Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Reviews:: Justis - Just Is

If you aren't as old as some of us around here, you'd likely be forgiven for not knowing there was once a very strong and very active connection between Jazz and hip hop. Not to say that some connection between the two doesn't remain, but once upon a time the biggest acts in the game, like Tribe and Gangstarr made Jazz a pretty regular, and overt, part of their sound. And the biggest names in Jazz took an interest in hip hop as well, with some even doing some collaboration, like the Branford Marsalis-helmed project I mentioned in yesterdays OSM, Buckshot LeFonque, which featured DJ Premier production, and rhymes from rapper Uptown.

But hip hop has changed (for better of worse depends on what side of the ridiculously large, iced-out medallion you reside on), and I, for one, had assumed that the connection between hip hop and Jazz was a thing of the past. Well, it seems I might've been wrong about that. There are signs that jazz is making a welcome return to hip hop production. Last week I reviewed Dragon Fli Empire's new album, Redefine, and there was jazz influence aplenty to be found there. There's even more jazzmatazz this week, as I bring you the sounds of young Canadian rapper Justis and his full length debut from last year: Just Is.

Somehow I missed Just Is when it dropped, but I'm certainly glad it was brought to my attention. Although still relatively young, mid twenties from what I gather, Justis has the charisma and flow of someone that's been doing this for a long time. He's adept at uptempo tracks that celebrate hip hop, like the three songs that open the album: I Am Hip Hop, Down, and Get It Right. But like many of us, Justin Vail also uses hip hop as an outlet to escape the monotony of his day to day, as thoughtful, passionate songs like Tryin' To Live, Power of One, Music For A Rainy Day clearly show.

Those are all solid songs, but it's the aptly-named Jazz Music that I'd have to tab as my highlight. It has a cool, dark-sounding intro but once the keys come in it becomes a sunnier ode to the Jazz musicians Justis clearly has an affection for. And I buy it, it doesn't just sound like someone dropping Jazz-names - it sounds like a real appreciation for the genre. There are other highlights too, like I Am Hip Hop which is a rundown of Justis' devotion to hip hop over a solid beat with some nice horns on the hooks, it sounds like a sped up version of something Tribe might've done. Get It Right is another nice beat, with thick drums and some female vocal snippets, it also features a verse from Mantis, who Justis will be doing a collab with for his next release. Just rocks a doubletime rhyme scheme on Let It Ride that, if I'm being honest, isn't my favorite, but the track has a nice beat (that I know I recognize from somewhere), and he slyly references the Outkast song ("Got up, got out and rocked something") that blew up on the hill recently.

There's a lot to like about Just Is, not the least of which is how listenable it is - it goes down pretty smooth. If I had any complaint, it would be that things get a little same-y by the end of the album - it would benefit from a bit more variance in the types of beats and lyric content. But that is really small potatoes, as the songs stay pretty strong all the way through from one to fifteen, and that is impressive in today's hip hop climate. So there you go, jazz in hip hop isn't a thing of the past, and one of the best examples is from a hungry young Canadian MC. Have to like that.

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Posted at 2:15 PM by naedoo :: 2 comments

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At 10:05 AM, Blogger The R.O.B. did sayeth:

Cool. Love hearing your hip-hop reviews...


At 10:14 AM, Blogger naedoo did sayeth:

Well thanks kindly, I like doing them. Especially when they're of the non-sucky, Canadian variety.


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