This year's award for the most bizarre way to start a hip-hop CD goes to Zachary "Status" Young, who kicks off his latest with a sample from 1995's Grumpier Old Men in which Burgess Meredith tells Jack Lemmon a rambling story without a moral. In contrast, this disc teaches an important lesson: Unpredictability can be a good thing, especially in a genre that often succumbs to stereotypes.

Status has a persuasive voice and an often witty flow that's enhanced by widely varied production. "Get Em Up" is densely packed with big beats and a Middle Eastern vibe, while "My Name Is" features an endearingly rinky-dink rhythm track and vocal interjections that have nothing to do with Eminem. Not every tune here is wholly successful, but even "Betty," which pays tribute to Leadbelly by way of Ram Jam, is guaranteed to hold a listener's attention if for no other reason than sheer weirdness.

Def enhances Status. And vice versa.

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