erasing clouds

J-Live, All of the Above

reviewed by Dave heaton

If you don't already know about it, you can add to the near-infinite list of record-label boondoggles J-Live's debut CD The Best Part, which essentially was held up so long in label shenanigans that it just never came out, and J-Live just moved on to his next album. That album, his self-described "very first second album" All of the Above, is out now from Coup d' Etat Entertainment, and it's a dazzling intoduction to a down-to-earth, intelligent, supremely skilled MC.

With Common, Posdnous, Talib Kweli, Black Thought and the other MCs he is sometimes reminiscent of, J-Live shares a knack at wordplay, a love of pure hip-hop, an introspectiveness and a willingness to speak his mind even when his opinions might not be popular. That last quality is displayed, along with his social consciousness, on "Satisfied?," a snappy, reggae-inflected song with a message that needs to be heard in this country, now. Flipping through various reasons people have to be unsatisfied with U.S. society today, the most ear-catching verse is the one on our country post-9/11. He questions our climate of superficial patriotism and the reasons behind the "war on terrorism" while acknowledging the seriousness of the issues lurking behind (he also drops a nice Boondocks shout-out).

That song, as relevant as it is, is still just one side of J-Live. An adventurous stylist, he takes on an assortment of rhyming methods throughout the album. "Like This Anna" takes an old-school line and flips it into a warning to women about players and phonys, while "Stir of Echoes" starts with a similarly old-school style, the echoing style displayed, for example, by Run in "Run's House" and then takes it in crazier directions. On "One For the Griot" he plays around with storytelling, taking a simple story and throwing a bunch of alternate endings on it. Elsewhere he rhymes for the sake of rhyming, or adopts a heartfelt autobiographical style, as on the superb "Nights Like This," a description of the sort of night that lets you clear your head and feel better about life.

The music throughout All of the Above is soulful and jazzy, with a friendly, accessible tone; this is music for the masses, even given J-Live's intellectual persona (the cover has him standing at the mic in "thinker" mode, hand on chin). And in true James Brown, "give the people what they want" fashion, the already full album includes a few bonus tracks, including a sharp posse cut with Asheru and El da Sensai. The number of smart, creative, down-to-earth hip-hop MCs is growing by the day. Forget the naysayers, J-Live's All of the Above is one more piece of evidence that the hip-hop world is profoundly deeper than MTV would have you believe.


Issue 9, April 2002 | next article

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