The star of Kevin Gates is certainly on the rise. While many listeners are just getting to know the artist, Gates is no rookie. Gates became somewhat of a local sensation in Baton Rouge, LA not long after he burst onto the scene in 2007. His mixtapes ‘All or Nothin’ and its sequel ‘All In’ spiked his popularity in Baton Rouge as each showcased his unique sing-song flow and lyrical ability in the midst of a rap scene that had been dominated by ‘jig’ music.

Legal troubles seemed to derail Gates’ momentum as he found himself in jail for a 3-year stint before being released in 2011. But much like fellow Baton Rouge rapper Lil’ Boosie, his time locked up added to his lore. His buzz began to transform him from a popular local artist to a regional star. Lil’ Wayne eventually caught wind of Gates and not long after he was being managed by Young Money. That partnership would fizzle, but it did much to raise Gates’ profile.

The past two years marked Gates’ true breakout as he gained national attention and major rap outlets truly took notice of him. Projects like 2012’s ‘Make ‘Em Believe’ and last year’s ‘The Luca Brasi Story’ brought him critical recognition and more widespread publicity. Gates is still in the unique spot of truly proving himself to this larger audience, but his latest effort ‘By Any Means’ should go a long way in solidifying his status in the rap game.

The opening salvo ‘Wish I Had It’ is a perfect introduction to the dichotomy of Kevin Gates. While his style is very conducive to today’s popular rap, but he completely objects to the notion and voices his disdain for those chasing hits. He rhymes, “Out the streets, they in the streets, all I can do is be me / with Flo-Rida, nothing in common, I’m not a B.o.B.”

Listen to Kevin Gates' 'Wish I Had It'

Gates’ sing-song flow, which is more reminiscent of Z-Ro than it is Future or Rich Homie Quan, can make the most brutal of topics sound pleasant. There’s no better example than ‘Homicide’ where the melodic hook can take your mind in completely different direction from the subject at hand. But Gates manages to bring the listener back to reality with a ferocious delivery in each verse.

The 2 Chainz-assisted ‘Bet I’m On It’ has potential to be a hit with a hypnotic beat courtesy of The Honorable C-Note. The 2 Chainz hook is tailor-made for club play, but Gates delivers an outstanding verse as well. He raps, “Hustle real hard, never made it with a sport / five hundred four grams and you never woulda thought / 18 ounces, made it with a fork / loved in the hood, but I’m hated on the court / when the ball hit the rim, that’s a miss / come to think about it, wait, that’s some bricks / 300 eight-balls coming, no assists / aw, here we go again, mind on dope again.”

‘Get Up On My Level’ is the most endearing moment of the album as Gates addresses some local beef, specifically with his former Dead Game Records boss and mentor Travis. Gates is not on the attack here as he expresses disappointment and forgiveness. Gates laments, “Came out of prison pursuing my dream, now everybody mad at me / I ain’t never tried to diss y’all, all I did was tell the truth.”

Listen to Kevin Gates' 'Get Up On My Level'

The project is not without its missteps. ‘Amnesia’ featuring the late Doe B makes Gates seem like a guest on his own song. The generic performance of Doe B brings down the track despite Gates’ best efforts to reinvigorate the song with his verse. Gates’ beat selection also does not provide much variety. While the quality of production is quite good, it does little to differentiate Gates from the thousands of other trap rappers.

‘Posed To Be In Love’ is a ridiculous song which is essentially an ode to domestic violence. Again, Gates’ style and penchant for catchy hooks can almost make you gloss over the content if you aren’t paying close attention. But when he drops lines like, “Throw the left hand, you duck down, but this right bitch, it won’t miss you / Beat a bitch like Chris Brown, go back to jail, no quitting” it brings the proceedings to a crashing halt. It seems quite appropriate that Gates leads off with declaration “Own up to your bullshit” on the following track ‘Stop Lyin’.

While it has its faults, ‘By Any Means’ is a good introduction for new Kevin Gates listeners and a satisfying addition to his catalog for longtime fans. There are moments of pure brilliance here that show why Gates is entirely capable of being one of rap’s top artists. ‘Stranger Than Fiction’ remains his most complete work to date, but ‘By Any Means’ keeps the momentum rolling for Kevin Gates.