‘what the fuck’ – won’t fuck your name on the song/ But dude was the homie, and he knew he was wrong

Next is an irritating and pointless skit; fortunately, the extremely hard “Body Marked Up” is the perfect remedy. The heavy horns and Lil Wayne [click to read] sample used in the chorus are perfectly offset by the minimalistic production during Northpole‘s laid-back verses. It appears Willy is determined to sabotage his own album, though, as he follows it up with the trite “Hood Dreamer” [click to view], which is beyond clichéd.  “Feeling Alright” is a welcome change, choc-full of humor and some nice guitar strums.

Former DTP member Bobby Valentino [click to read] joins in on “#1 Side Chick,” and isn’t the worst entry in the sad annals of “thug love” history, though that doesn’t say much. As for the rest, “Vegas Lights” has some enjoyable funk while the Ne-Yo-assisted [click to read] “The Life” is redundant, though slightly better than the Bobby V. outing. Things get a little introspective at the end with “Religion,” and the supposed Tupac tribute “Heaven,” though neither is groundbreaking.

Much like his contemporaries, Willy Northpole rarely strives to distinguish himself from the pack. Neither blessed with the production that Young Jeezy [click to read] receives or with the deftness on the mic possessed by T.I. [click to read], Northpole doesn’t do much to help his case that Tha Connect is a classic. With a unique voice, occasional forays into storytelling, and some instances of quality production, Tha Connect just manages to surpass average – but not by much.