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Turning the spotlight on musicians making a commercial breakthrough. * -- CASEY DOLAN

December 23, 2006|CASEY DOLAN

"Place Your Bets"

Blak Jak

Vintage Sound/Universal/Republic Records

Artist info: Blak Jak, born Jafari Eady 23 years ago, took his moniker from his favorite card game and styles himself as a gambler, one who's willing to take a chance on a rap career. His debut album fits into the Dirty South school of hip-hop -- heavy on the beats, grilles and gats on display, less flow and more aggro -- but he avoids some of the simplistic style cliches of crunk and steers toward a more sensual, arranged approach. He's more playa than slaya. The current single, "Bobbin' My Head," displays an ease that approaches reggae and a singular sense of humor in the observations of a dance club's patron at the bar.

Back story: Growing up in Decatur, Ga., Blak Jak absorbed hip-hop from his cousins, members of a group called the Ward Boys. They encouraged him to begin rapping on his own. The first single from the debut album, "Ride & Swerve," had been released earlier on an independent label. Produced by Shawty Redd (Young Jeezy), it laid the groundwork for Blak Jak's casual style and attracted the ears of executives at Universal Records who signed him to a deal based on its regional success. While he was working on his debut album during the summer, "Ride & Swerve" was a catchy single on the airwaves. "Bobbin' My Head" gives every indication of exceeding its predecessor with its enthusiastic reception at urban radio.

Influences: Scarface, Three Six Mafia, Chamillionaire, Young Jeezy

Trivia: A mix tape released last summer with DJ Smallz, "Roll Da Dice," invoked the gambler theme that Blak Jak continues on "Place Your Bets."

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