Rick Ross mentee Gunplay has been on the fringe of rap stardom for a couple of years now, and as we await his upcoming album “Living Legend,” the Florida gangsta rapper returns to remind us why he’s next in line. If you were sleeping on Gunplay, your wake-up call comes in the form of a free self-titled 19-song mixtape hosted by DJ Epps.

On the tape, Gunplay takes turns on beats from Bobby Shmurda and Drake, among others, sharing tracks with Ross, Curren$y, Cormega, and N.O.R.E. Yes, Gunplay can stand well with his peers, but what sets him apart from most rappers – and his Maybach Music peers – is his ability to take over a track with malice. Most of “Gunplay”‘s beats are malicious, echoing with big gongs and keys, and Gunplay’s verses are an unsafe addition to this tense atmosphere. It’s everything gangsta rap should be.

As one Hot New Hip-Hop commenter pointed out, they don’t call the dude Wordplay. To wit, the lyrics aren’t exactly poetry, but Gunplay’s takes that proto-West Coast style and filters it through Florida grime, creating a swampy tape functions well as both an introduction and a re-introduction. 2013’s “Acquitted” is probably a better starting point (I’d also recommend his one-off with fellow Broke Beats alumnus Isaiah Toothtaker), but “Gunplay” is sturdy canon. One of the biggest criticisms of Gunplay is that he’s easy to confuse with Ross, but on this tape, he shows that, despite their similar voices, Gunplay has chops that his boss can’t match.

On “Break ‘Em Off” he dices his flow nicely to a schitzo beat. On “Hot Ni**a,” he takes over, tossing shade to 50 Cent as he takes his flow wire-to-wire without relenting.  “Heaven and Hell” sees him make the best Meek Mill original that feels more natural in his hands. (Also, subtracting Jadakiss is always a good editorial decision in 2014).

Though “Living Legend” still has no release date, “Gunplay” is a welcomed return for the former Triple C’s member. Let’s hope Mayback Music get’s it together and strikes soon, because Gunplay could be the prodigee that turns Rick Ross into Lil’ Wayne. Or he could be another Curren$y – a great rapper who missed the boat on his own buzz.