A seriously tough call had to be made in this category this year, as South Florida underground hip-hop took some major strides toward a consistent, quality sound. Neck and neck at the front of the pack were Lauderdale's verbal acrobat Butta Verses and Hollywood freestyle general Wrekonize. Both MCs are definite crowd-pleasers, confident and aggressive on stage yet flaunting a wicked and often self-deprecating sense of humor. Both have climbed their way through the local scene, gaining national attention but continuing to respect their subtropical roots. And both have taken that personal experience -- Butta's kinship with De La Soul and the Native Tongues clan; Wrek's dominance of MTV's 2004 freestyle battle -- and churned out track after track of streetwise insight into life just short of the big leagues. Stylistically, the two counter each other beautifully: Where Butta's unpredictable, hopscotchy flow is risky and often thrilling, Wrekonize stays perfectly on-point, smoothing out the beat like a warm iron over a silk shirt. So what gives Wrekonize the edge? It's his spectacular Waiting Room mixtape, a supertight showcase of every reason why this 22-year-old is major-label material. It's the best local hip-hop release of the year, and that makes Wrek our hip-hop artist of the year.