Breaking through the ranks from Internet/underground phenom to the object of mass appeal and wide attention is a task with no easy plan. Many rappers have tried the same methods with varying results. One of the trickier roads is the new rapper’s attempt to refit older, widely loved beats with new material in hopes to elicit the same or similar emotion or effect. 50 Cent tried and set the standard for this method, making humorously wanton songs like “After My Chedda” out of the LL hit of the day. Wayne went this route on and off over a span of nearly a dozen mixtapes, and some of his output in that time remains among the canon of Weezy material: “Sky Is The Limit” was done so well most people forget Mike Jones actually made a go of it first, or at all.
Recent Aftermath recruit and Flint, MI’s Best Kept Secret Jon Connor is the latest MC to throw his hat into the arena. He’s taken the old-beat-new-bars route with a tribute tape with some of Kanye West’s most memorable and iconic beats for listeners to digest. Connor may be accused of arrogance on the surface of this project. He’s taken beats from one of the most talented, publicly messy albeit compelling acts and personalities of the last decade and assembled them to showcase his talent, all at a time where Mr. West looms as large over rap’s landscape as he may have throughout the whole of his career. The resulting display of lyricism and tenacity, however, makes for a vocal component worthy of the tracks he’s laid before himself.
Connor’s voice is what sets him apart before anything else does: he’s got a hint of the country-in-denial Midwest accent and an urgent, slightly hazy quality to his vocals. He never strays far from his double time flow, which isn’t a knock against him as he picked beats from Yeezy’s catalog that make the flow sound right at home. The hooks are lifted from the original tracks, but the verses around them insulate the tape from any cries of piggybacking. The writing between the choruses elevates the individual outings from simple G-mixes to beasts of their own.
While the whole of the tape is a joy to listen to, Connor seems to lock into his groove towards the tail end of the track. While early standouts like “We Don’t Care” and “Flashing Lights” can’t be ignored or discounted here, “Doin’ My Job” is the point at which Jon seems to decide to go for broke, and even over some of the mellower beats he maintains the steady barrage of witty one-liners and deft storytelling. He could be accused of preaching at points, and some of the preaching leaves some space for debate, but on a mixtape guided by material from Kanye West, one would almost feel cheated if not met by some murky gray area.
Armed with beats by ‘Ye and his own mastery of his voice, story, point of view and sense of humor, Jon Connor lets not a single track disappoint, no small feat considering the shoes he decided to try on for size. It’s a welcome addition to his growing catalog. If Connor can figure out how to write his own hooks, if he so desires it, he may be due for a graduation.—Jordan Lebeau