Fact: The beat is the most important part of any hip-hop song.
Effective vocabulary is very critical when writing…criticism. E.G. I talk about beats a lot, and I never feel like I hit the nail on the head when describing beats with words. I use words like “ominous” or “jovial”, and phrases like “the party scenes in Menace II Society” to try to describe the “feel” or “mood” of the music, something that really has to be heard to be truly grasped. Hopefully you readers have caught the ideas that I tried to convey, or at least you understand my words after hearing the music for yourself, and hopefully you’ll catch this idea:
Jamla is the Squad feels like a low-budget neo-soul-hop open mic show.
By that I mean, no one could afford to book decent rappers or beatmakers, the venue has a crumbling sound system, and it’s an awkward mix of neo-soul and hip-hop. So let’s deal with those complaints, the rappers, the beats, the mix, and the overall direction:
Jamla is 9th Wonder’s indie record label. It mostly includes rappers I’ve never heard of, but two knowns for me are Rapsody and Sean Boogs of The Away Team. Sean Boogs is terrible in every way, and luckily is nowhere to be found on this album, and Rapsody isn’t bad but definitely isn’t good either. From her too calm delivery, to her lack of wordplay, to her lack of interesting topics, I just can’t find anything in her to get excited about. Like Rapsody, the rest of the Jamla rappers on Jamla is the Squad failed to spark any interest. Since Little Brother, 9th has exhibited a habit of surrounding himself with plainspoken, straightforward, mediocre emcees. And since this is a compilation album, we get to hear every weak emcee 9th could get his hands on, including non-Jamla folks like Phonte, who only truly shows up as a rapper 3 times a year (and this album ain’t one of those times,) and Talib Kweli, who peaked on the Blackstar album way back in 1998.
Rapsody, with 5 songs on the album, is clearly the label’s premier rapper, but she sounds under-cooked. I hear her potential, and I’ve been pining for a good female rapper since Nikki Minaj started stifling her New York accent, but Rapsody seems to be fighting for the forefront before fully developing as a emcee. As alluded to above, her lack of wordplay makes painfully clear that she’s rapping about being great without, ya’know, actually being great.
More important than the rappers, are the beats that are supposed to inspire the rappers to wow the listener. 9th did 8 beats, his perpetual understudy Khrysis did 8, and other random Jamla producers did the other 8. Almost all are bad. To me. Because I’m tired of 9th’s main style. See, 9th’s beats almost always sound like each other, except for when he’s being different, like a few songs that he did with Murs on their various collaborative albums. Khrysis is worse because he only has one style altogether, and that style is 9th’s style, so not only is he a copy but a copy of material that’s already exhausting. Apparently, the Jamla third string also studied in 9th’s school of production and so suffer from Khrysis syndrome. Besides this being obviously monotonous, what’s wrong?
The beat mixing! Where someone like Dr. Dre meticulously mixes his music to the point of obsession, it feels like 9th just slaps a beat together in 15 minutes and then moves on to the next one. To be specific, 99% of the time I hate his drum mixing. It’s obvious that many of his beats use the exact same drums, and to add insult to injury these drums are the definition of anemic! There’s no punch to the snare, no boom to the kick, just soft as warm butter re-interpretations of what hip-hop should sound like. This is the effect of the shitty sound system from the open mic simile, the beats maybe could have been good if only a worthwhile mixer (machine and person) had been involved.
But I doubt that even better drums could have saved this album, because my last complaint is that the whole thing just doesn’t work. The instrumentals have a strong neo-soul vibe: they’re calm, very melodic, and have as much edge as a perfect circle. In other words, they’re 9th’s usual style. They scream for singers, but instead, most are attached to the rhymes of weak rappers. And these rappers are, for the most part, regular rappers. So it’s awkward to hear them boast while I cautiously expect a neo-soul singer to start lazily crooning about vegan love any minute. The rappers don’t sound any more excited about these beats than I am, so it all just fails. Where Little Brother had early Phonte’s lyricism and Pooh’s…ability to not totally suck while you wait for Phonte to start again, and 9th’s beats were actually somewhat varied back then, here we’re given many versions of the same lazy rapper to go with many versions of the same wack beat.
Jamla is not the squad! So sad that so many could come together to create such a wholly ho-hum compilation.
Slum Livin – best by default because it has two decent rappers, Styles P and Ransom, and one OK guy, Big Remo. Ka$h’ beat is actually decent.
At Night (3AM Shit) – a great sample and Buckshot almost elevate this song but 9th Wonder manages to foul it up.
Bomber and a Fly Chick – Add-2 and Khrysis almost make a hit but those damn drums!
Life of Pi – Eric G.’s beat would be great with better drums, and both Rapsody and Blu try their best but fail to smokescreen its shortcomings,
Some funny 9th hate that I found during writing this:
“I’m so sincere in my distaste for his soft batch cookie drums …“