18 December 2018

REVIEW | 9th Wonder Presents: Jamla is the Squad 2

I don't know how you'd prove this, but it feels like the amount of Hip Hip music hitting the masses is at an all time high. Of course there are many variables to this, one being the technology, but it is definitely noticeable. This oversaturation will continue for the simple fact that Hip Hop equals money. So while record labels scramble to build their rosters with superstars like the Drakes, Cardis, or inmate number 6ix9ine, 9th has taken a different approach. Since the first Jamla is the Squad compilation album in 2014, 9th Wonder has gone the Warriors/Spurs route (I guess more Spurs route, or pre-KD Warriors route). Instead of looking for the hot gimmick of the month, he's decided to invest in the long term. 9th has aligned himself with artists who are coachable (is that not a word?), who care about their craft and the culture, and who do not make moves solely for sales. With a relatively young roster, 9th is going against the current trend in Hip Hop. Missing on his record label are the stereotypical radio/strip club joints, the hyper gangster or misogynistic lyrics, and the obligatory mumble features. So with an updated and semi-seasoned roster, how did 9th Wonder do with his sequel, Jamla is the Squad 2, compilation project? Let's go straight in.

First off, 9th Wonder gets an immediate salute for putting together a twenty two track album. In 2018 this seems like a lost art. Many of today's Hip Hop "influencers" seem to be pushing these new LP/EP hybrid length projects. And I get it. The current iteration of the human race is not capable of focusing on a single thing at length anymore. We are now multitasking creatures who consume information in segments. I'll admit that it takes me longer to finish a review once I start. New music, YouTube, games, and life take chunks of my time while in the review process. Although the research I do is also part of the process that slows me down considerably. But I digress. 9th Wonder is betting on himself. Betting on his process. He'll take a Tim Duncan over a Dwight Howard or Kwame Brown any day. He knows to build from the ground up. Lay down a strong foundation. This foundation is evident in all Jamla projects. None more noticeable than this project. With 9th and the Soul Council on the boards, you would expect a cohesive boom bap and soulful vibe throughout Jamla is the Squad 2. And you would be correct. The intro track "Welcome To JamRoc" has a reggae sample throughout, but is far from a dance hall record. It features Rapsody, three other current Jamla emcees (GQ, Reuben Vincent, and Ian Kelly), and Jamla songstress Heather Victoria. With musical influences from Damien Marley and Aretha Franklin, this song celebrates Jamla Records partnership with Roc Nation.

On top of highlighting the Jamla camp, 9th also taps lyrical vets like: Pharoahe Monch, Busta Rhymes, Black Thought, Big K.R.I.T. (on way to becoming a vet) and David Banner. But I thought there was a J Cole feature? First, the list above is of non-Jamla emcees on tracks dolo (sans Jamla artists). J Cole is on a track with Rapsody. So that's a Jamla track with a Cole feature. By the way, OF COURSE that Rapsody/Cole track is pure dope. There is also a Conway feature on a track with Jericho Jackson (I know Elzhi is not on Jamla, but the group and album were released on Jamla Records). Either all that made sense to you, or it did not. I am assuming a lot of Jamla/Hip Hop knowledge on your part. Just Google it. What you should know is that all these features are FUEGO all day. Monch kills his solo track, "Crazy", with his staple flow-over-anything style. Probably one of my favorite tracks is the aforementioned Jericho Jackson and Conway track "Machine and McQueen". Conway's laid back flow is a perfect match for the Elzhi pairing and Khrysis beat. Busta Rhymes channels his inner Slick Rick for the nostalgic track "Jumpin'". The 1988 influenced track sees Busta bench his signature energetic flow and style for an updated version of Slick Rick's "Mona Lisa". Black Thought has a two for one with his track "Cojiba". With an instrumental switch up a minute into the track, Thought flips his flow while continuing the arch of his subject matter. The soulful southern collab track "Knocking at my Door" features Big K.R.I.T., Jakk Jo, and David Banner. I obviously know about Mississippi titans KRIT and Banner, but I've only heard of Jakk Jo through passing convos. Jakk Jo is New Orleans bred and is the son of No Limit's first lady, Mia-X (crazy I know, felt just as old when I found out). So off the bat Jakk Jo gets a salute for even attempting to spit alongside these lyrical beasts. And to be honest, the legacy emcee definitely hold his own.

You can't talk about 9th Wonder's roster without mentioning Jamla's first lady, Rapsody. The 9th Wonder protege is easily his most successful and influential artist. So it is no surprise that she is on the first and last tracks with her Jamal peers, as well as on two additional tracks. The lead single, "Sojourner", alongside J Cole is another notch on her belt alongside one of the best in game currently. With two of my favorite "new school" emcees, this track is easily one of the best on the album. The track "REDBLUE" features J Cole's Dreamville emcee J.I.D. J.I.D. has strung together a pair of critically acclaimed albums while under the Dreamville umbrella. This turned out to be a perfect pairing in terms of lyrical styles. You might actually miss that this track has a feature. On my first listen I thought Rapsody was trying something different with her cadence and delivery. That is absolutely a compliment to J.I.D. and I will now have him on my radar.

The rest of the album is full of Jamla emcees and R&B artist Heather Victoria. She actually has two solo songs, "Japan" and "One Love". The latter strips down Nas' "One Love" track into a soulful/jazzy song about self love. HV proclaims her independence and does not need a relationship to define her self worth or happiness. And "Japan" follows the more typical R&B theme of love knowing no bounds. As a fan of R&B, the Heather Victoria tracks were great compliments to the "Hip Hop" compilation album. With 9th Wonder behind the instrumentals, it was easy to expect finely crafted songs.

So I've actually been working on this review longer than others. Some of that has to do with the amount of product there is (again, very thankful for a proper twenty two track project). But a lot has to do with the holidays and life thangs. All good thankfully. But it has given me the ability to expand my perspective on the review. One thought I had early in the review process was how to explain what "Jamla" is. Compilation albums are milestones. Mission statements. You knew Ruff Ryder's compilation albums would sound like Swizz Beatz beats (ha) and be full of grimey NY bars. You knew a D.I.T.C. compilation album would be lyrically superior with good/ok instrumentals. Jamla is definitely mature enough as a label to have an identity. So recently as I'm pondering on how to describe the Jamla DNA, Dave Chappelle's Block Party comes on the TV. Light bulb. If the artists who performed on Block Party were under a label, it would be Jamla. Well, more like artists who were inspired by that lineup. If you haven't seen the docu-movie, definitely peep that (the soundtrack too). But Jamla is the essence of that to me. Artists who genuinely emphasize lyricism, who are socially conscience, and who are an evolution of the purest ingredients of Hip Hop culture. That being said, I know this album isn't for everybody. Unfortunately, in the current climate I feel the majority of people aren't checking for albums like this. On the flip, the rarity of albums of this caliber make them more special. I've been a fan of 9th Wonder, Rapsody, and the whole Jamla movement for years now. So this project will definitely make it on my playlist rotations for months/years to come.

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