[xrr rating=3.5/5]In the proud hip-hop tradition of smash-everything-in-the-room music that includes such great hardcore skull-stompers as M.O.P. and Onyx, Waka Flocka Flame’s spent the past three years filling rap’s high energy void. While he’s frequently dismissed by the “more hip-hop than thou” crowd, Flocka’s quickly become one of the biggest and most consistent stars in rap today. His gold 2010 single “No Hands” spent over a year on the Billboard charts, and his series of mixtapes last year pleased fans and critics alike. One of his most celebrated songs, “Stereo Type,” breaks down how his roaring juggernaut of a flow stems from learning to vent over the hardships in his life, including his brother’s death and cousin’s HIV. It was Flocka’s most personal moment on record, until the death last December of close friend and labelmate Slim Dunkin. In wake of his passing (a subject he still cannot discuss in interviews while fully maintaining his composure), Flocka gives us Triple F Life: Friends, Fans & Family.

Flocka’s last album, 2010’s Flockaveli was heralded for being the among the most uncompromised rap albums in recent memory. With the then-emerging desolate crunch of producer Lex Luger galvanizing the MC’s soundscape, it was over an hour of nonstop riotous rap, concluding with “Fuck This Industry,” an explanation of how the politics of the music business almost made the album cease to exist. It would have been easy for Flocka to play it safe and just remake the same album, but Flocka’s remained as daring as ever, giving Triple F Life a new sound of its own. Boasting in interviews how he’s lately found the most inspiration in European hip-hop, the album’s tone maintains the unrepentant thump of its predecessor with an added touch of French elements whose surprising inclusion make the album as unpredictable as ever. The piano keys on opener “Triple F Intro” add a classy touch to Flocka’s bulldozing bravado.

If Flocka has one incredible gift as a songwriter, it’s his uncanny ability to write hooks. After one listen, you’ll struggle to read the tracklisting without getting the choruses immediately stuck in your head. There’s an unmistakably jovial tone that Flocka brings to these sing-a-longs, as if he’s the lead character in the toughest Disney movie ever made. Even the most callous of threats and masculine of boasts (such as on “Rooster in My Rari” and “Lurkin”) become fun schoolyard chants. They’re largely catchy, well-worded and impossible to forget.

There’s really only one hiccup on all of Triple F Life, the out-of-place “Fist Pump” featuring B.o.B. which sounds less like a Flocka song and more like how someone who’s never heard a Waka Flocka song thinks one sounds. Otherwise, the guests deliver, especially Drake who gives the best verse I’ve ever heard from him on the first single “Round of Applause.” Still, this is the Flocka show and the placement of the guests here, from Trey Songz on “I Don’t Really Care” to Bun-B and Ludacris on “Candy Paint & Gold Teeth” really accentuate Flocka’s strengths.

Things close with the acoustic reflection “Triple F Outro.” It’s poignant without being pandering as Flocka uses the same connections that usually allow him to tap into our adrenaline to touch on the universal feelings of loss and mourning. While painful in the most empathetic of ways, it truly shows his subtle gifts as a songwriter. Triple F Life is a worthy follow-up to Flockaveli and hopefully an indication of a great career still to come. I’d suggest interested listeners to spring for the deluxe edition that includes two bonus collaborations with the late Slim Dunkin, offering a glimpse at the aforementioned promising rap talent who the genre’s sadly missing.

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