J-Live is an emcee’s emcee. He can rock a mic, rock a crowd, and rock an album. Live, he performed the song ‘Braggin Writes’ while scratching the records on the turntables and rhyming at the same time. His debut album ‘The Best Part’ took a while to come out, but it was eventually released on Seven Heads. Produced by Premier, Pete Rock, and others, J-Live proved to everyone that he is an emcee in the truest form.
J-Live had clever punch lines, astute lyrics, original and innovative themes, as well as energy, flow, and confidence. Some standout tracks were ‘Braggin Writes’, ‘Timeless’, ‘Kick It To The Beat’, ‘True School Anthem’ and the title track. His sophomore album, ‘All Of The Above’ earned some critical acclaim and loads of respect in the underground hip-hop world. In fact, many critics and fans were calling him the saviour of underground hip-hop. With production by DJ Spinna and Jazzy Jeff’s Touch Of Jazz, ‘All Of The Above’ was a mind-blowing LP with wild concepts and tons of mental treats.
‘One For The Griot’ is a classic example of a wonderful J-Live track. Like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book, J-Live made a story-telling track and each verse gave the story a different ending. Other incredible tracks included ‘Satisfied’, ‘Stir Of Echoes’, ‘The Lyricist’, ‘First Things First’, and ‘Like This Anna’.
Since then, J-Live has done many collaborations with people ranging from Asheru & Blue Black Of The Unspoken Heard, Iomos Marad, DJ Jazzy Jeff, Wordsworth, Soulive, El Da Sensai, 7L & Esoteric, Lone Catalysts, and more.
J-Live eventually went his own way and used Triple Threat Productions, Fat Beats, and Razor & Tie to release a set of EPs: ‘Always Will Be’ consists of eight songs that are filled with authentic and intelligent underground hip-hop. (The second EP, ‘Always Has Been’, will feature older tracks from 1995 to 1997.) The CD is enhanced with some short live footage too.
Produced entirely by J-Live himself, ‘Always Will Be’ is another essential ingredient of the J-Live recipe, even if it lacks the intensity of ‘The Best Part’ or ‘All Of The Above’. It’s all J-Live. Wordsworth is the only guest and he does not even rap.
‘Always Will Be’, the opening title track, is basically one long verse. The upbeat track has an energetic, cool, and funky feel with complicated melodies, bass lines, thick drum patterns, and the organic feel of ‘All The Above’. J-Live rocks an exuberant verse:
Cut off my legs, you still have to face the rest of me
Tenacious, like the Terminator in The Matrix
Face it, you can’t fake it
My back, black, you can’t break it
This plot, you can’t stake it
My just desserts, son, you won’t make it
Grill it, fry it, chill it, kill it, why try it?
My kitchen is so hot, the devil downstairs complains, about to riot’
‘Add-A-Cipher’ is even more upbeat with some substantial sounding drumbeats and some very cool scratching, handled by DJ Flo Fader. The sample also brings a strong live energy to the track. For the hook, J-Live uses a call and response technique as he tells the crowd to say ‘5’, then, ’50’, ‘500’, and finally, ‘5000’. The second verse is the gem of the song:
50 people in a 5 man elevator
free-falling from the fifth-thousand floor
500 degrees fahrenheit to a 5 minute song
Feeling like you can’t go wrong’
The tongue-twisting syllables in the lyrics not only display J-Live’s incredible breath control, but his clear annunciation of words. This is a song that would sound amazing in a live venue.
‘Deal Widit’ is one of the best tracks on the album. Not only is it catchy thanks to the chorus, but also features universal sentiments. It’s a theme song for dealing with busy days that are filled with problems. The song helps you find the light at the end of the tunnel. The hook asks a question, and even supplies the answer:
What do you do when you got 20 2-minute tasks
and 10 minutes to deal with it?
Stay committed’ just deal with it’
The sample is also a perfect choice since it complements the mellow mid-tempo beat that uses brushes and light drum rhythms.
‘Get Live’ is a filler track that does not rise above the standards that were set by previous J-Live songs. The production is weak when compared to the other J-Live produced songs. The snaps and electronic cymbal-driven beat sound feeble but is filled out by the sampled keyboard horn melody, which sounds like a cheaper version of a Just Blaze beat. The hook has J-Live shouting out ‘Get live!’ and luckily J-Live always keeps his lyrics and flows interesting. Still, for a track that is supposed inspire energy and get the crowd amped, it just doesn’t cut it.
‘Car Trouble’, a brilliant concept track that includes Wordsworth, is another one of the modern classic tracks on the EP (including ‘Deal Widit’ and ‘Walkman Music’). The beat is incredibly simple and the scratching in the beginning is especially cool. The simplicity is contrasted by J-Live’s lyrics, and the scratching. Here, J-Live plays the role of a cab driver who once had a record deal and Wordsworth is the aspiring emcee who is on his way to a label. Wordsworth, who is an excellent emcee in his own right, does not rhyme at all. He just talks after each of J-Live’s verses and is tragically underused. J-Live uses driving a cab as a metaphor for being an emcee in the record industry.
‘Walkman Music’ is another brilliant track that is made especially for listeners who use headphones. The simple piano melody is complemented by a solid string sample and sharp snare hits. In the third verse, J-Live breaks down who exactly this song is for:
If you got a portable CD, MD, and an MP3
We made it hot for you
If you’re sitting on chrome and it’s spinning
when you’re not and at least 22
This is not for you
If your disk-man matches your kicks and it’s strapped
to the palm of your hand
We made it hot for you’
It will surely add pep to your step while you listen to it in your walkman or portable CD player.
‘9000 Miles’ is a much more atmospheric track with a light piano sample in the background. The theme is abstract and as he uses swimming as a metaphor:
Stroke! Through the Atlantic
Stroke! Through the Pacific
Stroke! Through the Indian
Stroke! Through the warm current
Stroke! Through the cold current
Stroke! Through the fear and the foul ‘ for 9,000 miles’ >This is an ethereal track that grows on the listener and may go over some people’s heads.
‘Skip Proof’ is the final track that is more of an outro than an actual song. He talks for a while and kicks a little rhyme. Unfortunately, he sounds a little offbeat. The beat is different but not very exciting. The song is skip proof because it is so short.
The enhanced portion of the CD is wonderful since it has a QuickTime movie of J-Live doing his thing live in concert. Anyone who has seen him perform knows that ‘Braggin Writes’ is an amazing aspect of his show, where he rhymes while simultaneously scratching on the turntables, and is the jewel of the crown. You know he practiced that a million times until he got it perfect. This enhanced CD captures that energy and creativity that many people missed by not going to his live show.
‘Always Will Be’ is a very entertaining EP that is a must for fans of J-Live. While his first two full length LPs were classic material, there are one or two minor problems with this EP. Still, the filler track is much better than typical garbage on the radio.
A wonderful aspect of J-Live is that there is a balance to him as an emcee. He has clever and insightful lyrics, he chooses (or produces) strong beats and has mastered the art of flowing while maintaining a confident delivery. J-Live is a talented producer, but he is still just evolving. It would have been much better if there were one or two songs produced by other people. J-Live and DJ Spinna always work well together. Pete Rock, DJ Jazzy Jeff, and Premier have all made classic material with J-Live. But J-Live handles all of the production and all of the rhyming and ‘Always Will Be’ is his proof that he is one talented artist.
Always Will Be (2003)
Genre: Hip Hop, Rap
Record Label: Fatbeats