It’s always good having friends in high places; just ask Joell Ortiz. Last year, the Brooklyn bomber’s manager used his connections to get Joell’s demo into the hands of Dr. Dre. One flight to Cali later, and the portly Puerto Rock became the latest Aftermath signee. Before dropping his Dre-guided debut, though, Mr. Ortiz decides to let off a little steam with The Brick (Bodega Chronicles), a collection of lengthy freestyles and New York bravado.
Joell’s skills on the mic are undeniable, but an MC cannot live by bars alone. J.O.’s popular “125” series may have expanded his mixtape following, but here the over-five-minute-long lyrical marathons come off as four extensive advertisements for How to Rap by Joell Ortiz. Still, his vocabulary is so grand that these hookless tirades are somewhat acceptable. On “125 Pt. 4,” he capably spits, “We play lotto in hope that we hit our way out/Be honest, I stopped playing, my legs gave out/Don’t be mad, UPS is hiring/Tried that, after the first check came retirement.”
After ODing on wordplay, the rhyme animal finally gets down to making songs. The Alchemist-assisted “BQE” provides Joell with an ominous setting to shout out his favorite boroughs, while “Hip Hop” finds him writing an endearing letter to his non-Boricua culture over a piano-laced backdrop. On the latter, Ortiz spits, “Look at me, gaze into my eyes/See the poverty?/Now understand why this music and me gotta be/It’s something that’s inside of me.”
Underneath the surface does lie a complete artist. That’s evident in street collabos like “I’m From the Bottom Like You,” with M.O.P.’s Fame, and radio-friendly singles like “Keep On Calling,” featuring Akon. Problem is, Joell’s overzealousness to display his way with words gets in the way. Hopefully, with a little direction from good ol’ Dr. Dre, Mr. Ortiz can be more than a player who just rhymes a lot. —JESÚS TRIVIÑO ALARCÓN