J-Live – All of the Above

by a parallel mechanic

When the “The Low End Theory” album dropped in 1991, A Tribe Called Quest showed the hip hop world that you could have street cred, intellectual stimuli, and dance floor bangers and still come correct. People who thought rap was only about Kid’n Play’s high top fades or Rob Base’s redundant anthems began to see it as a viable art form beyond the scope of ghetto blasters and dance halls. College Professors were listening to this stuff. The production on that record exposed people to trip hop and in turn downtempo. This was the new jazz and was covering uncharted waters in hip-hop. J-Live’s “All of the Above” is The Low End Theory of 2002.

Usually when an album is described as “underground hip hop,” one assumes that it will be admirable but not listener friendly. After all, underground hip hop is strictly for the true headz and thugs, right? The brilliant “All of the Above” will thoroughly quench the taste of the underground but will also serve as bait to tempt the non-believers to check out the beats&rhymes realm. By the mere fact that J-Live chose to appear as John Coltrane’s “Blue Train” (release off of Blue Note in 1957, compare both album covers), it is obvious how seriously this former 7th grade English teacher from Brooklyn takes the hip hop art form.

J-Lives verbal gymnastics is astounding. Unlike many of his underground contemporaries, he doesn’t have to use a thesaurus to express himself, he speaks in simple terms yet still comes off as a genius. Take ‘MCee,’ it’s a dance floor jump-off where almost all of his two word phrases start with an ‘M’ and a ‘C’. Or how about ‘One For the Griot,’ where he tells a story ¾ the way through and then gives you three different endings (much like when that ‘Clue’ movie came out). And ‘Satisfied’ is a reggae laced rocker dropping some extremely thought-provoking post 9/11 commentary. Quote of the album is on this song: ‘If you think you can ignore it, you’re igNORant’ -simple, yet genius.

By his rhyming skills alone, this would be an impressive album. But he takes it one step further and gets top notch hip hop producer DJ Spinna to craft some jazz laced beats that will please the intellectuals yet will still come hard enough for the tough guys. J-Live himself was the executive producer of the album, but he was smart in collaborating with Spinna, whose impeccable sense for a bumping hip hop beat can be heard throughout the record. Also featured on this album is the funk trio Soulive’s guitarist Eric Krasno as well as some funky and dangerously catchy keyboard licks from Ticklah. Thus, the music and beats crafted here are taken just as seriously as the lyrics. And did I mention J-Live also gets the scratching credits for almost the entire record?

Is the last hip hop you liked Tribe and De La? Wanna learn about today’s hip hop yet not get a headache with thuggish verbal diarrhea? Cop this one kids, it WILL be a classic.

  • J-Live – All of the Above
  • by a parallel mechanic
  • Published on June 1st, 2002
All of the Above
Coup d\'Etat Entertainment
April 2002

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