J-Live is an emcee’s emcee. He can rock a mic, rock a crowd, and rock an album. During his live performances, he performed the song “Braggin Writes” while scratching the records on the turntables and rhyming at the same time. His debut album “The Best Part” took a while to come out but it eventually was released on Seven Heads. With production by Premier, Pete Rock, and many others, J-Live proved to everyone that he is an emcee in the truest form. He had clever punch lines, astute lyrics, original and innovative themes, as well as an energy, flow, cadence, and confidence. Some standout tracks were “Braggin Writes”, “Timeless”, “Kick It To The Beat”, “True School Anthem” and the title track. His sophomore album, “All Of The Above” earned some critical acclaim and loads of respect in the underground hip-hop world. Many critics and fans were calling him the savoir of underground hip-hop. If The Strokes saved real rock music, J-Live saved real underground hip-hop. With production by DJ Spinna and Jazzy Jeff’s Touch Of Jazz, “All Of The Above” was a mind-blowing sophomore LP with wild concepts and tons of mental treats. “One For The Griot” is a classic example of a wonderful J-Live track. Like a "Choose Your Own Adventure" book, J-Live made a story-telling track and each verse gave the story a different ending. Other incredible tracks from “All Of The Above” included “Satisfied”, “Stir Of Echoes”, “The Lyricist”, “First Things First”, and “Like This Anna”. Since then, J-Live has done many collaborations with people ranging from Asheru & Blue Black Of The Unspoken Heard, Iomos Marad, DJ Jazzy Jeff, Wordsworth, Soulive, El Da Sensai, 7L & Esoteric, Lone Catalysts, and more. After some time, J-Live went his own way and used Triple Threat Productions, Fat Beats, and Razor & Tie to release a set of EPs. “Always Will Be” consists of 8 songs that are filled with authentic and intelligent underground hip-hop. (The 2nd EP, “Always Has Been”, will feature older tracks from 1995 to 1997.) The CD is enhanced with some short live footage too. Produced entirely by J-Live himself, “Always Will Be” is another essential ingredient of the J-Live recipe. It is all J-Live. Wordsworth is the only guest and he does not even rap. While the EP may not have the intensity of “The Best Part” or “All Of The Above”, it still is an entertaining, intelligent, and original hip-hop experience.
“Always Will Be”, the opening title track, is basically one long verse. The upbeat track has an energetic, cool, and funky feel with complicated melodies, bass lines, and thick drum patters. The organic feel of “All The Above” is also on the opening track. J-Live rocks an exuberant verse. “…Cut off my legs, you still have to face the rest of me / Tenacious, like the Terminator in The Matrix / Face it, you can’t fake it / My back, black, you can’t break it/ This plot, you can’t steak it / My just desserts, son, you won’t make it / Grill it, fry it, chill it, kill it, why try it? / My kitchen is so hot, the devil downstairs complains, about to riot…” Just like “All Of The Above”, J-Live brings an organic sounding energy and a clever tongue to the opening track.
“Add-A-Cipher” is even more upbeat with some thick sounding drumbeats and some very cool scratching, handled by DJ Flo Fader. The sample also brings a strong live energy to the track. For the hook, J-Live uses a call & response technique as he tells the crowd to say “5” and then, “50”, “500”, and finally, “5000”. The second verse is the gem of the song: “…50 people in a 5 man elevator / freefalling from the fifth-thousand floor / 500 degrees fahrenheit to a 5 minute song / Feeling like you can’t go wrong…” The tongue-twisting syllables in the lyrics not only displays J-Live’s incredible breath control but his clear annunciation of words. This is a song that would sound amazing in a live venue.
“Deal Widit” is one of the best tracks on the album. Not only is it catchy due to the chorus, but also the sentiments are universal. It is a theme song for dealing with busy days that are filled with problems. The song helps you find the light at the end of the tunnel. The hook asks a question and even supplies the answer: “…What do you do when you got 20 2-minute tasks and 10 minutes to deal with it? / Stay committed… just deal with it…” The sample is also a perfect choice since it complements the mellow mid-tempo beat that uses brushes and light drum rhythms.
“Get Live” is a true filler track that does not rise above the standards that were set by previous J-Live songs. The production is somewhat weak compared to the other J-Live produced songs. The snaps and electronic cymbal-driven beat sounds very weak but is made much more full by the sampled keyboard horn melody, which sounds like a cheaper version of a Just Blaze beat. The hook has J-Live shouting out “Get live!” The best parts of the track are the verses. J-Live always keeps his lyrics and flows interesting. Still, for a track that is supposed inspire energy and get the crowd amped, it sounds somewhat weak.
“Car Trouble”, a brilliant concept track that includes Wordsworth, is another one of the modern classic tracks on the EP (including “Deal Widit” and “Walkman Music”). The scratching in the beginning is especially cool. The beat is incredibly simple but the drums are thick enough to add emotion. The simplicity of the beat is made more complicated by J-Live’s concepts, lyrics, and the scratching. Here, J-Live plays the role of a cab driver who once had a record deal and Wordsworth is the aspiring emcee who is on his way to a label. Wordsworth, who is an excellent emcee, does not rhyme at all. He just talks after each of J-Live’s verses and is tragically underused. J-Live uses driving a cab as a metaphor for being an emcee in the record industry. It is a classic J-Live track.
“Walkman Music” is another brilliant track that is made especially for listeners who use headphones. The simple piano melody is complemented by a thick string sample and sharp snare hits. In the 3rd verse, J-Live breaks down who exactly this song is for: “…If you got a portable CD, MD, and an MP3 / We made it hot for you / If you’re sitting on chrome and it’s spinning when you’re not and at least 22 / This is not for you / If your disk-man matches your kicks and it’s strapped to the palm of your hand / We made it hot for you…” The hook is also very cool. It will surely add pep to your step while you listen to it in your walkman or portable CD player. Basically, it’s another J-Live track that is a modern classic.
“9000 Miles” is a much more atmospheric track with a light piano sample in the background. The theme is much more abstract as he uses swimming as a metaphor. The hook attempts to be an abstract anthem: “…Stroke! Through the Atlantic / Stroke! Through the Pacific / Stroke! Through the Indian / Stroke! Through the warm current / Stroke! Through the cold current / Stroke! Through the fear and the foul – for 9,000 miles…” While the thematic quality of the song is less direct and much deeper, the ethereal quality of the beat complements J-Live’s performance, making it very balanced. This is a track that grows on the listener and may go over some people’s head. Still, the quality is evident.
“Skip Proof” is the final track that is more of an outro than an actual song. He talks for a while and kicks a little rhyme. Unfortunately, he sounds a little offbeat. The beat is different but not very exciting. The song is skip proof because it is so short. Of course, J-Live does rock a rhyme that is worth listening to.
The enhanced portion of the CD is wonderful since it has a QuickTime movie of J-Live doing his thing live in concert. Anyone who has seen J-Live in concert knows that “Braggin Writes” is an amazing aspect of his show. On the QuickTime video, there is some live footage of him rhyming on stage but the “Braggin Writes” performance, where he rhymes while simultaneously scratching on the turntables, is the jewel of the crown. )You know he practiced that a million times until he got it perfect.) This enhanced CD captures that energy and creativity that many people missed by not going to his live show.
“Always Will Be” is a very entertaining EP that is a must for fans of J-Live. While his first two full length LPs were classic material, there are one or two minor problems with this EP. Still, the filler track is much better than typical garbage on the radio. A wonderful aspect of J-Live is that there is a balance to him as an emcee. He has clever and insightful lyrics. He chooses (or produces) strong beats. He mastered the art of flowing while maintaining a confident delivery. While J-Live is a talented producer, he is still just evolving. It would have been much better if there were one or two songs produced by other people. J-Live and DJ Spinna always work well together. Pete Rock, DJ Jazzy Jeff, and Premier have all made classic material with J-Live. Basically, “Always Will Be” is J-Live alone. It is his complete project. There is a guest DJ on one track (DJ Flo Fader on “Add-A-Cipher”). The only vocal guest, Wordsworth, does not even rhyme. J-Live handles all of the production and all of the rhyming. “Always Will Be” is his proof that he is one talented artist. The EP flows very well and has a high replay value, like all of J-Live’s music. While fans wait for another J-Live full length LP, “Always Will Be” will definitely satisfy their appetite. J-Live has always been an excellent emcee…. and he always will be.