J The S - Wish You Were Here

Posted March 15, 2010
Tags: J The S,

To quasi-quote Charles Dickens, for indie rappers 2010 is the best of times, and the worst of...

Wish You Were Here Album Review

To quasi-quote Charles Dickens, for indie rappers 2010 is the best of times, and the worst of times. On the downside, the ongoing collapse of the major labels have made deals - and plush advances - rarer than a Mormon in Cancun for spring break. On the plus side, the game’s never been more open. Does Drake go from unknown to superstar that fast a decade ago? Not a chance. On one hand, the internet has killed album sales, taking away even the small amount of money an indie artist could make off cd sales (E-40 made millions out of his trunk well before Warner Bros. came calling). On the other hand, the internet has allowed artists to amass an international fan base on a scale that would have been unimaginable just a few short years go. The modern hip-hop story is truly a tale of two music industries.

J The S is intimately familiar with this paradox. He lives it every day. The Boston-born emcee broke onto the scene four years ago with his debut album Strategy of the Crown, an album that put him on the radar of underground lyrical heads nationwide. Since then he’s been living the rollercoaster ride of an artist fighting to transform his passion into a living, and now that ride appears to be approaching new heights with the release of this new "free album" Wish You Were Here. A prelude to J The S’ upcoming album The Last Days, Wish You Were Here is the record of a man just beginning to figure out how to balance success and integrity, creativity and popularity; qualities that by no means have to be mutually exclusive.

J The S’ music has always been autobiographically oriented and Wish You Were Here at times sounds like a musical novel, or at least a rap version of a Raymond Chandler story, most notably on the title track Wish You Were Here. A triumphantly produced cut by Lion’s Share, Wish You chronicles the geopolitical and personal upheavals that brought The Snake from a childhood in the West Indies to the streets of Boston, experiences that he uses as fuel for his lyrical fire. J The S isn’t afraid to let us inside his life, and not just the good parts. In fact, if anything, Wish You Were Here is an album of struggle, as evidenced by the heartbroken Bury Me, a joint whose bouncing beat masks a darker interior, the aggressive Hurt Em (“I’m so comfortable in my vulnerability”), and, of course, the crushingly heavy Middle Of A Storm. In an industry built on illusions, it feels like to listen to J The S is to know J The S.

If J The S truly wants to reach a critical mass of fans, and it sounds like he does, than the simple truth is that he’s going to have to make songs about partying and fu**king, and sure enough Wish You Were Here takes time to delve into both. I don’t think I have to tell you what Handcuff Sex is about, the track’s just a touch more emotional than you might think, and Marvelous is the closest The Snake comes to outright boldness and arrogance, although instead of stacking paper he’s rhyming about his metaphorical cooking skills. Ok, so maybe that’s a bad example since mainstream radio wouldn’t go near Marvelous (it should, but it won’t). Instead let’s focus on The Last Party (Remix), a head-nodding affair you know is on another tip when the airy hook hits you from the get-go. Throw in verses from Jadakiss, Nipsey Hussle and Dre Robinson and you’ve got Wish You Were Here’s sole offering for the clubs. The key here is to make these songs sound not like the work of a completely different rapper, but simply a different side of the same rapper, a tight rope J The S walks reasonably well.

An enjoyable as The Last Party is, Wish You Were Here is first and foremost a project about hope (Can We), self-improvement (Eyes Wide Shut) and change (um…Change), themes that elevate J The S from an aspiring rapper to a full-fledged rapper. Is Wish You Were Here perfect? Not at all; at times it can be long on concept and short on execution, but the modern rap game is a paradox and J The S is navigating it with as much skill and drive as you could ask for. Respect.

DJBooth Rating - 3.5 Spins

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Posted March 15, 2010
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