Instrumental hip-hop LPs are becoming extremely popular these days. More and more, producers are releasing LPs filled with beats but without emcees. J. Rawls is the beat-maker/producer behind the Ohio-based underground hip-hop legends The Lone Catalysts. His side-project with Fat Jon of 5 Deez (3582's "The Living Soul") was an incredible and intelligent piece of work. While J. Rawls is known for much more underground and mellow beats, he has done work with many artists ranging from Beastie Boys to El Da Sensai to J-Live to Wordsworth. When he's not making beautiful beats, he is a fulltime 5th grade teacher. Female Fun Music has now released "Histories Greatest Battles, Campaigns, & Topics" by J. Rawls. Here, J. Rawls uses instrumental tracks to teach the listener. Each track is about some kind of historical event or occurrence. Still, there are some surprises in the form of rapping and singing. "Histories…" is an intelligent, diverse, and informative LP that both fans of hip-hop, R&B, and even jazz can appreciate.
Since about 80% of the LP is instrumental, some songs take a while to grow on you while others are instantly appealing. Named after an all-Black unit of soldiers to build and protect the city, "The Black Brigade Of Cincinnati (Outcome)" features Fat Jon of 5 Deez on flute. This is an instrumental flute version of a song from the upcoming 3582 LP. This is mellow and jazzy hip-hop with intelligent statements said in the background. It's an excellent track and Fat Jon's flute is incredible smooth. It just sounds cool! The flute just wanders over the beat, finding its way home through the rhythm. Based on the immortal book by Sun Tzu, "The Art Of War" is an ethereal track with handclaps and rolling drums along with a very cool synth melody. Beastie Boys used it on a remix Rawls did for "Shadrach". This is amazing on it's own. "63 Is The Jubilee" (named after a song from the Civil War era and Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation in 1963) is a very complicated track with cool handclaps and a very fun yet poignant piano. The track changes in a beautiful and unexpected way. Wordsworth used this beat on his upcoming album for a song called "Thank You". It's simply beautiful. Named after the Valentine's Day Massacre, "February 14, 1929" is a slow-burning cymbal-riding track with eerie and sinister melodies. The title fits the music perfectly. It's full and thick. Words are not needed. "The Polar Palms Of Moscow" is another slow track but this has a cold feeling of reality. Based on the failed invasions of Hitler and Napoleon into Russia, this track has that severity in the ethereal background orchestra melodies. The groove is slow, deep, and serious. The background choir gives the track a life, a sense of power, and the feeling of triumph. It's a marvelous track.
Some tracks do not instantly hit as hard but are still very well executed. The use of vocal samples makes them very intelligent and soulful too. "Welcome To North Africa" is possibly the most interesting and unique track ever produced by J. Rawls. Using tribal vocal samples and deep African rhythms, J. Rawls literally puts the listener in a trance. "Bobby Seale Bound And Gagged" uses samples that describe the Black Panther leader's trial. While the beat is good, it does not hit as hard as some of the other tracks. Still, the track is very well done. The injustice and fight for freedom gives the revolutionary track a soul that is both informative and heartrending. "America, Fulfill Your Promise" is another revolutionary track about the hypocritical ways of the United States. Using vocal samples of Kennedy, the historical significance is evident but the beat is not as instantly gratifying as some of the other songs. Still, it's an important track.
There are 2 very strong treats that act as bookends on this album. First, "Hard Rock" features BJ Digby on the mic. The piano sounds angelic and is complemented by a beautiful vocal sample. BJ Digby literally rocks the mic with an intense energy. The hook is not catchy but it is fierce: "…Hard rock / step in strong / Smash the locks / Kick in doors / This means war / We don't stop / Making it bump / Serious thump / Pump your block / Hard Rock / Epidemic hip-hop - universal…" It is perfect how J. Rawls lets the beat just glide throughout the last 1/3 of the song. Not only is it a wonderful way to kick off this LP (even though it doesn't have anything to do with history), but also it educates the listener on a new Ohio emcee BJ Digby. "Future" is a pure R&B track that features Tavaris on the vocals. Basically, it is a pure love song about spending the future with the one you love. Why is it on an instrumental LP about history? Well, we must learn and know our history so we can go forward into the future. The track has a sexy saxophone melody and a slow/mid-tempo beat. Tavaris does have passion and it is complemented by J. Rawls' production. Basically, it's a little treat to end the LP but it is somewhat unneeded.
"Histories Greatest Battles, Campaigns, & Topics" by J. Rawls is an album that should be appreciated on many different levels. It's an educational album. It's a revolutionary album. It's a soulful album. Overall, it can appeal to teachers, students, underground hip-hop lovers, and even R&B fans. It's a political album that is not too preachy. Still, J. Rawls intelligently lets us know where he stands by using music and samples. It is not only revolutionary in its sentiments but also in musical-sense. "Histories…" is an album where every single song represents an important part of history. This is a hip-hop first! Here, rhythm and melody make the statement. Lyrics take a backseat. The album flows with a grace and an astute style. I also love how there are hidden little beats after some of the regular full-length tracks. Short and sweet, it clocks in less than 50 minutes long. The LP never gets boring due to the passion behind it and the diversity in the tracks. Sure, the "Hard Rock" is a straight hip-hop track and "Future" is a straight R&B track but the diversity lies within the instrumental songs too. "Welcome To North Africa" has tribal chants while "The Black Brigade…" has a cool flute. While the first and last tracks (with vocals) do not directly fit into the historical context of the LP, they sandwich the LP nicely. As a major fan of Lone Catalysts and 3582, this LP makes me yearn for his future releases and production collaborations. To put it simply, "Histories…." is a wonderful LP that proves that instrumental LPs can be intelligent, entertaining, and powerful. With "Histories Greatest Battles, Campaigns, & Topics", J. Rawls has made an important and revolutionary LP that is both informative and poignant. J. Rawls is educating (as well as entertaining) people through hip-hop. As J. Rawls states in the linear notes, "The most important thing about history is learning from it so that the future may be brighter."