The third album. If you have gotten this far as an artist, it means that you have won over enough fans with your debut and debunked the so-called “sophomore jinx.” Now is the time to deliver. Many third albums have found artists in their “comfort zone,” thus delivering albums full of incredible music. Outkast had Aquemini, A Tribe Called Quest had Midnight Marauders, De La Soul had Buhloon Mind State. But then again, some artists’ third album just so happened to not be their greatest achievements and showed a change of direction musically that fans didn’t really appreciate (Nas’ I Am, for instance). So where does J-Live fit into all of this? J-Live is artistically an amazing emcee whose previous two albums (The Best Part and All of the Above) have been critically acclaimed and the buzz has heightened beyond the small fanbase who were around when The Best Part was released. He’s an emcee/producer/deejay that somebody told somebody about and upon listening to him, has proven that he’s not your average emcee. Now that many know the name J-Live, it’s time to deliver his greatest achievement yet. But with The Hear After, would this become his Midnight Maurauders or his I Am?
J-Live is such a stellar lyricist that it is a forgone conclusion that The Hear After is chock full of substantial concepts and wordplay. From the jump, the Soulive assisted “Here” bounds with introspective wordplay and stellar rhyme patterns which set the tone for the album. Oddisee chimes in with a rip worthy production on “Aww Yeah” as Live states that he’s “the oldest rookie/rap’s Satchel Paige” and torments the production with his old school mentality (“And if I had a quarter/for every so-called journalist/with a tape recorder/claiming my style is old skool and it takes it back/I’d be the richest mu’afucka in the Laundromat”). And the groove heavy “Fire Water” showcases Live’s ability to turn a simple production into a barn burner with his 100 proof lyricism.
Of course J-Live tackles concepts like no other. “The Sidewalks” finds J-Live donning the C.R.E.A.M. concept and adapt it to his NY and Philly dwellings. J-Live also is able to walk the fine line of being mature and still appealing to a younger crowd. Grown man shit like the Dwele assisted “Coming Home” and rocking with his wife, Kola Rock, on the dope “Listening” shows that J-Live’s growth as an artist is something to behold and admire. “Brooklyn Public Part 1″ allows Live to take his NY teaching experience and apply in rhyme form. Giving the listener insight on how grimy the education experience in New York can be for teachers and students alike. Just as the listener falls into the witty mental abyss he leaves you hanging for part 2 which apparently won’t appear until his next album.
So with all this praise and respect asks the question “Where do the problems lie?” The answer is in the production. We can all this “the Nas curse” where J-Live is so incredibly dope that inferior production can be considered blasphemous. Gone is the soul and vibes that All of the Above and The Best Part contained in favor of some lame and sometimes tired production. “Do My Thing” plods along at a skip worthy pace while “Weather the Storm’s” synthesizers burn the ear and have listeners asking for something a little more soulful. At times the album begs for a slew of remix projects because it just can’t help itself enough with J-Live’s lyricism.
Although J-Live repeatedly delivers lyrically, the choice to not enlist the producers and sound that made his previous two albums remarkable ends up hurting him in the long run. This was supposed to be his coming out party and unfortunately The Hear After won’t woo in new fans who have been curious as to who this J-Live guy is. J-Live is far from wack, but many of us already knew that. As a matter of fact, J-Live may be one of the dopest emcees in the game, period. But if nobody can become (as the GZA said) “intrigued by the drum,” then who is going to listen?
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