The Hear After

Artist: J-LiveTitle: The Hear AfterRating: 3 1/2 StarsReviewed by: Paine

J-Live has quietly remained at the top of the independent Hip-hop community. Regardless of where he’s signed or whether he releases EP’s, LP’s, or singles, J-Live’s reputation endures for his careful blend of creative concepts and soft-spoken but lethal punchlines. Over two years ago, his All of the Above extended to a vast audience that far surpassed the more rugged debut, The Best Part. After two EP’s that unleashed old and new material, J-Live comes in his third phase, The Hear After (Penalty). This album answers some of J’s critics, and captures a former Brooklyn baby immersed in Philly Soul.

If All of the Above was a decibel departure from the debut for some, J’s energy has returned. “Harder” is just that. A strong sense of urgency moves the track forward as J-Live empathizes with the poor working class and criticizes mediocre Hip-hop at once. With a outstanding layered chorus to boot, this almost supposes what J-Live channeling Black Thought could sound like in terms of delivery. For those in search of that introspective writing, “Brooklyn Public Part 1” touches on a publicized but rarely personalized part of J’s life. Like Eric B. & Rakim’s “In the Ghetto” or Jay-Z’s “Where I’m From,” the verse exposes the stomach of an ill situation. Strangely, it’s not Bushwick, but the school in it. The pictures painted are precise and presented in a very sociological way that makes for a street-smart record. On songs like “Do My Thing” and “Coming Home,” J makes his Philly transition very clear in the lyrics, which seem to match the beats.

Hailing for historic collaborations with DJ Premier, Prince Paul, and DJ Spinna, J-Live may disappoint some without the high-profile production on this. Despite the Philly sound, Jazzy Jeff is not there. However, Hezekiah and James Poyser do give some regional flare. Poyser especially comes through on “Listening,” where J and wife, Kola Rock, trade verses on the role of music in their lives. In a smoky vibraphone arrangement, the percussion changes up as the couple trades verses spiced up with clever wordplay from the gate. J-Live does a bulk of the production himself. At times, it works such as the Soulive driven, “Here” that offers some magic only instrumentation can. Other times, such as the Ant Banks-esque “Sidewalks” J might go a little too far. The lyrics outdo the beats on this effort, but J has given himself an established sound unique from his first two efforts.

The Hear After is an apt title for the effort. After ten years of success, botched labels, victories and setbacks, J-Live’s career seems to be headed for definition. This album refuses to be called “underground.” Experimental production affirms that. However, the work brandishes J’s lyrical merits as well as ever. With a new deal, this can possibly push J over the top into K-Os or Kweli status. In an off year for The Roots, this is one of Philadelphia’s best layovers since Pete Rose in the early 80’s.