I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing some great hip hop concerts in my time, but one artist that truly blew me away was J-Live. It’s no coincidence the word “live” is part of his name, as he really puts together a performance you’ll remember long after your walk home. It was at the annual Kemp festival in Czech Republic, back in either 2008 or 2009 that I recall seeing J-Live simultaneously rapping and DJing – that’s scratching and blending WHILE spitting. It was dope, and wholly unnecessary from an artist that’s accumulated a deep discography. J-Live is widely respected by fellow hip hop artists (just look at who he has worked with), yet he’s never really caught the plaudits from the wider hip hop community. You may see him pop up on a “Best Album” list every year or two, but only on a website focussed on underground hip hop. It’s a shame, as accessibility has never really been an issue throughout J-Live’s career; 2000’s “The Best Part” was backed by A-List production and subsequent albums have been smoother, pleasant records bursting with ideas.
“Always Will Be” is another example of J-Live’s consistency – an EP from 2003 that’s recently popped up on Spotfiy. There is a liveliness to the production that feels unpredictable – it’s not your typical “sample-based loop that repeats” type of hip hop, it’s more Jurassic 5 than 9th Wonder. Tracks like “Get Live” and “Add A Cipher” possess an authentic, if dated structure, utilising chants that would make this song ideal for a live show. In that sense, J-Live feels like a modern Doug E. Fresh and a similar light-heartedness is evident in “Car Trouble”, a biopic track told by J-Live whereby he assumes the role of a taxi driver documenting his rise and fall in the music industry.
Story-telling and wordplay have always been important facets of J-Live’s music, and “Walkman Music” is a fun song that sees J-Live talking to the listener as they make their way through the city, listening to him on headphones. It’s that touch of detail and inventiveness that marks “Always Will Be” out as a record worth checking for, but compared to his albums it is lacking those songs that you will play again and again. Shorter than his superb debut “The Best Part”, and musically inferior to “All of the Above” and “The Hear After”, “Always Will Be” is another strong entry in the J-Live canon, but it’s hard to recommend (unless you’re new to J-Live) over his previous work. Nevertheless, it’s further proof that J-Live records are rewarding listens, and always will be.