Joell Ortiz & Novel Present: Defying the Predictable

Posted February 11, 2010

In 2006 you couldn’t swing a dead rapper without hitting some bling, and in 2007 Cristal...

Defying the Predictable Album Review

In 2006 you couldn’t swing a dead rapper without hitting some bling, and in 2007 Cristal apparently replaced water as America’s most commonly consumed beverage. In ‘08 the entire game decided to get their meteorologist on and make it rain, followed by a 2009 full of swagger, and auto-tune, and if God was feeling particularly angry, auto-tuned swagger. While the overworked, overplayed trend of 2010 has yet to emerge, history tells us it will, and once it does you won’t have to actually listen to the radio to know what’s being played. After a while it all gets so…predictable.

Here to save us from this plague of mediocrity are singe/producer/Renaissance man Novel and Bodega rhyme beast and Slaughterhouse alumnus Joell Ortiz, who have unpredictably teamed up to form a musical tag team on their new, aptly-titled mixalbum Defying the Predictable. On paper the Ortiz-Novel pairing made perfect sense; Novel’s more r&b/pop leanings would serve as a dope counterbalance to Ortiz’ hard-laced hip-hop roots - and vice-versa - and luckily in practice the pairing works even better. Jordan and Pippen, peanut butter and jelly, white t-shirts and water, after Defying, Ortiz and Novel deserve to be called one of history’s best pairings.

Because he handles the vast majority of the production on the mixalbum, Defying the Predictable feels slightly more like a Novel venture than an Ortiz one, starting with Stressful. A remix of Trey Songz minimalistic smash Successful, Stressful flips the original track’s ideology completely, bringing in Novel and Chri$style to handle vocal duties and giving Ortiz one of the softest beats he’s ever rhymed over. Ultimately though Stressful doesn’t venture into uncharted territory for Ortiz nearly as much as All the Right Moves, an epically-oriented cut that takes pop-rock band One Republic’s track of the same name, adds some bass and symphonic strings, and morphs it into a treatise on the perils of maneuvering through a music industry more interested in an artist’s earning potential than human potential. Ortiz may have jumped on a Successful freestyle without Novel’s influence, but I don’t think he would have ever rhymed on a track like All the Right Moves, or the complexly rhythmic Motherland otherwise, and for that alone Defying the Predictable is more than worth the listen.

That’s not to say that Ortiz doesn’t maintain a serious presence on Defying the Predictable and push Novel’s musical boundaries as well. If you did a double take when you saw Duffle Bag Boy on the mixalbum there’s no need to see an optometrist. It’s true, the dynamic duo resurrected the Playaz Circle anthem with Novel replacing Weezy on the hook, plus adding in a Prince-inspired verse, followed closely by dope boy fresh rhymes from Short Dawg and Ortiz. I won’t lie. I did not see that coming. Just as hard hitting is the old-school soaked Hip-Hop, which brings on Jadakiss and Saigon to back Ortiz and Novel in their ode to the culture, and We Ain’t Trippin is a boom bap cut that brings out a criminal side in Novel we’d rarely heard before, but the real story here is Fighters (Freestyle). Novel and I have been engaged in a running debate regarding his rhyme skills, so Novel, if you’re reading this, you win. I expected Ortiz to kill this Lupe beat, but to hear you spit fast paced rhymes with Twista-like precision? I doff my hat to you good sir.

Of course this hip-hop vs. r&b dichotomy, this divide between “Novel” and “Ortiz” is a gross oversimplification. The truth is that Defying the Predictable’s best moments, like the men who created them, defy easy categorization. Ghetto Pt. 1, and its counterpart Ghetto Pt. 2, are tensely but quietly unwinding tracks that turn their sights to the quickly our sinking world, and Like I Know is a soulful look at a one-sided relationship that mixes Ortiz’ rhymes and Novel’s vocals into one unified whole. And in the end this complexity is precisely the reason why Novel and Ortiz will never become a part of the endless cycle of bling/Cristal/make it rain/auto-tuned swagger trends that so cyclonicly take hold of the game and then, just as quickly, leave. Artists follow because they’re lazy, because creating something new takes infinitely more effort and energy than simply following the well worn grooves of those who came before. Joell Ortiz and Novel refuse to join the musical lemmings as they careen off the cliff, and Defying the Predictable is the chronicle of their defiance.

DJBooth Rating - 4 Spins

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Posted February 11, 2010
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