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Yup, root canals suck

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All year long, we've been introduced to new rap stars who emerge from Atlanta's depths with major singles, from Yung Joc's "It's Goin' Down" to UNK's "Walk It Out." Now Jafari "Blak Jak" Eady is preparing to release his debut Place Your Bets through Universal/Republic on Dec. 19. Its key track is the contagiously laid-back "Ride and Swerve," a screwed-up track that was inescapable on local radio throughout most of the spring and summer.

"It got me my first deal, man. The buzz was so crazy on that song," says Blak Jak of "Ride and Swerve." He just had a root canal, and so he speaks haltingly and in a low rumble. But his voice rises when he's asked what distinguishes him from dozens of ATL rappers competing for attention. "What makes me different is just me. You know what I mean? What I speak on and my perspective in life," he says. "That alone separates me." No offense, but it wasn't the most convincing argument. "Bear with me a little bit. My tooth hurts," he adds.

So Place Your Bets will have to stand on its own merits. With help from producers such as Cool & Dre, Don Cannon of the Aphilliates, DJ Toomp and Shawty Red, Blak Jak creates a patchwork of popular styles. There's the syrupy Houston slump of "Ride and Swerve," the loud N'awlins keyboard bump of Blak Jak's new single "Bobbin' My Head" and the snappish "Showbiz."

Blak Jak is at his best when he strays from rap customs and stereotypes. One of the few hustling cuts, "Pain I Feel" with Lloyd, is framed as a cautionary lament about growing up with absent parents. On "Luv U Blak" he admires "spade-playing, micro-braid-wearing chicks who love to stay down" with a breeziness reminiscent of Paul Wall's "Girl." "So you still down like 'Pac and Jon B/Or ridin' dirty with me through the city like Bun and Pimp C?" he rhymes on the latter.

"I'm from the South, but as you can see I've got West Coast songs, Houston songs, whatever you want to call it," says Blak Jak, who calls the L.A. rap scene his biggest influence. "I just want to show them good music."

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