When underground emcees best known for gritty, lyrically-driven cuts set their sights on mainstream success, the results can be as painful as watching a straight-A student act like a ditz to score a date with the captain of the football team. Teen-movie stereotypes aside, Booth favorite K. Sparks is one artist who doesn’t have to adopt an “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” approach to hitmaking. Why? Because he can beat ‘em. Easily. Like ‘thinking man’s club record’ Bright Lights, Temperature (Manic Monday #40) finds Sparks joining forces with R&B up-and-comer Julius Francis to prove that pop appeal and virtuosic lyricism are two great tastes that taste great together. Visual Sound and Tattoo beatsmith T-Mos strikes a keen balance on the production tip, letting Sparks’ sharp-as-ever rhymes shine over a minimal, percussion-driven groove, but wreathing Francis’ radio-ready hook in a densely-layered mix of piano, strings and spacey background vocals. If life and the music industry were fair, this record would likely be getting spins on urban airwaves across the nation; for now, though, K. Sparks and Julius Francis can count on another round of rave reviews from our regulars.