Joell Ortiz Kicks Exceptional Rhymes On ‘House Slippers’
Joell Ortiz has some of the most loyal and enthusiastic fans in the game; an allegiance that’s born of the rapper’s skill and constant candidness. With every project he brings the listener further into his hood, his career, and his mind state. Hits like “Call Me” have proven he can master a mainstream sound, while still (and likely forever) retaining the ability to detail stories from the block with unrivaled clarity. He brought fans along for the ride as he was bounced around various labels - though he did his fair share of the bouncing. The newly released House Slippers is his first solo project since under the revived Penalty Entertainment. He uses 12 tracks of meticulous lyricism to reflect what he implies with this album title; he’s at home now, and couldn’t be more comfortable or confident.
It’ll come as no surprise that House Slippers is New York hip-hop through and through. The Heatmakerz, of Dipset fame, executive produced the whole album, delivering a sound that leans on heavy boom-bap drums, cinematic instrumentals, and some diverse and well-timed samples. The throws to NY legends are plentiful too, whether he’s using “Big Poppa” lines as a sung hook (on “Better Than”) or weaving references into his own bars for those quick enough to catch them; “You mad, you got it Bad Boy face facts/Do it Big take a nice Puff and tell ‘em ‘Take That’” on the funky “Get Down.” The beats themselves display a near-erratic range, but the Heatmakerz’ hand offers a thread of unity that culminates in a sound that’s more entertaining than disjointed.
Joell proves with House Slippers that he’s at the top of his game lyrically. The title track and album opener picks up where Joell last left us. He flexes wordplay over a stripped-down beat with no hook, detailing where he’s been and preparing us for what we’re about to hear, “This ain’t for radio play/This for the Radio Raheems who let they radio play/For the heads on the net clickin’ lookin’ for the best writtens/Turnin’ to they man like ‘You hear what he say?!’” His verses paint vivid pictures, and are fresh at face value, but he peppers in so many tricks that you discover something new with every listen (even just in the above four bars, for example, he spits “heads on the 'net clickin’” so that it hits your ear as “heads on the neck”). It’s those details that give a project dimension and intrigue. For Joell, it’s typically just another 16.
His humor is relentless-part of his brand as an MC with an often conversational flow. Jazzy horns lace through “Dream On” as Joell smirks, “Y’all don’t hear (hair) me though, alopecia.” The back-end track “Candy” is almost comically poppy in itself, with a New Edition “Candy Girl” sample sounding as cool as the other side of the pillow, and just as soft. Joell naturally grounds it with his gritty voice and thug love story raps.
That story telling takes a different turn with “Phone,” where high-hats crash through a cautionary tale about an unfaithful woman, delivered with such intensity and so many details that you’ll think you lived it. Nowhere though, is an ominous sound done better than on “Brother's Keeper,” the Slaughterhouse track. Operatic singing is contrasted by the bass-laden voice echoing on the hook for an epic sound with a hint of ‘90s nostalgia. As far as verses, the Slaughterhouse crew continues to cement their place as one of the best rap groups currently making music. It’s a tight race for best performance on “Brothers Keeper,” and guaranteed to be the subject of lively debate among heads for months.
“Music Saved My Life,” the album’s second single, is another obvious high point. If people don’t know by now that B.o.B has flow, they’ll learn with this track. The musicality is strong as the instrumentals drip with crossover appeal, and Joell is right in his comfort zone describing a childhood shaped by industry legends. What it comes down to with House Slippers, is that there simply isn’t a throwaway moment, let alone a throwaway track. The beats offer variety, and the bars are packed with verbal skills that demand multiple rewinds. The Yaowa, in short, does not disappoint.—Rachel Chesbrough