It would be easy to name off the big hip-hop hitters who participated in the production of Pokafase's self-titled debut album for Artist Direct Records (including Warren G. and Kokane from the Doggystyle All-Stars) and let hype build from there. But the truth is, what makes Poka's CD so good is the MC's witty wordsmithing and appreciation for all types of music. Rather than laying down his lines over simple street beats, Pokafase decorates the tracks with hints of funk, R&B and pop, giving a nod to his early influences: Michael Jackson, Prince, and Motown. Lyrically, he's just as diverse. Poka shows his sense of humor in tracks like "Not My Job" ("Hennessey shot in a dirty glass/She can buy her own with her dirty ass/It's not my job, oh no"), and bluntly asserts his destiny in "Mastermind" ("I smell a rat in Run's house/Time to air it out/I'ma wear the crown and let you bitch niggas stare it out"). But he isn't afraid to get heavy and make you think, either. In "U Made Me," he explores the minds of the Columbine shooters, penning a disturbing first-person letter to their parents -- a chilling moment on an otherwise groove- and quip-filled opus. Poka's precise; his lyrical flows have a natural rhythm that fits with the funky beats and hooks of songs like "Gangsta Alone" and "Grind." And when he spits lines like, "You're under my skin, now kiss my ass from the inside out" ("Apology"), he leaves little argument in dubbing himself "Arizona's Emperor." Poka's debut album is a red flag for the hip-hop industry to stand up and take notice of the scene here in the Valley. After 10-plus years battling on Phoenix street corners and clubs, it's time for Pokafase to cash in his chips.


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