Hip-Hop Reviews - I to J (17 reviews, 03/08/15)
Please note that the reviews are ordered by Artist first name..
All reviews are opinion, a guide only. Some are short and to the point, others go into more depth. No real reason why other than when the reviews were written! For other reviews, check out the awesome sphereofhiphop.com, plus rapzilla.com and Cross Rhythms.
Please note if you see any of these reviews elsewhere, it is because I have done the reviews for others (Cross Rhythms). The reviews on these pages are my full reviews.
Ill Harmonics - Monkey Business | TOP
Ill Harmonics deliver another jazzy, funky, uptempo and funny album. I love these guys, they always bring such a distinctive sound and flava, it's infectious! Lots of varied and swinging jazzy basslines, stabs, guitars and piano licks, laced with catchy hooks and the unique flowing tones of Playdough. What Playdough brings is a real presence on the mic, a delivery that brings different tones and vocal effects. I have to say that production really enhances the sounds of Ill Harmonics - bringing different flavas of EQ and effects. Beats are smooth, rolling and deeply uncomplicated (if that makes sense). We start with 2 fun tracks, scored with real points to make - 'Everybody Up' and 'Banana Republic.' Then to the crowd pumping, 'Bows and Fists'. We hear about the funkiest, ill, tight sound of Ill Harmonics in 'Illustrious'. A typical Ill sounding song comes with their lead single, 'Monkey Business'. All the elements are there to make this another catchy classic, pointing an amusing and insightful look at making it in the business. I like, 'Unique' as it brings a slightly different flavour, with a more old skool and grimey beat, very dope. 'Mucho' is a look at having loads of money and what it means. In 'Few Do' we have more of a 'big band' sound, with brass stabs adding to the jazz guitar, kinda reminds me of an underground cabaret club! Another tune that gets stuck in your head. 'Contagious' adds to the catchy vibe of this project, utilising what sounds like an accordian - very Parisian! In 'Trendsetter' we have a changed up style of beat with a heavy bassline taking the lead in the track, until the great hook - looking at trendsetter and those that follow, 'you can be yourself, so don't get sucked in..' In 'Quit My Job' we have a track about, er.. Finally muted trumpet, brass, jazz guitars creating a fiesta-type sound, underly 'Cover Charge', featuring Sivion from DS5. Monkey Business ends as it starts, themed around a kids TV show - which one I don't know. Solid project, but where have Ill Harmonics gone..
Ill Harmonics - Take Two | TOP
The Ill Harmonics style has been called acoustic rap. I like to think of their style as a bit more than this. Playdough drops some awesome lyrics and flow on this as ever. I mean that in a good way! The album starts off with the lead track, 'Take Two' which features a jazzy guitar riff over a head nodding beat - a vibe carried over to 'The Crowd Is Standing' a joint guaranteed to work live - as they prove with the live version at the end of the album. Think a funky scratched up jazzy Black Eyed Peas / Summertime vibe, brilliant stuff. This jazz guitar lick carried over into 'What We Do' later in the album. Bowtie Jerks serves up an old skool break under heavy kick and snare (a beautifully crafted and common technique on the album), while playdough and blake knight rhyme about an all-too common experience of girls passing guys by even when they're dressed to the nines. 'She's just passin me by, Jesus, please just answer me why..' Track 8 'Destiny' tells us that 'what is meant to be is meant to be' over Spanish flamenco and then heavy guitaring. The lyrics recount how they were pitched in to being an emcee ministry and remind us that '..when it's done it ain't about how fresh or how ill but what you do with the calling and the gift instilled..' Mr. Chris T. Ian includes a testimony style cypher about God's work in an MC's life, and is a deep challenging track to all the hypocrites and pharisees in the church, judging people on appearances not loving people with God's love. 'Cats Like These' starts with a sample that can't help reminding me of 'We're all going on a summer holiday' by Cliff Richard! Ha, sorry! Great album with some tuneful hooks and lots of overlaid vocal rhyming and harmonics. Ill. Run Time: 53.52.
Ill Phil – ‘Soul Food’ | TOP
Ill Phil now resides in Houston, Texas. Since 2006 he’s been speaking God’s truth through rap and now brings his album to the musical table. The project is filled with accessible rhymes and is produced by Ill Phil himself. Ill Phil sets out his stall from the title track, reminding us that what we put into ourselves will come out, so listen to beneficial stuff – “Soul Food.” Ill Phil spits theology in relevant ways, always pointing to Christ (as in “A Real Friend” speaking truth to his friends, and knowing where he’s going – “If I Die.” Ill Phil produces varied ranges of beats moving from dirty south based (“Real Misconception” - a true disciple loves and obeys to God) to some darker moments (“Don’t You Know”) to the almost tango-based “Relieved”. Other musical diversity can be found in “I’m Running” where Ill Phil lyrically rides over a near double-timing backing track, contrasting with the slower standout, “I Don’t Hate Him” as Ill Phil powerfully shares a moving track about his absent father, forgiving because God has been forgiven. All the time, Ill Phil brings seriously easy to listen to lyrics that challenge you Biblically. Ill Phil looks back to his past on a number of tracks, grateful to God for the light and truth God’s opened up (“I Was Lost”). In “The Interview” Ill Phil shares his journey, life and how he’s “going strong in the Lord… now my heart’s set on pleasing my God.” We end, “Ready For War.”
DJ I Rock Jesus Presents – ‘The CFR Chronicles Mixtape’ | TOP
Hailing out of Hampton Virginia, DJ I Rock Jesus hooks up with The Christian Female Rap Network (The CFR) to produce and showcase a mix of tunes from Serenity, Octavia Harris, Cameron, LaToria, Elle E.O.C and Regal. The CFR came about to support and resource female rappers globally - to grow in unity and glorify Christ. As we learn from the track “Supa Man!!”, “God can change a life in one night” – a testimony that DJ I Rock Jesus can relate to after God changed him in a Damascus Road experience. The beats are varied, with an east coast and underground feel. Delivery across the mixtape is smooth in the most part, with an engaging, testimonial street edge – sometimes sounding a bit too dry in the mix (touch of reverb needed?) The beat from “Come Back 2 Me” takes Nas “I Know I Can” but is a powerful, soulful and strong tune. The album focus is on Christ down to the last word on the last track. There are testimonies mixed with fun, passion and life. Standouts include the verbal agility of Elle ROC’s, “Get There”, the musicality in “Love and Grace”, the bass driven “Build You Up”, the head-nodding “Go Head”, and the laid back smoothness from “The Ultimate Change”. Essential listening - and inspiring for aspiring female MCs.
Jahaziel – ‘The Still Livin’ Mixtape’ | TOP
Jahaziel mixes up some old, some new tracks all for the glory of God. Featuring a number of awesome contributors, Jahaziel drops his mostly relaxed and yet spot-on lyrical analysis of Scripture, Christ and the world. “I undress what the world called success, and after… the hype… wasn’t nothing much left, so now I’m walking in the Son’s steps” (“I’m Alive”). Jahaziel’s love for God, his humility and focus on Christ is relentless and heartfelt. Even music means nothing if that’s all it is - as he explains his motivation in “What I Do” or reveals in “Holy Place – I’m Available” where Jahaziel would put the mic down if God said so. The mixtape features countless explosive breaks and beats that Jahaziel effortlessly raps over. Musically we journey all over, from the carnival “Deliver Me” to the more grimey “Talk Fast” to “Regenerated” with GuvnaB, to the electric guitar in “Turn Tables” through to the powerful worship rap “My Redeemer Lives”). There are rap stories as in “Do Not Be Deceived” – what you sow you reap. If anything the mixtape builds in grace and power - “Oasis” dropping a fresh soulful beat with Jahaziel’s testimony, the “Come Home Remix” (for all the prodigals) then ending with the “I’m Alive Remix” with Ambassador and Da’T.R.U.T.H from Cross Movement dropping verses. Free, outstanding, so get your copy today!
Update December 2015 - Jahaziel has since turned his back on church and in some ways Christianity, choosing instead to believe some of the lies about God and the Bible and focus on the negative and even made some quite hostile statements against God in the name of 'truth' as he sees it. This is very sad. I truly pray God's revelation love and mercy over Jahaziel.
Jayess – ‘Genesis Snapshots’ | TOP
One of the characteristics of quality hip-hop is mature lyrics and finely crafted and delivered rhymes and beats. Jayess, coming out of London does this aplenty in this engaging and personal narrative that connects listeners to the Word and hip-hop. The album starts off with a grimey edge in “I Was Just Like You” and “Who Is It” looking at who we represent and follow. Jayess rides the beats with skill, like a Biblical clarion in many tracks like the brilliant “7even” looking at ‘sevens’ in the Bible. “Christology” looks at Christ through the Bible from Old and New Testaments with adroit lyricisms. Spitting socially with God’s love, Jayess takes on racism in “Colour Blind” and challenges women not to give their bodies to just anyone in “Why Do It” - with God’s love the only true love. Tracks vary from the deliciously smooth “Good Love” looking at God’s love through the stripped back “Genesis Snapshots” to classic hip-hop jams like “Why Do You Believe”. There’s a Scripurally insightful track in “Questions and Answers” where Jayess challenges different arguments and questions about God. We end with “Bonus” where a host of artists drop some verses letting us know we all need Christ. Brilliant project fusing the Bible and hip-hop over diverse and crafted beats, thoughtful lyrics and the truth!
JayEss – ‘Walking By Faith’ | TOP
No, not the town in Mississippi, the rapper from Bow in London with his latest mixtape… JayEss brings another project of creatively produced streetwise UK hip-hop. This is an uplifting mixtape - a theme that is laid down from the title track, “Brand New” ft Coco Dupree. JayEss isn’t afraid to hit on spiritual and social issues, often fusing the two – “Money”. “LOL” is a clever track as the saints laugh out loud at the victory of Jesus and defeat of the enemy, complete with mid-track change-up of beat. Production is high throughout like the vocal layers on “Don’t Watch Me” to the cut-back beats and the bassy rolls on “Unstoppable”. with a huge range of vocal skills – the fast-flowing rhymes in “Dirty” through the delivery on the synthy syncopated “No Limts” with the hook sung by Lavinya Royes. One of a number of stand-outs in the grooving gospel-esque “Playing Games” with the tasty vocals of Rachel Kerr. Aside from some funny lines, JayEss rolls effortlessly as he calls people and churches to stop playing games and get real in their faith. “Hallelujah” sees JayEss, Iceberg Slimm and Dwayne Tryumf bring their own styles on each verse. “Final Hour” confronts the listener with the final hours of Christ’s life as if told by Jesus - as powerful a presentation of Christ on the cross as any other track or movie. We close out as we started - with another stirring track,“Redemption” as JayEss testifies (vocals from Anneliese Meywes).
Jelz Music – ‘Barz Speaks Voumez’ | TOP
With an edgy UK hip-hop sound, Jelz aka Jeremy Zulu is a rapper from South East London inspired by Lecrae, Tinie Tempah, Ryan Leslie and Kanye West. Jelz uses his unique talent on the mic to bring God’s news to the world. The EP is based on Proverbs 18:21 and encourages the listener to think about the power of words and how they can be used to make a positive or negative impact in people’s lives. Jelz is backed by Kieran Dwain Guy (Drums) and Joshua Ankrah (Guitar). Christine Asamoah brings her powerful vocals to the lead “Fire Inside” as Jelz takes us on a frank tour through his personal life and faith journey as God’s fire now burns inside. With a clear and steady flow, Jelz is unashamed to bring Godly truths to worldly messes and issues (“Human Being”) with Saint Charlés where “we’ve only got one life, make sure you live it right”. What Jelz brings is an album that doesn’t focus on problems or the past but instead is a life-filled, hope-inspiring EP – defined by the brilliant soaring, live-sounding final track where “Nothing Is Impossible” for God - where “anything is possible.” Watch out for Jelz Music coming to a venue near you soon.
Jelz Music – ‘Still Learning’ | TOP
Jelz Music is a UK artist whose sound consists of a unique urban blend, drawing upon inspiration from current and past hip-hop. “Still Learning” is one track off the new EP “Barz Speak Volumez”. Over a bass heavy break, Jelz Music produces a humble, Spirit-led passion and flow as he continues to follow God and keep learning, “This is my life, I’m telling his story..” Keeping his focus on God and his Word as he focuses on the Word, with the EP being based around Proverbs 18.21 and the power of words.
J-Flo - ‘Not Of This World’ | TOP
J-Flo joins the lineup of a number of Christian hip-hop artists coming out of Houston, Texas. Involved in working with young people with a heart to see people come to Christ, A standout track is the uplifting “I’m Free” is a bouncing party track over a house beat as J-Flo rides smoothly as his freedom in Christ that is so real, no more guilt, no more shame. J-Flo used to be a bad boy like P Diddy but Christ set him free. Throughout the project we clearly hear J-Flo’s lyrics and heart. J-Flo is deeply honest in “Watching The Gates” as he makes a choice to live for Christ and not fall into sin – as he takes his eyes and ears off harmful or lustful influences. J-Flo encourages people to only listen to tracks about Christ. There’s no doubting his heart as he expresses his motivation in “That’s Why” (ft Irene) – “this world needs Jesus”. We know we’re not from this world, “In this world I’m not a resident”, instead, “Christ is President” (“I’m An Alien” ft Nina & Reborn). Beats-wise, there’s a range of breaks from dirty south (“Still Broke” and “Let’s Grow” ft I.M.A.G.E.) to some epic sounding tracks (“Use Me” ft Nina), to some rollers (the worshipful “Under Construction”). J-Flo has a clear and polished flow that matches each beat nicely, with most tracks lifted by tasty contemporary production as you journey through the album.
John Reuben - (Sees Everything In) Hindsight | TOP
John Reuben is very much on the commercial side of hip hop - rather than some of the underground crews - but should be respected. I liken him to KJ-52 in terms of style and delivery, and in the fact that both get their fair share of disrespect in the scene. His lyrics are often amusing (if you get a chance, watch the video of 'Move' off his latest album 'Professional Rapper' for an example). In the opening Hindsight track, 'I'll try harder' there's a slight aside to those rappers who disrespect his style. In 'I John Reu' (a real catchy track) he promises to keep his music innovative and reflects on learning from past mistakes. Hindsight is another tight track. There are musical breaks like 'Soundman' - an ode to sound men and other musical fun! Highly commercial tracks aplenty stand out like 'Doin' and 'Pataskala'. Production under Todd Collins is as ever consistently, exceptionally high. Run Time - 49.40.
John Reuben – ‘The Boy Vs The Cynic’ | TOP
Overall, this album is mostly rap-rock-song crossover. It's political, creative, self-reflective and honest. At times this album skates around the melancholy and by by the end of the album you can feel a little deflated - not just a choice of song order, more the overall tone (in contrast to say KJ-52 for example). If you're expecting the usual John Reuben fun and goofing, then this album will be a pleasant surprise. Up first is “Out Of Control”, which is a catchy and lively rapcore crossover track, 'it feels good to be outa control'. Next up is “Nuisance” which sees John Reuben bringing very honest delivery on the verses, with Matthew Thiessen of Relient K kickin in with a light and airy guitar-based chorus. In “Chapter 1” John Reuben narrates insights into life, over instrumental vibes, until a rolling beat kicks in. “Follow Your Leader” is a politicised track that urges people to know the truth before they follow politicians and leaders blindly, warning of predators all around. “Sales Pitch” reminds us that “everyone’s got an agenda”, with even the sacred turned dishonest - a creative backing track and drum patterns. ‘Sunshine’ has an uplifting backing track, with an almost 60s-70s feel at times! “So Glad” is a bit of a party track with a funky backing, encouraging people to get the most out of life, with a near Jamiroquai vibe. “ What About Them” is another political song, a call to religious and prosperous America not to forget the native people. “There’s Only Forgiveness” is a call to forgiveness - from hate, bitterness and revenge - a great sentiment that this world needs to lay hold of. “All I Have” is a tuneful acoustic-rock based song, “All I have is what God gives.” In “Co-operate” John Reuben challenges people to grow up, be responsible, lose the costume and co-operate with the system. This seems to be a dig at older guys who feel the need to dress 'hip-hop'. A challenge. “The Boy Vs The Cynic” ends the album with an introspective look at himself when he “used to be you before you became me” with a near U2 feel and sound to the hook. Overall, a deep and thought-provoking album. Run Time - 42.56.
John Reuben – ‘Word Of Mouth’ | TOP
John Reuben with yet another great, albeit short, mix of hip-hop styles and storytelling John Reuben continues his eclectic, almost psychedelic hip-hop crossover journey, with yet another thought provoking and excellent album of storytelling. In truth, John Reuben is quietly carving out a real niche. The album gets off to a much more lively start than his introspective previous album, favouring big beats and breaks, more up-tempo than most hip-hop. “Sing It Like You Mean It” starts things off with a funky, almost Tribe-esque beat. As ever, John Reuben addresses a number of social issues. In “Trying Too Hard” John Reuben challenges people who become too cool and try to hard. In “Make Money Money” under a country guitar riff, we take a look at money making and the psychology of rap entrepreneurship and social agendas where, ‘where.. the rap game is a sport of psychology. Underdogs go where they find opportunity while spoiled children romanticise poverty.” There is more than one track that is almost anthemic, verging on a trip-hop break with a big sound, such as the excellent “Focus”, “Universal” and another standout track, “Cool The Underdog.” We journey through some catchy songs, “Word of Mouth” with a challenge, ‘Are you content like me?’ through to near lounge hip-hop such as the pulsating bass driven, “Miserable Exaggeration”. To finalise the great range of tracks on the album, we end with “Good Evening” which has a live groovy feel and touch of the Fatboy Slim about it. With many guest musicians and quality production from Gotee, this is John Reuben at his finest. My big disappointment is the short length of the album. Run Time - 36.14.
J.R. – Life by Stereo | TOP
R&B album that transcends definition and soulfully glides with a Christocentric flow Other reviewers of this album have made comparisons with John Legend, Lupe Fiasco, NERD and Outkast. It is easy to see why, although it must be said that JR’s soulful r&b style is unique and stands strong in its own right. “Rock Star” brings a slight Outkast vibe over a pulsating bass and guitar, challenging the rock star lifestyle, ‘what you got don’t make you you.. it’s not what you have but what you invest your life into.’ The seeming Outkast influence and beat continue on into the excellent, “Not A Slave” in which JR testifies to how Christ has set him free, saved and changed him forever. In “Tonight” and we find soulful vibes over grooves, with a similar theme in the lounge jazz filled “Soulful”. There are a number of other influences throughout the album with DaTruth guesting on “Ridaz” and rapping over a crunk roller to bring a Cross Movement hip-hop flava. JR continues to sing Christ-filled hooks and r&b (“OK”). Other tracks demonstrate a more crunk’n’b beat and vibe (“Trust In You”, “You Chose Me”). “We Need You” is a real builder and breaks into an incredible worship (with an anthemic, even Coldplay influence). In the final two tracks, JR breaks it down into deep and soulful melodies, especially in “Words of Life”. The beautiful “Never Lose” sees JR testify how Jesus washed his sins away. Beautiful album, beautiful music.
Json – ‘Growing Pains’ | TOP
Json is with LampMode Recordings from Philadelphia, USA. Json brings an honest project, mixing varied instrumentals. The album cover nods to Funkadelic – “Maggot Brain” but the content is Godly. Starting with the truth of how God is the potter and we are the clay, we have the declaratory “Making Me Over” ftg AD3 and Tedashii as all 3 rappers flow in harmony. Lecrae guests on “2 Human” as Json shares intimately, reminding us he’s not just an artist – but is a human - husband, father. Themes are carried on and developed in the smooth and strings-based “Held It Down” where Json works with Butta-P and Ron Kenoly Jr to use the picture of marriage to reflect God’s love and bring this home by rapping from God’s perspective, “Look at my Son and point out a better picture to me.” Another soft track comes with the heavenly, “My Joy” ftg Jai. Continuing in the uplifting mainstream sound is “It’s Alright” ftg Mikeschair as Json brings God’s assurance and re-assurance. “Behind The Clouds” is also similarly mainstream, contrasting with the pulsating hip-hop of “We Not Folding” and “Brand New”. A more busy and bustling instrumental comes in “I Beast” as Json identifies identifies “I” (pride) as the centre of depravity, with God sending his Son to bring us up. “Secrets” ftg JR is a powerful track exposing the disturbing nature of sexual abuse, finding redemption in the truth to heaven where everything will be made white and made new.
JustMe – ‘One Man’s Trash’ | TOP
JustMe brings underground rollers and underground beats with insight and quality across a very underground album. One theme that is very evident production-wise on 'One Mans Trash' is that of big sounds broken down and cut up into minimal beats. Many tracks fire up with some soundscapes, which then break down for the verses and re-build on the hooks. A distinctive and not unwelcome trait which really works. Lyrically, we find JustMe with his distinctive rhymes and voice also dropping some punchy sung vocal hooks, with deft lyrical rhymes about life and music industry experiences. We kick off with the excellent, “The Song” – ‘I can only be who I’m created to be’, with JustMe on the hook, underpinned by a big sound, while on the verses he cleverly rides a looped rhodes sound and break. “Favorite Rapper” mixes a nice intro with amusing and insightful lyrics with a fan’s blind loyalty to an MC. There is a standout, “Low Budget” with its crunchy snare, where JustMe raps and sings on the hook about being a rapper on a low budget, where nevertheless, ‘quality is found in the beat and the flow’. The album also mixes in his life insights. In “To The Toppers” we find JustMe feeling misunderstood in his struggles by others who give him little sympathy, but all seem to have greater struggles, ‘cos your life sucks way more than mine does.’ On this personal theme, “Latenight Lullaby” is a forthright and honest look at his own struggles and dreams of his won fatherhood, looking to Jesus. This is raw stuff as he fights tired emotions. But JustMe also mixes in humour, ‘If I ever embarrass you in front of your friends, just let me know so I can do it again.’ We take a look at life’s shallow dreams, with some outstanding rhyme schemes in “Shallow Dreams” where we also learn that JustMe is 'glad he has the Lamb on his team.' Amen. Two interesting metaphorical tracks include, 'Let Go" in which JustMe likens getting on a bus with so much luggage that he can't let go of, that the driver has to leave. Spiritually speaking this resembles the fact that he's just missed the bus to paradise. Then we have “Talk A Good Game” which almost likens a baseball game to work on the mic. Other standouts include “Louder Days” with a lazy lounge-style catchy sax riff, “All Works Together” (for the good of those who love the Lord) with a Big Rec sample on the hook (from Big Rec's album, 'Chronicles') and the fantastic “Mic It” to end, with some freestyle thrown in for more than good measure. Quality. Run Time - 57.04.
J Weathers – ‘For The Kingdom’ | TOP
J Weathers delivers a fairly unique album with highly tuneful, thoughtful gospel rap. “For the Kingdom” sets the tone for the album as J Weather makes it clear he is here to preach Christ and do this for the kingdom (of God), over a pulsating bass and tuneful keyboard sounds and melodies. This is a unique album in which J Weathers programmes some excellent, highly varied, tuneful and complex patterns - as in the catchy and Father God-focused, “My Daddy”. We also have minimalist tracks such as “Don’t Stop” as J Weather challenges us, ‘how many Christians would rather have God than silver and gold?’ affirming that he traded pipe dreams for spiritual wings. We find a similar minimalist edge in “All Of The Above”. There are elements of reggae, as in another standout track with haunting vocal hook, “My G-O-D”. We find jazzy elements in “Gospel Glide” as J Weathers takes us on some very smooth hip-hop slide. Another downtempo jazzy track is “So Sweet” is an encouraging track to keep your head up and know God’s love and forgiveness. There are a couple of thought-provoking almost hip-hop worship songs such as “New Beginnings”, “I Love You Back” and “Ready To Fly”. As we end with another anthemic track, “Holy Hands” we’re encouraged to wave holy hands, glorify God and party for God, holding to God’s standards. My 2 main areas for improvement would bve firstly that many tracks are simply too busy musically, and secondly there appears to be a number of similar keyboard sounds. However, what is done with the arrangements is fantastic and this is encouraging gospel rap that builds through the album. Run Time - 57.04.