Outside of his work with the hip-hop collective Slaughterhouse, Joell Ortiz has also spent much of the last few years collaborating with Los Angeles rapper/singer/producer Novel. On their first official mixtape together, Defying the Predictable, they successfully steer clear of cliché records by finding fresh takes on a variety of subjects.
The project works, largely because the pair never reaches too far outside of their comfort zone. Instead, they touch on topics that don’t usually constitute run-of-the-mill mixtape material. On the empowering “I Can Be President,” they swap verses about the opportunities afforded after President Obama’s historic November 2009 victory. On the soulful Statik Selektah-produced “Here the Next,” they speak about making the most of the chances they’ve received in the music business. And on the demoralizing “Stressful,” the duo flips Drake’s optimistic “Successful” to let off steam about struggling with poverty.
But the real strength of Defying the Predictable is that—while Novel certainly holds his own both rapping and singing—Ortiz continues to show tremendous growth as an artist. From his all-too-real depictions of the streets on the bare bones “Ghetto” to the more positive message of hope on the uplifting “Stand Up,” the Brooklyn rapper consistently delivers performances that are animated and entertaining. But he saves his best effort for “Like I Know,” where he makes some controversial statements about Slaughterhouse and Benzino before spitting: “I want my son to see a world that I ain’t never saw/I want my mans to pick up a check instead of raw.” And if that means taking a less conventional approach to a mixtape to get some well-deserved attention, then so be it. —Chris Yuscavage