Starlito’s newest mixtape Ultimate Warrior is a swirl of ambition, regret, and base desire. It’s more a mass of new material than a proper street album, but no less entrancing for it. The Nashville rapper is wildly charismatic and raps in lyrically dense bursts. Even when he adopts familiar topics – drug dealing sagas and misogynist romps – he sits on top of them and sneers at them. Or he transcends them by telling the stories with genuine feeling rather than going through the motions.
Ultimate Warrior starts with “#UW,” a title track for the hashtag age and a confrontational and cheeky introduction. Vitriolic peaks excuse the lack of a hook. Starlito raps from the back of his throat in a strangled croak that sounds like he’s about to throw up. The anticipative beat serves a hostile, outspoken loudmouth. “Antonio Montana” opens with Starlito reciting Scarface lesson number one, “Don’t underestimate the other guy’s greed,” before breaking into a cackle. He wavers between sardonic and aggressive throughout Ultimate Warrior.
The hi-hat charged beats are a departure from the haughty sample-based production on Renaissance Gangster but for once, I don’t miss the East Coast influence. Starlito works with artists I’ve ignored or long since written off like Drumma Boy, Coop, Fate Eastwood, Don Trip, and Young Buck, but he finds great performances in all of them. The beats are violent and destructive and the riling anthemic hooks are a testament to Starlito’s talent as a writer.
“Young & Restless” is the tape’s first reprieve from the battering tone and it’s the most soberly dark track on Ultimate Warrior. Starlito meticulously tells the story of a friend who was killed when a drug deal went sour. He speaks not as a dubiously appointed narrator, but as a helpless friend who worries about suffering the same fate. “Thousand Eyes” rides the ultimate dealer-turned-rapper high and Starlito and Don Trip feed off each other’s energy.
I tend to like every other Starlito project. I found the Step Brothers mixtape with Don Trip too jokey and flippant and the beats not very good. Ultimate Warrior has a sense of humor too. The title references an old professional wrestler and the garish, primitive cover art shows that Starlito doesn’t take himself too seriously, even on his darkest songs.
Wale is the biggest name on Ultimate Warrior and the perfect guest for “I’m a Mess,” where he, Starlito, Don Trip remorselessly acknowledge their womanizing. Starlito raps his best witticism on “Pissed Off,” a torrent of shit-talking in the name of an incarcerated partner, “I’m pissed off, put your tuition on my ignition / Two years at Vanderbilt, that’s what my shit cost.”
There are missteps on Ultimate Warrior – the token pop singer hook on “Stuck Wit Ya” and the obnoxiously titled “#LolBitchPowPowPow” – but they’re drowned out by a relentless rapper who never loses his voice. The tape wraps with two of its strongest tracks. “Gotta Whole Lotta” is a defiant look back at hard fought success and “Right Now” is an absolute reflection on hard times and humble beginnings. It’s this humanity that distances Starlito from every other passionate, quick tongued rapper. Every surge of anger and pit of weakness is felt in his voice as well as the content of his lyrics.