Dame D.O.L.L.A., Confirmed (Front Page Music)

[LILLARD TIME] Appropriating the iconography of Biggie, Tupac and Nas on your album cover is a ballsy move for any rapper, especially when you're a part-timer like Damian Lillard. But that's sort of the point. Having already hurdled the low bar for NBA players dabbling in hip-hop, with his second full-length project, the Blazers star is demanding to be measured against the same standards as any MC. To that end, Confirmed is a significant step forward. It's a much more polished and dynamic effort than last year's The Letter O, with hard-hitting production and performances that alternate between playful and fiery. Moving away from the come-up anthems he used to fixate on, this is PG-13 Dame D.O.L.L.A.—grittier and braggier, but still not cursing or otherwise endangering his endorsement deals. At times, his attempts to balance stunting with role-modeling get awkward, particularly when big-name guests like Lil Wayne and 2 Chainz are forced to bite their tongues. And flirty radio grabs like "Shoota" don't really suit him. But when he gets contemplative—as he does on "The Let Down," pondering the eventual end of his playing career and whether his supporters will abandon him when he's no longer useful to them—Lillard displays a level of honesty that's rare for a pro-athlete, and for most rappers, too.

HEAR IT: Confirmed is out now on all streaming platforms.