It is relatively rare that you find a combination of intelligent lyrics, excellent delivery and phat beats in this here game known as hip hop. Take for example yesterday’s post: Larry-O can kick it, but his visions of a gangster lifestyle are hardly thought-provoking. I don’t mean this to take away from his ability as an MC; he has presence and understands how to deliver a good rhyme, but you wouldn’t exactly put him in the ‘intellectual’ bracket and invite him to a dinner party. Similarly, too much thought-provoking material can feel too try-hard and risks missing out on the party element that could be argued is a core element of the genre. I’m struggling a little to think of examples off the top of my head, but perhaps Saul Williams could be considered ‘too wordy’; his work is interesting and valuable but it ain’t exactly going to rock a crowd.
Today’s post features an artist who has managed to combine these elements in a cohesive package that makes it look all too easy. J-Live has had his fair share of strife in hip hop, with ‘The Best Part’ going through a five year ordeal where it was shelved on two (!) separate occasions. Amazingly, he emerged from this period seemingly unscathed and in my opinion is one of hip hop’s most valuable contemporary contributors. His second album ‘All Of The Above’ is a gleeming demonstration of the fact that you don’t have to talk about guns, drugs and bitches to come off dope.
Handling production, turntable and scratch duties is no mean feat either, and J-Live does the three with style. The beats on this album are exceptionally well produced and range from straight party rockers (‘How Real It Is’) to late night head nodders (‘Nights Like This’). Spinna contributes a couple of tracks as well, although these by no means outshine J-Live’s own work. I’m not saying that the production is flawless; I don’t like ‘Stir Of Echoes’ and there are a couple of other tunes that I generally skip, but for an album released in ’02 that’s not bad going.
However, it is J-Live’s skills on the mic that really hold this album together. From flipping the well known call and response catchphrase ‘it’s like this an’ a’ into a prophetic warning of what happens to girls who give it up too easy to delivering three different possible endings to the same story on ‘One For The Griot’, J-Live’s lyrics cover a wide range of topics and all are delivered with finesse and flava. I can’t think of any other MC around at the moment who has the same ability to combine content with flow, let alone whilst producing bangin’ music to provide a backdrop. The debate is open: answers on a postcard folks.