For Joyner Lucas and his fans, his moment in the spotlight has been a long time coming.
A rapper since the age of 10, the 28-year-old out of Worcester, MA has been spitting for almost as long as (or longer than) some of hip-hop’s most popular new school acts have been alive. And it shows. Across all of his releases thus far, Lucas has operated like an indie filmmaker, quietly dropping quality at every turn and slowly but surely amassing a cult-like following.
However, for his debut album, 508-507-2209, he has the backing of Atlantic Records, and things are bigger and better than ever. His music maintains it’s satisfying nucleus of incisive storytelling mixed with street edge, but all the details are more vivid and pristine. The production artfully matches the tone and themes of his lyrics, and Lucas raps with the confidence of an artist that can finally focus on their art and nothing else.
With the release of the 16-track 508-507-2209, Lucas looks to solidify himself amongst the cream of hip-hop’s storytelling crop. Can he prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that he can go toe to toe and bar for bar with the likes of Kendrick and Cole?
Let's find out...
Three Standout Songs:
"Ultrasound" is the opening track and lead single on 508-507-2209 and it's also one of its best. Over a beat that resembles a chopped-up version of the GameCube jingle, JL raps with an urgency that makes clear he has several things to get off his chest. He opens the track with a resounding, “Get the fuck off my dick, hoe!” which appears to be a message he's been saving for a number of people.
It’s a sentiment everyone shares once they’ve made it, right? You can’t really call out people that are dragging you down while they’re in the process of doing so. But once you’ve made it in spite of their shenanigans? Now, that’s a different story.
JL’s rapping prowess is also on full display here. He switches up cadences so quickly that he’s already onto the next one before you noticed he shifted in the first place. His hook also rides the staccato nature of the beat perfectly. "Ultrasound" is peak JL and was the perfect choice to put the album in motion.
"Way to Go" ft. Snoh Aalegra
On “Way to Go,” Joyner lifts the gritty Auto-Tuned vocals from the MBDTF/808s & Heartbreak version of Kanye, employing them to tell his own tales of heartbreak and heartbreaking, friends lost and friends that can’t stop losing.
In borrowing the vocal approach of some of his peers, he becomes like a rap game Kirby, a tactic he employs often throughout the record and one that pays off well.
Don't be turned off by the song's six-minute runtime, it will give you absolute chills. The beat switch in the middle spurs a tidal wave of emotions as Joyner Lucas’s feelings and fate link with your own. It’s immersive storytelling at its finest and demonstrates that Lucas is both a student and a master of his craft.
“One Lonely Night”
On the album’s final track, JL is finally looking forward, though, he does so cautiously. In a future so bright, he knows it's not without dangers of its own. He also knows there will still be lonely nights, even if they start in the wee hours of the morning instead of the first hours of dusk.
"One Lonely Night," wisely, brings the album full circle. If “Ultrasound” was, in part, about a woman from his past, then the second half of "One Lonely Night" is about that same person, only in the present and the future. Lucas is aware that regardless of how famous he might become, his problems and the people closest to him will never be far away.
Joyner Lucas knows that no matter how big you get, or no matter how much your circumstances might change, you are still the same person. Improved circumstances don't guarantee improvement as a person. It’s a cautionary tale for all of us.
On each of the 16 songs on 508-507-2209, Lucas goes in with the same approach, deeply examining himself and his surroundings in past and present, and then relating them to the reader in vivid detail.
If anything, it’s this depth that leads to my only critique of the album. Though there are the vignettes of voicemails that tie the album together conceptually, there are simply so many characters and details that Lucas weaves together throughout the album's 83-minute runtime, that it can be difficult to keep track of them all. By the end of each record, you’re almost numb to all the detail.
To avoid this minor pitfall, I would suggest an unconventional listening approach. Instead of bumping the record all the way through, instead listen to one track every hour, or even just one a day. That way, you’re able to soak in all of Lucas’ details and narratives without risking sensory overload.
To be clear, this is hardly meant to be a knock on the work Lucas has done on his major label debut. To cram in so much detail while maintaining an airtight flow and clever lyricism over 16 tracks is incredibly impressive. And it goes to show just how talented he is as a rhyme-smith and a storyteller.
Ultimately, Lucas crafted an album where his trials and tribulations stand in for our own—his victories even more so.