Since the beginning of Hip Hop, artists have been putting their homies on. Even the greats had their crew of MCs; Pac had The Outlawz, Biggie had Junior M.A.F.I.A. However, nowadays it seems as though rappers will let anyone who knew them before the fame get a spot on their label, no matter how little skill they have (see Young Money). Taylor Gang’s [twitter=ChevyWoods]Chevy Woods[/twitter] is one of the exceptions. Formerly known as Kev Da Hustla, Chevy has been laying down guest verses for Wiz Khalifa since his debut independent album, Show and Prove. Now following spots on Khalifa’s hit songs “Taylor Gang” and “Homicide,” it looks as though Chevy is ready to pave a lane for himself with his latest project The Cookout.

Production: 8.8

As a Taylor Gang rep, its only right to assume a heavy dose off Big Jerm and ID Labs on the production of Chevy’s mixtape. While his previous mixtape, Red Cup Music, was full of party and club banger beats, The Cookout is a much more relaxed and laid back sound. The first song, the tapes title track “Cookout” immediately sets the tone of the mixtape engulfing you in a cannabis induced haze. “Downfall” follows it up with an intro of an almost Disney-esque orchestra, and then switches to a smooth, jazz beat highlighted with a hypnotic saxophone. The production flows almost seamlessly from track to track making it feel like a complete work rather than just a collection of songs, making it the highlight of the mixtape. Other standout tracks include the flute sampled “Chi-Town” and the more up tempo “Crazy.”

Lyrics: 6.7

As we all know, lyricism is not exactly the strong point of the Taylor Gang crew. However, for rappers who “only rap about weed” they find a way to stay fresh and original. Chevy is no Nas, but he could easily hang wit the majority of active rappers. On “Cookout,” Chevy shows off his ability to create a solid rhyme scheme and on “Chi-Town” he displays his word play abilities with lines like “I kick game like Reynaldo, that’s my goal.” The standout tracks include “Crazy” featuring a fast rapping Wiz and “Napkins” (also featuring Wiz).

Songs: 8

Im impressed with Chevy’s ability to make a fluid, complete mixtape. Many of the tracks names- Napkins, Invitation, Aunts N Uncles- relate to the title of the project. One criticism is the number of tracks featuring fellow Taylor Wiz. Why not just make it a collaborative mixtape? While it is hard to argue with this idea, I understand why Chevy had Wiz on so many tracks. For an MC who is hardly a household name it significantly helps your buzz to feature an MC who is. Plus, as I mentioned earlier, these two have been working together for quite a while. The songs are not mind blowing, but they are far from bad. Stand outs include the Wiz assisted “The Cassette” and “Down.”

Conclusion: 8

I’m always a little skeptical when checking out an artist with a big name co-sign, its hard to tell whether their being co-signed because of their skills on the mic or simply because they made friends with the right people. In Chevy’s case I think it’s the former. He’s not quite a Royce Da 5′ 9″, but he’s definitely better than the YM misfits. I’m sure the majority of DS users will sleep on this mixtape and write Chevy off as a less eccentric Wiz, but he is much more than that. I’m very impressed with this mixtape Chevy put together and cant wait to see him make some bigger moves in the industry. So be a little open minded, and download The Cookout (it’s free for cryin out loud!), or just keep listening to “real Hip Hop.”

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Download: Chevy Woods – The Cookout