J-Live is one of a select few artists that can truly claim to have never dropped a bad record. Sure, a song here or there may be underwhelming, but his discography is enviable. It’s already been stated in previous reviews of J-Live’s work that he remains a reliable source of high-quality hip hop, so I’ll refrain from praising his past efforts too much. Perhaps a trait that isn’t often mentioned is J-Live’s ability to produce TIMELESS hip hop. Throwing on “The Best Part” or “All Of The Above” in 2014, they still sound supreme and not of any era in particular. This is of course due to the soulful beats and natural flow that just ooze from the guy’s pores – I saw J-Live, ahem, “live” what must have been five years ago and even now, it was still the best performance in living memory. It’s no coincidence that his name incorporates his “live” side, proving that emcees can DJ and spit AT THE SAME TIME. The guy clearly loves hip hop and it emanates throughout each of his albums, all of them incorporating a kind of modern, matured sound that holds up through the years. Enough dick riding though, it’s time to break down the sixth full-length from the Live one.
Given every project from J-Live is at least good to great, “Around The Sun” is further proof that some artists get better with age. Much like Pharaohe Monch’s “P.T.S.D.” (itself almost paying homage to J-Live’s “S.P.T.A.” by its love for acronyms), J-Live proves that natural emceeing and soulful (self-produced at times) production is a winning formula. Flow is inch-perfect on songs such as “No Doubt” and the delightful “Money Matters”. Delightful? I know that word is as commonly used as “wonderful” or “spiffing” when describing hip hop, but it precisely sums up the piano loop on display here. It also highlights the genuine character J-Live portrays, insisting that money is important and ultimately essential for survival, and talks about how it affects every aspect of life. If delightful pianos aren’t what you came here for, then the brutal honesty of “Not Listening” should convince you to stick with it. Honest criticisms of emcees that lack depth to their content, summarising whole projects of lesser rappers in two bars and admitting that some artists sound incredible yet ultimately deliver hollow rhymes – that’s just the first verse. It describes what a thousand emcees suffer from: you can spit, but you’re not saying shit. If you’re craving something a little grimier, “Top of the Food Chain” makes good use of the same sample Group Home and DJ Premier used on “Sacrifice”. Of course, J-Live instantly makes that shit more listenable than the basic bars from Lil Dap and Melachi the Nutcracker, but it’s also refreshing to hear street-savviness from unknowns Rome Supreme and Ekundayo. There’s a lot of variety packed in to the twelve songs on offer, which at 42 minutes is just the right length.
Wordplay is dispersed at a rapid rate on “Hang On Tight”, a collaboration with underground stalwart Homeboy Sandman that will leave you grasping for more (especially as it ends abruptly). If that’s not enough to satisfy fans of underground hip hop, the ever-classy Von Pea and Donwill (of Tanya Morgan) turn in two strong verses on “City to City”. I could go on, but I’d just start repeating myself – J-Live’s “Around The Sun” is as essential as any of his other full-lengths. If you haven’t enjoyed his work before, pick this up. If you haven’t seen him live, make sure you do. It’s as simple as that.