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Who's who among Atlanta hip-hop's new new 

12 reasons to keep your ear to the streets in '08

Battery 5

5 stars

After working with a roster that includes damn near every artist in the various hip-hop cliques that have sprouted up over the past two years – and a few who are beyond it – Battery 5's production is dramatically diverse. From Muffy's candy-coated "Sweet" to Gripplyaz trunk-rattling "Chevrolet," the group of songwriters and producers has been touted as the best production crew to come out of the A since Organized Noize. But without a steady clique of rappers and singers to write for, a la the Dungeon Family, the unit has spread its sound around, making it virtually genreless.

JACINTA HOWARD

Fiona Simone

4 stars

Fiona Simone easily out-rhymes a good portion of the dudes who make up the boys' club of hip-hop. Clinging to the "tomboy" tag, the mohawk-sporting rapper/producer's boastful single "Tomboy Fresh" sums up Simone's style. Her standout 2007 album, Ladies Room 2.0, finds her verbally kicking down doors, aided by songs like her favorite go-to track, "Feeling Some Type of Way." While comparisons to Missy Elliot seem likely, they're not accurate. Though they both share natural charisma, Simone's pen is never outshined by her creativity. And it's always clear that at the end of the day, she's a ferocious MC with a thing or two to get off her chest.

JACINTA HOWARD

Gripplyaz

3 stars

Grip is not a lyrical miracle, and you can tell by his demeanor in songs that he doesn't care what anyone who isn't named Gripplyaz thinks. Backed by speaker-breaking production, his slum swagger rivals that of Sean Paul (of YoungBloodz fame), and conveys the type of attitude that made fellow Atlantan Sammy Sam a legend in his own right. With a lot of his performance catalog sounding like freestyle sessions, releasing more conceptual songs could make him sound more balanced as an artist.

MAURICE GARLAND

Hollyweerd

3 stars

While some people have struggled to figure out the reason behind Hollyweerd's hype, folks eager to showcase their weirdness have flocked to the group's chants to "be different." With performances almost nightly at a handful of venues that have earned Atlanta's eclectic stamp of approval, Hollyweerd has managed to almost instantly garner a cult following driven by its playful, sexual ode, "Weerdo." Though it only has an EP worth of material to speak of (the group just formed in late 2007), it's enough to showcase Dreamer, the Love Crusader, Tuki and Stagolee (whose sax playing should be utilized on more songs) as skilled writers. Yet you can't help but wish the group had given itself a little more time to develop before jumping out there. If its scattered stage show doesn't significantly improve, it runs the risk of becoming a stylish group that helped jump start Atlanta's new hip-hop scene without the substance to make a lasting impression.

JACINTA HOWARD

Labratz

4 stars

The Labratz 2007 debut album, Atlantis Rising, did more than showcase Marty McFly, Leon Rothstein, G-Wiz and Heavy Slim as dope MCs; it introduced the unfamiliar to the classic musicality that Atlanta rap was built upon. With veteran producer Sol Messiah behind the boards, Labratz's progressively militant sound comes to life, as exemplified on the heavy "Grow" and intense "Atlantis Rising." Rather than lean on Sol Messiah's storied production to cover up lackluster rhymes, all four Atlanta natives find their lane and ride it throughout the entirety of Atlantis Rising. On stage, they're still getting in synch with one another, led by the showmanship of McFly and Rothstein, both of whom also made up former duo the Backwudz. We only have to hope Labratz doesn't get lost in the maze of Atlanta's busy new rap scene.

JACINTA HOWARD

Muffy

2 stars

With a name like Muffy (Muffy Cupcakeopia to MySpace searchers), a lead single called "Sweet," and live shows that sometimes include her tossing candy into the crowd, "bubble gum" seems the best description for the hipster clique's favorite girly girl. Based on her recent offerings, Muffy isn't an MC by any stretch of the imagination, but more of a chanter along the lines of Gwen Stefani or Fergie circa '05 or '06. With production from Battery 5, her material-girl content sounds better on wax than live. It paints her as a spoiled yet likable character. Add to that her baby talk on "Rich Girl," and the synthesized "Popular," and you get a carefully packaged sound that's cute enough to be theme music for a suburban high school catfight, but not necessarily for the hip-hop heads for whom she often performs. If Muffy plans to remain relevant, she definitely will have to diversify her subject matter.

JACINTA HOWARD

Sean Falyon

3 stars

Philly-made and Atlanta-paid, Sean Falyon was introduced to the A-town music scene as a member of Bonecrusher's Vanglorious Ent. label. With a voice that cozily falls between Slick Rick and Humpty Hump of Digital Underground, Falyon makes music that's more suitable to bump in the 'Lac in Mosely Park than the Scion outside MJQ. Known to sweat out his Soupy Jones T-shirts during his energetic performances, Falyon had already hit stages in Germany before he touched a mic at Drunken Unicorn. Now moving toward becoming his own entity, Falyon has a voice that will continue to gain notice.

MAURICE GARLAND

Small Eyez

5 stars

A superior MC with insight and charisma, Small Eyez easily lands in the top tier of rappers emerging from the A. His 2006 debut, Vipassana, with the grimy, vintage "Blink," earned him nods from the Okayplayer crowd infatuated with boom bap production and above average lyrics. The Ohio native quickly followed up with 2007's 2Morrow, a collaboration with producer Soul Stirrer, that found him rapping over Stirrer's jazzy production. Small Eyez's advantage doesn't lie in his clear appreciation for rap's golden era, however, but in his unbridled enthusiasm for rhyme. That energy translates wonderfully into tracks like the airy "Cruise Control" and the darker "Mindtricks." Although early on he struggled to find his spot in Atlanta's rapidly changing hip-hop scene, his crew, the Radiant Kids, has slowly begun carving its own niche, earning dibs as the crew to watch in '08.

JACINTA HOWARD

Spree Wilson

4 stars

Spree can be a one-man band when the need arises. The rapper/singer/guitarist switches between punk, alt-rock and hip-hop before listeners even realize he just did all three – often simultaneously. Less traveled ears might complain that most of his songs go in too many directions to find a focus, but the well-traveled ear will hear that's what makes him dope. Pick your poison.

MAURICE GARLAND

Stacy Epps

4 stars

In the early 2000s, Stacy Epps became a darling among Atlanta's alternative hip-hop circle, which was brought to life by MF Doom, D.R.E.S. tha Beatnik, Scienz of Life and Binkis Recs. After splitting to go to law school in California, tour the globe with Bahamadia and release an EP titled Ruff Draft in 2006, the intuitive singer/rapper has returned to Atlanta with a fresh sound. Epps' music doesn't fit easily into Atlanta's new hip-hop landscape, and that ultimately plays to her advantage. She's far more seasoned than most of the acts that are currently bubbling. Drawing influences from Cali's other-ground rap scene, Epps' music is sprinkled with her introspective worldview, the latest example being her Apex-produced, celestial single, "Floatin." Defined by Goapele-styled vocals and adept rhyming, it's the latest proof that Epps can play both sides of the soul/rap fence well.

JACINTA HOWARD

Wil May

3 stars

While many seem to cringe at the label "black hipster," Wil May not only wears it, he shouts it from time to time. His MySpace page has him describing himself as "T.I. meets N.E.R.D. meet Devo." But throwing some Will Smith in there makes it a little more accurate since he's seen smiling more than scowling. His dance-tempo-driven tracks will make your head nod automatically, even when you're hating on it from afar. When his EP, The Frat House Is Like a Trap House, is released this summer, word will spread fast.

MAURICE GARLAND

Yelawolf

5 stars

In his March '08 CL feature, it was said that his knack for making theme-focused CDs was the yin to the yang that was his nomadic upbringing. Well, one listen to Wolf's Alabama twang spitting the kind of "rhyme javelin" that Andre 3000 yearned for 10 years ago kinda makes you happy that he had such a tumultuous life; it makes for great music. While his image and music still seem to confuse and even scare some away, Yela's skill set cannot be denied.

MAURICE GARLAND

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