Then What Happened?
When I first heard this album, I wasn't as crazy as about it as I thought I would be. The EP that preceeded it was so ridiculous and this one at first didn't seem to match the intensity of what came before. But after a few listens, it caught on and there is some fire on this one. For people who love Hip-Hop but have never heard of J-Live, this is not a bad place to acquaint yourselves with one of the best living Hip-Hop lyriscists out there and my (and your favorite rapper's) favorite rapper.
Peace! (J-Live likes to start his albums that way).
Confession time. I am a huge J-Live fan. I can't remember when it happened. I bought a compilation mixed by DJ Premier in college called New York 101 and on it was a song by J-Live. I remember liking the song but being annoyed by the mixing. Some years later I picked up "The Best Part" and honestly I can't remember why. It just happened like it was meant to be. Anyhow, I thought then that J-Live was one of the best Mcees out there and I still think that today.
J-Live says it himself on the first track of this album that he's only sold about 100k albums. To me that seems a bit disapointing. Here is one of the best Hip-Hop artists that I've ever heard and yet it would seem that only a few people have ever heard the man's music. How is that possible? I'm sure that there are plenty of ring-tone rappers that have run sales-laps around J-Live and have never written a clever line.
I wasn't even sure how to proceed with writing what you are reading now. I have so much respect for J-Live that I was worried that whatever came out to the page wouldn't do justice to the man's music (I bought record frames from target and the only records I have framed on my walls at home are "Reveal The Secret", "All Of The Above", and "Then What Happened"). I tweeted that very fact. But let's not focus on that for the moment. Let's focus on the record itself. I've been resisting the urge to do this, but for this one I think I'm just going to copy my notes here. See, the album recommendation process to me is usually me listening to the album over and over again until I feel sure about how I feel about each individual track. Then I usually press play on the record and take notes track by track. I listen to the album a couple of times before attempting to write up an opinion on it. This is a process that takes an average of 3-hours, and that's working with an album I know really, really well. If I don't know the album well enough, the recommendation does not get written.
So back to my favorite rapper, Mr. J-Live. There was a lot of talk on the internets when "The Hear After" came out because most of the production came courtesty of Justice himself. And yeah, the beats weren't as banging as they were in the past. Then on the "Reveal The Secret" EP that sort of changed. Lyrically J has always been J. Even on a less than brilliant track you have some amazing lyrics. But then on the EP that preceeded "Then What Happened" the beats returned to form and blew me out of the water. I was afraid that the songs that appeared on that EP would be repeated on the full-length follow up. Thankfully, that wasn't the case and "Then what Happened" is 100% brand new J-Live.
Allright, onto my notes (I can't say they'll be organized or even coherent, so just fair warning):
"One to 31"
In which J-Live waxes poetically about where he came from and how he got to where he is today. There are some bombastic horns and this one and while the beat isn't brilliant, the lyrics elevate the music. I loved this quote:
Take life's hardest hits on the chin
Wipe the blood off my cheek and begin again
So while these rappers fantasize and pretend
This'll show you art imitates life now and then
J-Live says that he's only sold 100k records on this track. Boo! How is that even possible? That's way too few.
"Be No Slave"
Dayumn! That's a hot bassline. Sick even. Off the charts. J-Live writes songs about record labels the way Slug from Atmosphere writes songs about Lucy. The labels are like the hot girl that broke J's heart but who he can't get out of his head. That's what this what is like.
Nice guest spots! Oddisee and Posdanous are nice compliments to J-Live. I liked that Posdanous line about not being underground but being underwater "with Prince Namor and such". More horns on this one. Can't get enough of the horns on my Hip-Hop records.
"It Don't Stop"
Best. Song. On the album! Man, when I heard this the first time I had to play it for all my Hip-Hop head friends. Even just listening to this again for my notes, I had to play it twice three times. That's just a ridiculous beat and J is killing. He sounds hungry. It was smart to put that little instrumental break in there to give the listener time to just soak up the ambiance. Then J comes back with:
It's going out to man woman and child
Senior citizen too
Atheist, Buddhist, Pagan or Hindu
God Body or Mind
Christian Muslim or Jew
The Black, White, the Yellow
The Red, White, and Blue
The US, Haiti or Puerto Rico too
Everywhere in between
Digging in the scene
With the universal fire that can't be extinguished
Whether your captain is French, Spanish, or English
Wow. Nice verse! Now that's how you proclaim that Hip-Hop goes on. Another response toNas, I think. Let's hear it one more time...
Lots of Jokes about J's weight. That's funny. I remember I didn't know what he looked like in person because all the media I had seen of him was his headshot from the album covers. We went to a show where he was there and there was this heavy-set guy looking nervous watching Giant Panda on the stage who had a passing resemblence to J-Live. I finally got the nerve to go up and say, "Are you J-Live?". Dude was like, "Yeah." I was like, "Cool". haha...man, I guess I should have had something more to say, but J looked focused so I didn't want to disturb him. For a while my friends joked that the "J" stood for "Jellyroll"...that's just mean (kids). This has a mellow beat. Nice scratches. I could see this on a chillout compilation.
"The Last Third"
So we went from his wife rapping on a track with him (rapping family ala Freddy Foxx) to a song about being estranged from his wife. He even had a track about how couldn't wait to come home to her (featuring Dwele, no less). Crazy how life can up and flip on you like that. It's hard enough to just go through relationship non-sense in real life. I wonder how it feels to go through it on wax and in stereo. This sounds noir-ish with the muted trumpet. And how many Hip-Hop songs end with a trumpet solo?
My least favorite song on the album. The whole spanish vibe on this thing just has too many cliche's. Elevated from a one star song to a two star by clever word play. Almost took the star back for the guest spot. Continuence of the theme started on the last track. Post relationship recovery.
"What You Holdin'?"
Not your usual Hip-Hop beat. I'm not sure how I feel about this one. It's a different style for J-Live. It's like half-speed. Beat is catchy yet extremely repetitive. Flows keep it decent though. I almost feel like double-time rapping would have been better. Gotta give points about calling out the gangster image in Hip-Hop though. Speaking of which, has that trend officially died out already? Who'd have thought the ring-tones and make-up-a-dance Hip-Hop would have been the thing that took that trend down. That's like if Disco had killed Grunge.
Nice song about meeting the right girl for now and then backing off when it gets serious. Themeatically connected to "Ole", and "The Last Third". Just a very solid storytelling song ala "One For The Griot". The "Oowee" yelling in the chrous is almost corny. But it's nice to hear J-Live back at his normal rapping pace. I'm not crazy about half-speed-J.
Featuring Charli 2na! I like Charli. Like Guru said, "Must Be The Voice". I should check out his new full-length. But I'm not sold based on the video making the rounds right now. Digging the funked out beat and soul-singer sample. Charli knows how to compliment the other artists on a track, so I'm not surprised this connection works so well.
DJ Spinna in the house y'all. I love the J-Live/Spinna combo! This song is evidence of that. Ridiculous soul-singer sample. J's back making fun of his girth and flipping it into a line about a hot girl:
Dime piece in the back, right there pretty face
Ass fat as my belly, that's all you had to tell me
...nice. Excellent song.
Back to half-speed J-Live. I just don't dig these slower tracks as much, but it's decent.
"You Out There"
Sounds like an outro. Still slowed down a bit. It's nice of him to thank the fans though. Decent.
(...so I know this album isn't exactly new. As we said in the About that hardly anyone reads (thanks be to Google Analytics) we aren't necessarily going to be only recommending new albums. We aren't big enough to get sent review copies of albums and since I personally don't believe in piracy (despite having little love for label tatics) what you see written about here on this site are albums that we paid actual money for. So that means that we may have to write about some older stuff that we feel deserves some publicity.)
4.077 out of 5
|1. One to 31 (03:25)||4|
|2. Be No Slave (02:47)||5|
|3. The Upgrade (feat. Posdnuos & Oddisee) (05:46)||5|
|4. It Don't Stop (04:24)||5|
|5. The Understanding (04:34)||4|
|6. The Last Third (04:20)||4|
|7. Ole (feat. Oddy Gato) (04:41)||3|
|8. What You Holdin'? (04:25)||5|
|9. Ooweee (04:17)||4|
|10. The Zone (feat. Chali 2na) (04:01)||4|
|11. We Are! (03:11)||4|
|12. Simmer Down (04:39)||3|
|13. You Out There (04:58)||3|