Damn, he’s the man. I don’t think I’ve seen too many rappers with the work ethic of newcomer Rhetoric. Without a penny to his name, this Chapel Hill hip-hoppster is looking to found an empire. He refers to his future kingdom as Heel Hop, and Go to Hell Duke Vol. 1 is the first rebel yell of this new movement. This mixtape has confident boastfulness sharing a tracklist with almost self-deprecating honesty, songs about hoes only a few spaces above freestyles about summer days and girlfriends. It sounds like a mess, and it kind of is, but it strangely works, at least most of the time.

Let’s get down to the meat of it. Where Rhetoric shines here is where he seems the least aware of it. Sure, there’s decent rhymes and storytelling in tracks like “Greatness,” and lifting beats from popular songs is typical mixtape fanfare, which is why it makes sense for “Tarheel Wow” and “You’re a Jerk (hoemix)” to be here, but all that stuff seems too deliberate. Rhetoric seems to accidentally stumble upon the best parts of the mixtape. The “Wingman For Life Freestyle” doesn’t seem like something most aspiring hip-hop kings would put out, and when was the last time you heard a rapper references farts, getting head in the drive-thru, and The Church of Latter Day Saints all in one track like Rhetoric does in “Let’s Spar?” Moments like these mix Rhetoric’s natural rhyming ability with the type of originality and freshness that could keep people coming back for more. It’s clear he’s just getting a footing on his swag, but when he steps onto the right things, it’s awesome. But of course, he doesn’t always, so we get tracks like “Hear Us Out” and “The Origin of Morgan,” which come out feeling superfluous and undercooked.

When Rhetoric doesn’t waste words or moments, the results can be thrilling. It’s hard not to believe him when he tells us he’s the man on the mixtape’s opening track, because he never lets up on his assault on the beat. The same goes for “Triumph.” When the beats are big, Rhetoric is bigger. When the music is more sparse, Rhetoric gets more light-hearted, like on the aforementioned “Let’s Spar.” It’s a musical sensibility that is noticed, if only subtly. He seems to know the rules of the game. Now, all he’s got to do is find the best ways to throw them out the window.

Go to Hell Duke Vol. 1 is Rhetoric. There isn’t anyone in the game quite like him. This scatter-brained, confident, silly, completely and totally genuine debut sets Rhetoric apart from a lot of the other hip-hop you’ll hear this year. From rapping about farts and being a good ass wingman, to urging his future dominance of the game, every word that comes out of Rhetoric’s mouth is infectiously natural. There are still steps to be taken, but Vol. 1 is a strong first step. Yeah, the “white rapper” thing may cause some people to either completely ignore Rhetoric, or to listen to him expecting Eminem or Asher Roth, and then completely ignore him afterward. So let’s get this out of the way: Rhetoric is not anyone’s copycat, nor is he a novelty. Rhetoric is Rhetoric. And Rhetoric’s legit.

Oh, and “Heel Hop” is the best fucking track on the mixtape.

Overall score: 7.1/10