Joell Ortiz grew up loving Hip-Hop. He idolized lyricists like B.I.G., Nas, and Big Pun. For ten years, Ortiz competed in countless battles, handed out his mixtape and provided 16′s whenever he got the chance. He did whatever it took for an opportunity to get signed. In 2007, he finally got that shot and with his debut album, The Brick: Bodega Chronicles, he plans to let the world hear his talent. With incredible lyrics that draw comparisons to some of the best that we’ve heard, Joell provides one of the finest albums this year.
Only one word is necessary to describe Joell’s skills on this album – rewind. At least once on every song you ask yourself, “what did he just say?” It’s also an album where you could be on your 5th listen and still catch new lines or metaphors. His incredible multi-layered and complex rhymes leave you replaying them over and over. On 125 Part 2, Ortiz lets off, “My flow liquid, too much H2O in it/ my system I ain’t drownin’, but became a wave and rolled with it/ I make it hard for y’all to swim on a track/ After I rap, I’m the current that be pushin’ you back.” From telling stories on “A Night in My P’s” to the slow methodical flow on “Brooklyn Bull***t”, he brings out the full lyrical arsenal and holds nothing back.
Unlike many emcees, Joell uses his gift to talk about more than hustlin’ and gun busting. He draws parallels between institutionalized racism and slavery on “Modern Day Slavery” and rides with Akon on “Keep On Callin’” to paint a vivid picture of what he’s had to overcome in his life and inspires others not to give up in the face of adversity. Throughout the album, Joell goes toe to toe with everyone from the legendary Big Daddy Kane to Styles P. He even holds his own after a show stealing verse from Ras Kass on “125 Part 3″. These guest appearances show not only his respect for history, but that he raps with people because they’re “nice” and not because they can help sell records.
The production is also on point. Ortiz recruited the likes of Alchemist, MoSS and others to re-ignite that classic boom-bap sound. Hard-hitting baselines and creative and timely sample use give the album a diverse yet consistent feel. Furthermore, techniques like dropping the beat to accentuate punchlines help take these tracks to the next level.
A few missteps keep this album from achieving classic status. He goes to the “rep yo hood” well one too many times with “BQE” and a few songs, including “Block Royal” have lackluster hooks. However, what keeps these songs from being labeled album fillers that you skip is that you don’t want to miss any of Joell’s rhymes. His ability to make an average song good is a testament to his skill.
The first three letters in “Rapper” are R-A-P and you should know how to rap in order to be considered a good one. Ortiz reminds us that creative rhymes are the still the most important characteristic when measuring a rapper’s greatness. By combining humor, wit, a brash delivery and versatile flows, Joell has the ability to bring it in any situation. His love for the music, as described in the lead single “Hip-Hop”, shows that his efforts are truly genuine and it makes you want to root for him. The sky is truly the limit for this emcee and if he can put out a product like this on his own, just imagine what he’ll be able to do with Dr. Dre on the boards.
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