Toronto emcee King Reign's debut full-length is a realist window on Toronto life. Sometimes bleak and sometimes hopeful, Reign's lyrics reveal his knack for street poetry as well as a distrust of authority and an arsenal of pop culture references ("Pay my debts like the Lannisters," he says on Promo).
He sounds a lot like Common, and his no-frills, no-bullshit delivery lends legitimacy when he's taking big risks, like adopting the voice of Sammy Yatim on opener Oh No, and telling the sympathetic tale of a bullying victim in Pretty Girl Lost. That said, when he does get expressive - there are moments on Happylaidback when he channels the elastic-voiced experimental rapper Le1f - you wish he'd be playful more often.
The baritone also has a smooth, natural singing voice that he uses effectively throughout, especially on Sincere, which could have been a straight-up R&B song with a couple of tweaks. Throughout, production is laid-back and minimal, with lots of raw piano and pattering drums - Zen, even if the stories he tells are anything but.
Top track: Sincere
King Reign plays Wrongbar Friday (July 11) and the Rivoli on July 17.