Album: Live & J-Direct
Comments: Despite the popularity of artists like Common and Kanye West, Chicago is not considered a force in hip-hop music. Unlike New York and LA (and to a lesser extent Atlanta and Huston) which have long standing identities in hip-hop, the flag ship city of the Mid-West has never had its own signature sound to define it. New York has its innovations ( like scratching) and roots in rock and blues, and LA has long been rooted in samples and funk influence, but Chicago has never really had a style to call its own. The closest thing they’ve got right now is the hyper-sampling of soul tracks that made Kanye West so famous, but that’s more an individual style than a city anthem. Chi-town is a city without a definitive voice in the hip-hop world.
This is a fact not lost on Chicago native J-Direct. He addresses it directly on the opening track of Live & J-Direct (I gotta ask / Does Chicago really want new shit? / Or do you want to ride Atlanta or New York’s dick?). “Marvelous” serves as both a brief history of J-Direct and as a two fold mission statement. This man is here to put Chicago, and himself, on the map.
Bringing oneself up is hard enough, let alone putting a whole city on one’s back. The only rapper to do that in the last 15 years is Eminem, and he was blessed with an almost unmatched lyrical skill and a rock-solid sense of rhyme. J-Direct doesn’t have that same level of skill, at least not yet. The first few tracks on Live & J-Direct play more like freestyles than album tracks, as both the production and the delivery sound unsure and tentative. On these first four tracks, J-Direct is not glued to the beat, but it sounds more like inexperience talking than designed nonchalance. The production is sloppy and unremarkable; it sounds like the kind of thing first timers would make on a Casio keyboard.
However the album is better than the opening stumble would let on. “What is Better?” is the first track on the album where J-Direct’s swagger is given the proper supports. The production this track is most definitely lo-fi and independent, but it is none the less clean and plays to J's natural, relaxed flow. J is at ease and confident on the track, and over old-school strings it isn’t hard to believe when he says hes “the heart of this town.” “Hand be Free” is another standout track highlighting J-Direct’s values, namely integrity, hard work, and that he’s the guy whose going to bring Chicago into the game.
Live & J-Direct stumbles out of the gate, but once it gets into a groove the quality of the tracks rarely dips. Some tracks just sound less planned than others, which can be good, but it doesn’t play out well on this record. It remains to be seen if J-Direct will be the next big thing to come out of Chicago. He has the work ethic and the swagger to make it out, and with some more lyrical and development of flow, it isn’t hard to imagine him making it big. A little more consistency will raise J-Direct from an blip to a force. But for now, Live & J-Direct is an interesting, if not transcendent, record that tries to put Chicago on the hip-hop landscape for good. J-Direct aims to put the whole city on his shoulders, and while he isn't able to carry the weight just yet, he should be applauded for trying, and no doubt he will only get stronger over time.
Rating: 6 out of 10
Key Tracks: What is Better? Hand Be Free, Here to Save you All
Worth the Money: Fans of hip-hop should check this out