Artist: Justus LeagueTitle: Triple Play EPRating: 4 StarsReviewed by: Matt Barone
Since the early 2003 release of Little Brother’s incredible debut The Listening, North Carolina-based collective Justus League has been crafting refreshing doses of vintage Hip-hop amongst the Dirty South’s crunk overload. While LB members 9th Wonder and Phonte have been gaining widespread exposure due to 9th’s production for Jay-Z and Destiny’s Child and Phonte’s acclaimed Foreign Exchange project, the rest of the League have been grinding beneath the surface. In an effort to warm up listeners for their respective long-players, Big Pooh, The Away Team, and L.E.G.A.C.Y. have put together Triple Play, a collection of newly recorded exclusives nicely showcasing the heat that Justus League has to offer.
Using in-house producers Khrysis (of The Away Team) and the aforementioned 9th Wonder to provide the audio pallet, the Justus League representatives paint vivid imagery through equal doses of metaphorical muscle and straightforward rhyming. Big Pooh’s four-song set kicks off the show, as the genuinely reflective “Scars (Cut Me Deep)” perfectly sets things off with Pooh and guests Median and Joe Scudda inviting listeners into their personal lives. Big Pooh has been Little Brother’s secret weapon throughout their recent rise to fame, consistently blessing 9th Wonder’s soulful backdrops alongside the more recognizable Phonte; on Triple Play, Pooh shows and proves with ease while on his own. He rides solemn horns and echoing vocal wails with smooth execution on “Keep The Bling,” while blessing Khrysis’ heavy boom-bap on “Tellin Me” with, “I rap with a chip on my shoulder, that’s the reason Pooh gettin’ colder, a lot older/ Than I was around the same time last year, made a couple dollars, still no flash here.’
The Away Team, comprised of Khrysis and Sean Boog, keep the quality up-to-par as their four-song portion jumps off with the abrasive “S#####,” an ode to weekend alcohol indulgence. Loyalty and love are paid tribute on “Family Ties,” while funky guitars and light percussion anchor the lyrical barrage “Do It,” as Joe Scudda and L.E.G.A.C.Y join The Away Team for a strong verbal cipher. L.E.G.A.C.Y’s laidback delivery powers the final third of Triple Play, darkening the mood a bit as he brings reality raps with his subdued approach. “The Death List” creeps along with distant acoustic guitar plucks and L.E.G.A.C.Y.’s morbid observations. He invites Median and Chaundon to attack the haunting strings and voiceovers on the menacing “Strange Appetite,” and “Cold As A Butcher” finds L.E.G.A.C.Y. at his MC best, gliding over 9th Wonder’s dizzying bells with, “Now I’m here, I spat the meanest/ Society’s fear, I’m a Black genius.”
On all levels, the Justus League is one of the game’s most talented and promising crews, and Triple Play is an effective display of what these artists can do. Bringing instrumentals that sound plucked out of Hip-hop’s mid-90s era when DJ Premier, Pete Rock, and Large Professor were prolific, 9th Wonder and Khrysis keep the soundtrack impressive throughout, while Big Pooh, The Away Team, and L.E.G.A.C.Y. issue honest and skilled verses that warrant respect. In a time when record labels seem to sign artists based more on style than substance, the Justus League’s untainted music is a much-needed alternative. Serving as a precursor to Big Pooh’s Sleepers, The Away Team’s National Anthem, and L.E.G.A.C.Y’s Project Mayhem, Triple Play should wake up those ignorant to the flood of music that the Justus League is ready to unleash in 2005.