With high-profile releases due from both Outkast and Ludacris this fall, the spotlight rests on Atlanta's potent hip-hop scene. Everyone has had to step up their game in order to compete for the considerable national attention that's up for grabs. Youngbloodz (J-Bo and Sean Paul) tried to grab some of it with their 1999 debut Against Da Grain, which was a hit in the Dirty South but never broke out of the region. Now Drankin' Patnaz furthers the momentum with two songs that were BET staples for months: "Damn" (featuring Lil' Jon) and "Cadillac Pimpin'." What's exciting is that these catchy anthems are not the two strongest cuts on the album. There are better ones waiting in the wings, though most, like "Damn," seem to fit in the "shouting thug" category or the smoothed-out delivery of the latter.

"Hustle," probably the album's best song, rides a two-stepping click track and Dungeon Family member Killer Mike's considerable vocal presence to a peak. It sounds as if the duo's guest spurs them on to a more assured vocal performance than elsewhere on the record (particularly "Whatchu Lookin' At," which ends up sounding a lot less menacing than they probably intended). Hell, it's even got more force than "Damn." Comparisons to Cee-Lo's crooning and musical outlook are invited on the Mello-produced "My Automobile," with its tight horn section, lackadaisical drum shuffle, and high-pitched chorus. Jazze Pha mans the production helm on "Mind on my Money," crafting one of his tightest slow jams in some time.

As drinking songs go a lot of Drankin' Patnaz's joints hold up pretty well. They have melodies that insinuate themselves into your head, making them easy to slur when impaired. The only element that seems to be missing overall is a greater sense of fun. Yeah, the Youngbloodz are drinking, they're pimping, and it sounds good -- but their rhymes don't convey that thrill in quite the same way as Atlanta's more famous sons do. When they're really trying to be funny, as in the love song to their girl "Tequila," it falls flat in the absence of any good one-liners. Maybe this album's incipient success will encourage the group to truly let loose and wild out.

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Tamara Palmer