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CD Review: Lute's West1996 

There's something brewing in the North Carolina hip-hop scene. More than a handful of artists are percolating just underneath the national radar, grabbing attention with music that's true to Southern upbringing but compelling enough for wider consumption. Add rapper Lute to a list of notables that includes Charlotte's Deniro Farrar, Durham's Joshua Gunn and Raleigh's J. Capri.

Born and raised in Charlotte, 22-year-old Lute's initial mixtape offering, West1996, is refreshingly rugged, smooth in delivery and ultimately engaging despite its narrow point-of-view. Part of West1996's charm is its familiarity. Between references to everyday sightings on Rozzelles Ferry and Beatties Ford roads and the city's gentrification and lack of community, his aesthetic is one natives his age should know well.

Steeped in all things Queen City, the rapper brings you into his westside world, spitting tales of his Charlotte upbringing and the city's underbelly over a musical palate ripped straight from the '90s, using beats from producers like Large Professor and J Dilla, who loomed soulfully over that era of hip-hop. From album art to beat selection, it's clear Lute takes musical cues from hip-hop luminaries like Nas and Outkast. His storytelling and delivery pay homage to their styles on the beats he borrowed from them.

In a sense, West1996 is a period piece — a mixtape that skillfully transports you to the mid-'90s while being true and topical to the city. Crafting a project like this, through such a Charlotte-centric prism, should make ears perk up. Imagine the possibilities if the rapper applies the same sort of keen observation to new experiences. In the meantime, as Lute spits on "That's How It Goes," "I do this for you and me, drop classics on classic beats, just trying to spread love and peace but I'm strapped cuz they packing heat."

That's just how it goes in Charlotte.

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