Artist: JuggaknotsTitle: Use Your ConfusionRating: 3 StarsReviewed by: Jason Newman
Say “Juggaknots” to Hip-Hop fans and you’ll be greeted with either blank stares or wide grins. The former can hear the latter incessantly praise emcee Breezly Brewin and producer/brother Buddy Slim’s 1996 underground classic Clear Blue Skies EP. The title track, in which a white teenager tells his father about his new, black girlfriend (with Brewin playing both father and son), remains one of the most incisive Hip-Hop songs written about race and discrimination and is matched perfectly with Slim’s slow, soulful beat. While Brewin would pop up here and there, (most notably as the protagonist Tariq on Prince Paul’s A Prince Among Thieves), the duo seemingly dropped out of the game completely. With little sister Queen Herawin now in tow, the group returns with Use Your Confusion (Amalgam) and sadly, despite some occasional hotness, falters under the weight of its own production and flow.
The jazz- and soul-based productions that defined so much of their earlier work is still around, but equally present are spacey synths and futuristic, sci-fi beats more likely heard on a Timbaland track. Unlike the first album, which saw the brunt of the production handled by Buddy Slim, Confusion sees six different producers at the helm (including Brewin himself.) It’s the more modern-sounding and harder-hitting production that sounds awkward against Brewin’s and Herowin’s vocals, which rarely rise above a laid-back, monotone style.
This brings us to Brewin’s flow, tragically the most frustrating part of this album. On his earlier work, Brewin had the natural ability to stunningly pack a couplet with sharp, internal rhymes that a marathon runner would lose his breath over. Confusion sees an emcee ten years on rapping competently enough but with few noticeable abilities that differentiate him from the pack. Lyrically, he still has the ability to shine, as on album highlight “30 Something”, where over a twinkling piano beat, he candidly rhymes about ageism with Sadat X about “Seeing veterans treated like senior citizens” and getting “Aged out on some Menudo shit.” It’s a reality that everyone in Hip-Hop knows but few are willing to spit about.
Too often, though, many tracks fall into average territory and are forgotten as soon as the next track hits. Juggaknots will always occupy a certain place in the canon of East Coast, Golden Age-lovin’ cats. And while Confusion won’t knock ’em off the pedestal, it definitely will throw ’em off balance.