Intro: Emcee v. Artist
I’ve always wanted to do one thing, even as a kid, and that was debate. Now I know most of the time there is no difference between arguing and debating, but for me there was. I want to use my knowledge to make or prove a point. I would debate anybody about anything I had knowledge on. As a kid it would be arguments about sports and fictional super hero battles (like which Ninja Turtle would win in a fight). As a teenager the topics didn’t get much more sophisticated. As an adult the topics grew to politics, movies, sports, foreign policy, fictional superhero battles and (the most popular topic) hip-hop.
Hip-hop is much like sports (and other popular debate topics) in the sense that you can debate about it all day. It’s even more unique than most topics however, because pretty much every topic you’ll debate about is subjective. They’re all based on hypotheticals. You have your “who are the best emcee’s?” debates, and your “what’s the best album?” debate. Essentially the topics are endless, and hip-hop fans debate them often. The most intriguing of debates to me, didn’t happen until after years and years of being a hip-hop head. It’s the emcee vs artist debate?
This was always a complex debate to have but I had it often. It was usually between the hip-hop heads and the people that like mainstream hip-hop. The crux of the debate lies in who you think is better than the emcee, who is usually a great rapper. He can flip rhyme schemes and flows and is just great at the art of rapping but lacks in the song-making department. Or is it the artist that usually has great production and song making ability, but isn’t the strongest lyricist. It’s a fun debate to have because essentially your debating which one is more “hip-hop” than the other. There is no right answer because both are important.
Now all this has led me to JGivens. He released his new album entitled El v. Envy on August 6th. This record was my first ever interaction with him, so I had no expectations for this record. As I was going through my first listen, the memories of all the prior debates came to my mind, because JGivens is the type of artist that fits right into that debate. This is how.
As I said earlier, I have never heard any of JGivens music before this record. The very first thing I said to myself was, “dang this boy can rap!” JGivens is a talented emcee and you could tell that from the very first track. J came strong on the intro and put on a lyrical show. It set the tone as to what to expect for the rest of the record. As an emcee, he did not disappoint.
Since there are so many great things JGivens did as an emcee, it’s hard to pinpoint which thing jumped out first. But his flow is incredible and I noticed it almost immediately. His flow matches that of a veteran and it sounded pretty polished and confident. He switched pace, sound and tone often throughout the record, and sounded comfortable every time he switched it up. J’s flow was smooth yet commanding at the same time, and when he was on point with his flow, there were flashes of greatness.
To make a great emcee, you need more than flow, you need to have lyrical ability. JGivens provides plenty of lyrical ability on El v. Envy. He showed all of the traits of a good lyricist throughout the record. He had sharp wordplay, double entendres, and metaphors. He stayed pretty consistent lyrically throughout the record, and didn’t have too many down spots. He covered a wide variety of topics but never faltered from the Christian message that was pretty heavy on El v. Envy. JGivens accomplished the difficult task of providing a strong Christian message and great lyricism.
Overall as an Emcee, JGivens has it figured out. He has all the skills a great emcee has. His lyricism and flow were great and it was easy to listen to him spit. I could easily listen to JGivens rap all day, because he is so talented. He is already a very good emcee with the potential for greatness, but there is more to a rapper than just bars.
It’s commendable to be great at one thing, but there is something to be said for being well rounded. The overall artist is more than just lyrical ability. It adds in production (even if it’s just selecting the production), concept, overall song making and overall album quality. These are some of the areas where JGivens struggled on El v. Envy.
The production is one of the first things that a listener notices, and J starts the record off great on that end. The intro has a movie film and lead’s the listener to believe something epic is about to happen. Production wise, the bar is set incredibly high right from the beginning. Unfortunately, the rest of the album didn’t meet this bar. The production was solid through the beginning of the record but it died out towards the middle and never really picked back up. A lot of the production sounded very similar, and that made it hard to keep your attention on each track. This also played a big part in his song making.
Song making is incredibly tough for an artist. The tiniest of details being left out could keep a track from being great, and I imagine it’s incredibly difficult to get a song to sound perfect. JGivens only had a couple of memorable songs throughout the record. The others struggled with production and hook work. A lot of the songs, as a whole, just didn’t really come together. I spent most of the record just waiting for the verse to come back. This, coupled with the loss of the concept, really affected the overall album quality. I was left a little lost as to what the overall direction of the album was.
While the artistry was lacking for me on El v. Envy, it wasn’t a complete loss. I saw a lot of potential in JGivens the artist. Even with a couple of the areas I mentioned earlier being upgraded, this album would have left a sizable impression on me. Artistry takes time and is a delicate thing. I definitely see his ability to be a great artist. It’s obvious that I think he’s already there on the emcee side of things. If JGivens can put these two things together, Christian hip hop will have its next great artist.