On King Los' most recent mixtape 'Zero Gravity 2,' there's a song called 'But You Playin' with the refrain, "I'm feelin' like the only n--ga left, feelin' like the only real n--ga left." Then audio from Los's appearance on 'Sway In The Morning' plays, where Sway relates stories about eating with Big and Pac and knowing "the feeling," like it's a car commercial. "I know what it feels like, and that's what it feels like: King Los."

King Los, or better, just Los, has been working for years to get to this point. He was rapping when he graduated high school and auditioned for MTV's 'Making The Band 2,' but when he was chosen to appear on the show, he refused to sign the necessary paperwork. He's never said why, but he must have had a preternatural sense: three years later, when Da Band was kaput and Los was 21, he signed with Bad Boy as a solo artist through a local label, Bloc Incorporated. From '05 to '08, however, Los barely made a (visible) dent on either Diddy's label or the music world at large (picture him and Aasim like Aladdin and Jafar in the dungeon), and after three years he was let go thanks to the disbanding of Bloc Incorporated. But in 2012 Diddy, perhaps experiencing hurts when breathe, rekindled the relationship with Los and brought him back into the Bad Boy fold, and again things went sour: earlier this year, Los officially announced his (second) departure from the record label.

You have to wonder why he went back to Bad Boy. It was only after he got initially dropped in '08 that he began to cultivate a strong, organic following with tapes like 'G5.2' and 'Zero Gravity.' Bad Boy is a well-known graveyard for newly signed artists, perhaps accounting for why New York was so elated (sans wallets) for French Montana's major label drink coaster debut, and the label didn't do much to build his platform, so why return?

In the music industry today, the role of the major label is vague, and as things move forward, it seems like Warner, Sony and Universal will have different (see: shrunken) responsibilities in the careers of artists. Just look at Macklemore, who was technically "independent" despite signing with ADA, a marketing branch of Warner that helps artists serve their singles to radio. Other artists need the complete marketing package and are willing to sign a 360 death certificate deal to ensure that the people who have always known how it's done can apply their steadfast strategies to a new up and coming artist.

King Los was probably looking for that complete marketing package that only major labels can afford, and the biggest clue is in his music. On 'Zero Gravity 2' he sounds a bit like Kendrick, who was a relatively unmarketable project-window type before Dre cosigned him. The skills are there for Los, but what do "skills" even mean in 2014? Young Thug is popping and no one understands a word he's saying. Drake is the hottest rapper out and it's not because he can take down Murda Mook in a "lyrical spherical spiritual" battle. You have to do more than just hammer out words if you want to capture people's attention, and Los seems to get that: 'Woke Up Like This' and 'Trap House,' both from 'Zero Gravity 2,' blatantly trade in catchy Southern sounds. It helps to widen the Baltimore rapper's palette, giving him a little more space with which to use his words.

King L, formerly King Louie, on the other hand, does drill music. Even when he leans pop, it's still Drill. He's one of the godfathers of the Chicago sound, and while his stature led to his lone guest verse on 'Yeezus,' it's his vocal ability to arrest that keeps him relevant through drill's ups and downs. The biggest song of his career so far, 'Val Venis,' came out in 2012, the same year he signed a deal with Epic Records. But since then, the label hasn't advanced King L's career much.

His latest mixtape, 'Tony,' is a dark, billowing affair. It starts with the blustering 'B.O.N.' which snags you with King L's distinct cadence and sets the tone for the rest of the tape. Bleak, aggressive, angry -- these characteristics of Drill are only exaggerated on 'Tony,' as if to remind people how long he's been doing this for (since his first mixtape, 'Boss S--t,' in 2007). Newcomers might do better with is 2012 mixtape 'Showtime,' arguably his best complete project so far. 'Tony' might be a little inaccesible to those not used to the sound, but 'Showtime' has a nice range of sounds, from the poppy 'Pack So Loud' to more sample-heavy records like 'Pour' and 'She Want Me.'

The common thread throughout all King L's projects is his one of a kind mic presence. Not only can he spit with flexibility, but he does it with a completely individual sound and approach. It makes him a little harder to get used to at first -- perhaps it'd be easier if he sounded like Nas or Ghostface -- but it makes for a satisfying experience down the road, when a lot of these rappers start sounding the same and King L continues to sound like nobody else out.

It's easy to pin Los as an artist many people talk about and few listen to, but when you spin the kids music, you realize the hype is real. Coming from Baltimore, he's not in a major market, but he's got enough talent to be on Kendrick's level; he just needs to hone his hooks and look for a unique lane to take over. Every artist is only one single away.

King L already had his hit 'Val Venis' two years ago, but he's only gotten better (and slightly weirder) ever since.It's hard to advise the guy, because as enjoyable as his mixtapes are, the goal would seem to be an official album. Kanye and Drake have already showed him love, so what's stopping him? But if there's beauty in this industry today, it's via freedom,and considering we've been blessed with 13 King Louie tapes over seven years, we can't be mad. He hasn't lost a step on the mic, and as long as he continues to pump out music, Drill will still be propped up by one of it's most important founders.


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