Zero Star was proud of his 2007 debut "Forever's Never Really That Long," yet three years later the rapper born Karrio Ballard hadn't broken out nationally or accrued as much local goodwill as Weightless Recordings colleagues Blueprint, Envelope and Illogic. He had to admit there was room to step up his game.

Zero Star was proud of his 2007 debut "Forever's Never Really That Long," yet three years later the rapper born Karrio Ballard hadn't broken out nationally or accrued as much local goodwill as Weightless Recordings colleagues Blueprint, Envelope and Illogic. He had to admit there was room to step up his game.

"Hip-hop cats think that the level of skill that you have is always the level of skill that you'll have," Ballard said. "I basically took it upon myself to try and improve. And that's the thing I think a lot of rappers don't do. No one ever wants to improve because if you're improving or someone says you rap better than you did two years ago, that's almost looked at as well, maybe you weren't even good to begin with."

Thus, last fall Ballard began writing rhymes every day, sharpening fundamentals and mastering new tricks.

"If you go shoot basketball every day," he said, "eventually you're going to start knocking shots down."

The result was a flurry of productivity, beginning with January's online EP "The Ink Pen Method," an energized and inspired trio of tracks.

The renaissance continues on "Don't Look Now," an eight-song EP produced by Rochester transplant J. Maggz, set for release Friday at Carabar. It's all building to Ballard's Chozin-produced sophomore LP "Maybe I'm Joking, Maybe I'm Not," due out later this year.

Friday's release party doubles as the launch of Ballard's bimonthly hip-hop party Buggin' Out. It's part of a movement toward self-reliance. Weightless is on the backburner because label head Blueprint is on tour promoting his own album, so Ballard is taking what he learned from Weightless and releasing these projects himself.

"I had all the knowledge. I had all the tools to do what I wanted to do," Ballard said. "It was just about taking that first step out there and doing it."