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4-IZE sets his sights on something different 

The Atlanta-based rapper stays in his own lane

4-IZE may seem a little alien compared to most. When image-conscious artists rushed out to get contacts, he became an advocate for prescription lenses. "Why do I need to wear contacts so that I can be seen as more sexy?" the MC questions. "That's that low self-esteem shit I'm talking about."

And when industry peers started tweeting until their thumbs hurt in an effort to hustle up followers, he scoffed at the underlying implication. "The one thing that bothers me about Twitter is the word 'followers,'" he says. "They never put out a disclaimer, like, 'Make sure you have a reason for people to follow you.'"

But his nonconformist tendencies extend far beyond eyewear and social marketing. Raised on the west side of Chicago, Tony Hayes III started rapping in a group with longtime friend Chris Bridges (Ludacris) while daddy Bush was still in office. But it wasn't until 1999, when he moved down South, that he got serious about his rap career. He also made several notable appearances on Luda albums, including Back for the First Time and Word of Mouf. And in '07, he dropped a long-awaited solo album, Fantastik, which instantly cast him as one of the city's best kept secrets.

While Atlanta rap has been defined by trendiness, 4-IZE has always navigated past the Joneses. "Be yourself, always build good relationships and make good music," he advises indie artists, adding that he has no desire to sign with a major label, although people still mistakenly believe he's signed to Luda's Disturbing Tha Peace.

Deal or no deal, he believes his iron is hotter than it's ever been. Fresh off of his acclaimed '09 mixtape, Illuminated Animals, the punch-line king is ready to strike with his sophomore album, AwesoMania, featuring production from 9th Wonder and J.U.S.T.I.C.E League, and appearances by Freddie Gibbs, Luda, Talib Kweli, Lloyd and Young Buck.

"Once you listen to this album, you're almost not going to believe it," he says. "It will be like finding out that aliens exist."

Prepare to break out the tinfoil hats.

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