Disclaimer: All views presented in this Album Review are those of the reviewer and not of DJ Wade-O
Working with middle school students offers me a lot of interesting opportunities. One of the most interesting has to be the insights on their generation. I’m young enough where I’m not too far separate from them but old enough where I can see the differences between my generation and theirs. They are affectionately called the “microwave” and it’s clear why. Everything happens so fast now and everything is readily available whenever you need it. I see this in my students with the constant need to be entertained and entertained in a new and inventive way all of the time. This has had a major effect on music. It has changed the way it’s viewed, made and consumed.
Some of the ideals that I fell in love with aren’t as respected in hip-hop anymore. Consistency, longevity and lyricism have fallen to the wayside in favor of trends and catchy, less thoughtful songs. There is definitely a place in hip-hop for the latter but it’s tough to see former fade. All this came to mind when listening to J. Johnson’s new project Timeless. The reason why is because J. Johnson evokes all of the ideals that made me fall in love with hip-hop. He’s had a long and successful career (so far), he’s a great lyricist and he always brings his best. J. Johnson is an emcee that is widely respected in the genre for his high level of music. But what about his new record? Will that meet the standard that J has set for himself?
J. Johnson is a hard guy to have expectations for. Not for any negative reason, just because of his consistency, long absences and his sudden returns. Like with his last record No Excuses Vol. 2 his newest release Timeless has come rather sudden. That usually limits the expectations for the record. Anyone familiar with J. Johnson knows that a sudden release shouldn’t take away any excitement. As talented and successful as he’s been, any release by J is exciting for fans.
Bars, Bars, Bars
This is exactly what comes to mind when I think of J. Johnson. This is what you get from a J. Johnson record, and Timeless was no exception. Lyrically J was ridiculous on Timeless. He delivered on the great lyricism that has become his calling card. Timeless was like a throwback to the hip-hop I fell in love with. It was J delivering thoughtful bars over strong production that took you back to that mid to late 90’s east coast hip-hop. If you like that style of lyricism then you will love Timeless. J attacks each song with an intensity that draws your attention. His voice and tone create a good mood for the listener and his smooth flow brings home the beautiful connection between him and the production. His lyricism is also complex enough that you’ll find little gems within his bars each time you go back for a listen. Timeless is beautiful emceeing by a fantastic emcee.
That Production Though
The production side has always been a difficult thing to evaluate for J. Johnson historically. Two of his projects have been mix tapes in which he used someone else’s beats. The only real point of reference we have musically for J is his 2009 release The Struggle. That again tampers expectations a little because musically you don’t really know what to expect. Expectations or not, the production on Timeless was incredible and provided for a beautiful backdrop for J to work on.
From track to track the bar was continually raised and I was continually impressed. The sound and feel of Timeless is a lot different than any other record he’s had. It was a beautiful mixture of the sound that we are familiar with for J. Johnson, and a new innovative sound for him. I loved the way each song was put together. Time and energy was invested into the sound of this record and that makes a huge impact on the feel of the record. Overall it was great production and a great sound that made for a very good record.
“Only if” is a phrase I would assume artists don’t use very often, but I know fans use it. I’ve sat around with friends and talked about what could make records or songs better. It’s used to talk about the few things that could have been added that seem to be missing for the record to reach its full potential. I felt myself reaching for this phrase a few times when listening to Timeless.
The first time I went reaching for this phrase was with the length of the record. The seven-track record leads kind of into my earlier connection with how music has changed. These short records have become much more prevalent in part, I think, because people don’t really want to listen to 16 track records anymore. I understand this but there are some things lost with a seven track record. The biggest thing is that as a fan I’m left wanting more, much more. If Timeless were a little longer as a whole record it would have been a little better.
I went reaching for my “only if” phrase again when it came down to concept. This ties into my last point because the short length of the record doesn’t really allow for a deep and full concept. I would have loved to see J operate under a continually concept because it would have brought out more of his artistry. It also could have taken the record to a whole other level. The record was still strong without one; it just could have added another element for the listener to enjoy and more reasons to continually come back to the record.
Overall I really enjoyed this record. I think J. Johnson is a little under-appreciated and Timeless shows why he should be appreciated more. He is a great artist. Lyrically, he is top notch and he’s still growing in artistry. His music continues to get better and better as time goes on for him. This is a record that his core fanbase will love, but it also has enough versatility to bring in new fans. Timeless should be apart of your iTunes library and should be enjoyed time and time again.
J. Johnson’s ‘Timeless’ is now available for purchase on iTunes