Rapper Saint Orleans takes his name from his own geographical biography — he was born in New Orleans and resides in St. Louis. It's no accident that both cities have deep, specific styles of regional hip-hop that occasionally bubble up to the mainstream, and on the Pay Homage mixtape drops in a little from the STL and a lot from NOLA. With a nod to Weezy's manic, compelling flow and that brassy, minor-key No Limit production style, Saint Orleans works through fourteen tracks of hustler's bravado and fuck-the-haters brio. This mixtape's host, DJ T Gutta, keeps the mood full of fast-paced menace, with little more than a healthy BPM and a hypnotic keyboard hook. For opening track "Hustlin," Gutta weaves in an operatic soprano vocal line to give a heavenly counterpoint to exploding crash cymbals and Saint Orleans' steely opening lines. At times the album could use a little more of this creativity, but for better or worse these songs don't lean on vintage samples of complicated backing tracks. It gives Saint Orleans less of a cushion to rely on, and he can prop himself up on the most bare-bones tracks.
Some of the mixtape's best moments are often the snippets of songs that will hopefully see the light of day soon. The 30 seconds of "G Shit" kick in a bouncing rhythm and infectious hook, but it's only a brief tease. The next track builds on that energy, with the uplifting "We Shinin" using soulful samples to make the mixtape's midpoint feel almost churchlike. If the mixtape's first half can come off a brusque and repetitive in place, stick around for the rest; the production and lyricism gets better as it goes along, with the pro-education "ONFC" and the nearly tender "Why They Hatin" as standouts. Saint Orleans gets a lot of mileage out of the mixtape's title, demanding homage but not always offering evidence for the claim. Rap is a game where you boast first and prove yourself later, and Saint Orleans comes up shining more often than not on Pay Homage. Respect is earned, not given freely, and Saint Orleans shows enough hard-edged style to earn his stripes the old-fashioned way.