J-Live is one of the few emcee/producer hybrids who is actually better at rhyming. I’d place MF Doom in that category as well. Rap fans from the Rawkus era tend to worship J-Live, while others might know him as that dude who can DJ and rap at the same time.

I’ve recently copped two new singles from J-Live, and my reaction to both can be expressed vicariously through Ben Stiller’s character in Happy Gillmore: This is hand-made quality shit we’re talking about here.

First he appears as a guest emcee on the remix of DJ Alibi’s “One Day”, spitting clever wordplay about the days of the week. The breezy instrumentation and shuffled boom bap are tailor made for summer strolls around the block. The O.G. version of “One Day” is just as addictive, and Alibi sheds the boom bap to let the more complex sequencing stand out. This one is a no-brainer if you see it on the wall at your local record shop.

Those very walls are where I discovered the Black Grass import single that features J-Live on the b-side. I usually set aside a few hours to shop for records on Saturdays, but I was running errands all day with my better half, so I strategically planned our route to take us near my favorite record boutique. To avoid sleeping on the couch that night, I promised her I would go in, grab a record, pay, and be out.

I was running my eyes across the walls, trying to avoid getting my fingers dusty, when I noticed a Bob James album I had never seen before. Closer inspection revealed the quality knock-off job done by Black Grass in replicating the classic CTI record design. Flipping the record over, I saw the J-Live track and I knew I had found a winner.

The single, “Set it Straight” is built around a tightly sequenced guitar loop and punchy acoustic drums. J-Live avoids any accusations of half-stepping with lines like, “I choose to be addressed as God over nigga” and “I say ‘peace’ like aloha, hello and goodbye”

Unfortunately, Black Grass need to work on their hook construction because between sermons is a pathetic attempt at a DJ Premier hook, sprinkling salt on an otherwise delectable track. And don’t bother with the a-side, it’s an upbeat reggae jam that sounds like it was pulled from the Cool Runnings soundtrack.

–Chris Seeger

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