http://www.myspace.com/jlive J-Live is certainly one of the best rappers to come out of Hotlanta (via NY). His debut, “The Best Part,” was instant intelligent hoodlum classic, with production by Pete Rock, DJ Premier, Prince Paul and 88 Keys. His fourth and most recent release is his best since then, right down to another all-star team behind the boards.
It begins with “One to 31,” a how-I-became-a-rapper tune that interestingly, it mixes verses with an “interview” retrospective of his career. The last line of the tune, of course, is “And then what happened?” The answer is the rest of the record. It’s a cool conceit, unlike any intro cut I’ve ever heard. And as for the beats, it’s produced by DJ Jazzy Jeff. (Unlike his partner, Will Smith, Jeff has pursued true hip hop and became an exceptional producer.)
The album keeps you guessing, and keeps changing: “The Last Third” is jazz based, and tells the story of his divorce accompanied by Paul Litteral on trumpet; “Be No Slave” has a slow DJ Evil Dee groove; it might have been an LL Cool J beat, but it’s a conscious tune about holding your head up, not a seduction rap; and on “The Upgrade” J-Live is joined by Posdnous (of De La Soul) on a fantastic, sunny jam that should be blasting out of every beach boombox this summer. (And it should teach Jay-Z and Timbaland a thing or two about how to produce a meaningful club banger.) And I have to mention “We Are!,” produced by DJ Spinna, where J-Live uses the soundbed as a vital, organic part of the song, writing verses that sync perfectly with the samples accompanying them—effectively making Spinna a background singer.
But what about the lyrics? Glad you asked. J-Live is full of great lines—just about every verse is quotable, from “What You Holdin?” (“this empire strikes black!”) to It Don’t Stop” (“Them horns you heard wasn’t Taps, it was reveille”) to “The Zone,” which takes the listener back to “when rap didn’t sound like asscrack/Back to when you was wack, you got laughed at/Not souped up and jacked for your ASCAP.”
There’s only a few guest stars, like Chali 2na (Jurassic 5) on The Zone, Pos, and Oddy Gato, but J
doesn’t need them. He can handle the record all by himself. The final track, “You Out There,” produced by Nicolay, is appropriately wistful, and left me asking . . . “And what next?”