[REAL TALK] Illmaculate and G_Force's concept seemed ambitious and restrictive all at once: They would take Al Green's 2008 return-to-form record, Lay It Down, and rework each track, in order, as the beat-heavy foundation for Illmaculate's verses. But there's magic in the follow-through: G_Force's tracks are largely unrecognizable from their origins with Green and his studio band, the Roots. While opener "Lay It Down" contains horn blasts and guitar stabs from the original track, "Oh-Luv" sounds more like a rave at 3 am than a visit to Al Green's church on Sunday.

Even more impressively, Illmaculate took this opportunity to evolve. The soulful building blocks of the new disc elicit a few love songs from the Portland MC, who is still best known for his rap-battle prowess—though both "Just 4 Me" (one of two cuts featuring excellent vocals from J-Rome) and the OnlyOne collaboration "2 Much" are really too emotionally mature and analytical to be tossed in the same dumpster as tracks like Enrique Iglesias' "I'm Fuckin' You." In fact, over the album's first eight tracks (the disc ends with a healthy dose of bravado), Illmac's are only thin excuses for self-examination and deep probes of the human condition. 

"(K)new You," an open-letter plea for one of Illmac's contemporaries to reach for his fullest potential, might be the best example of this. "You keep saying you're gonna change when you grow up," he tells his friend before turning the criticism on himself. "Maybe that's why I relate to you so much."

In the Fight Club-esque reveal verse, Illmac admits he was writing a letter to himself all along—to the foolish young Illmaculate who wasted years and struggled to get momentum on his side. But what's more interesting is the question he keeps asking this beta version of himself: Why are you still here? It's a brutally honest evaluation of the chasm between who we are and who we want to be, and like so many moments on this disc, it's a stark admission of the artist's own character flaws—flaws that are universal in nature. Illmaculate, it turns out, has grown up an awful lot. Here's to hoping the knowledge-dropping spirit behind this mixtape translates to his forthcoming solo debut, Skrill Talk.

SEE IT: Illmaculate hosts the Grind Time Now Bridge City Battle on Friday, April 22, at Branx. 8 pm. $7 advance, $10 day of show. All ages. The Green Tape is available as a free download at freshselects.net.