When major labels stopped investing in acts that were built around sampling, those artists went the do-it-yourself route, resulting in the great indie hip-hop boom of roughly 1996-2006. This movement saw smaller artists pressing up their own vinyl and CD’s, and gave birth to this site as well. J-Live was a part of this school, who saw his major label debut shelved, despite boasting production from Pete Rock, DJ Premier, Prince Paul, and others. The album was mysteriously released independently via Triple Threat Recordings in 2001 – an obvious nod to J himself, who is each DJ, MC, and producer. He followed up quickly a year later with All Of The Above, a critically acclaimed LP that carried on tradition of the vibey Native Tongue sound, here provided by himself and DJ Spinna.
Yet despite these two early triumphs, J had a rough time as a solo artist following that. Follow-ups didn’t quite meet expectations, as J didn’t have the A-list production of his first two albums, nor the backing of a major label or heavy indie imprint. As the years progressed, downloading music became the new model, with many hip-hop heads choosing to pirate, rather than pay, leaving smaller indie artists like J to struggle.
This struggle is evident on Around The Sun, J-Live’s new album, which barely has cover art attached to it, and is released digitally via Bandcamp, with no word on when we might expect a CD or vinyl release. But they say that the best art comes from pain, and Around The Sun is J’s best work since his 2002 LP, All Of The Above.
The Oddisee produced “Money Matters” tackles this topic head on, which despite the title, is far from your typical “get paper” anthem. Instead, J breaks down the reality of his situation as a starving artist, without sounding like he’s complaining: “I’m trying to raise two queens and protect the king / since a rook like Bishop, I’ve been doing my thing / every night / and I know that every game ceases / I’m trying to be the hand that the moves the pieces….”
“Not Listening” also eyes the problems with the industry as a whole, as J likely zeroes in how many aging heads feel about hip-hop today. In the first verse, he describes listening to a talented new emcee, but quickly loses interest as said emcee isn’t saying anything. Even better, in the last verse he boldly confesses: “Saddest part about it is that I almost didn’t write this / there’s too many songs just already like this! / in the name of hip-hop, trying to represent / complaining about these rappers and their shallow content / like they Luke Skywalker and they taking down Vader / Ironically the dark side is calling you a hater / I won’t even go as far as to say it’s insignificant / I can’t even hate it, I’m simply indifferent….”
As evidenced, J is in top lyrical form here, but what makes Around The Sun great is that the production weighs evenly along side it. The sound of the album, provided by names like Oddisee, Spinna, The Audible Doctor, DJ Nu-Mark, and J himself, is very much in line with that of his early career. The album carries a unified sound from a series of different producers, and keeps intact the timeless sound of the indie hip-hop movement he helped create. Your favorite rappers want to make music like this, but are afraid to. Support a man that isn’t.
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