Joell Ortiz Goes for a Classic Feel on ‘That’s Hip-Hop’
Joell Ortiz and producer !llmind dropped one of the most cohesive, structurally sound and lyrically adept projects with Human last year. The effort featured the Brooklyn, N.Y. native pairing his coming-of-age story with jaw-dropping (and at times hilarious) metaphors over !ll’s slick boom-bap backdrops. Their union culminated in an unfiltered, lyrically solid project that didn't disappoint.
As far as spitters go, Ortiz is the last of a dying breed. When his projects hit the ‘Net, it's a breath of fresh air for hip-hop heads looking for that raw sound. At times, the clever wordplay that Ortiz delivers is needed to escape much of today's music that is saturated in talk of drugs and dabbin’.
The rapper continues to showcase his skills by linking with producer Domingo for the new album, That’s Hip-Hop. Based on the LP title alone and Ortiz’s track record for beasting on beats and the mic, That’s Hip-Hop aims to bring back that classic Golden Era feel. As the intro “The Word” plays out, Ortiz lays out his goal: to be remembered as a nice MC. Mission accomplished.
He wastes no time bodying tracks, commencing with “Last Man Standing." With blaring snares and kicks, the rhymer holds the beat for ransom as he lyrically aims at the necks of his hip-hop contemporaries with gritty, witty bars. "You hear the iron screeching/The horse pulls up/The doors open up/New Yorkers hop off/The Yaowa hops on/Sony phones with the Dutch/Just lit L smell L Train," he rhymes. For those not familiar with the New York City vibe, Ortiz paints a vivid picture of riding the iron horse (aka the subway).
"Rep them niggas with that liquor in their cup/Trigger in the cup/Walking in buildings digging in their butt/Pause me, but them niggas is up/It's a Cheesecake Factory without listening to Puff," the rapper continues, providing more laugh-worthy moments.
That same momentum is held up on the Token-assisted “Kill at Will.” With lively piano thumps, hard kicks and drums, the adrenaline-laced track finds Ortiz and Token trading lines while indirectly trying to body each other's verses. With the Big Daddy Kane hook screaming, "Ill and kill at will,” this song is New York hip-hop at its finest, meshing perfectly with the Rotten Apple's fast-paced energy. Anyone on the go will feel compelled to use this as a soundtrack to keep it moving due to its aggressive, cocksure feel. While the Chris Rivers-assisted “Say What I Want” follows that same momentum, the beat doesn't hold up with the lyrics, which interrupts the album's flow.
Along with his solid wordplay, the highlight of That’s Hip-Hop comes from the engrossing, heartfelt “Precious” featuring Raven Felix. Ortiz tells the story of a reluctant and struggling stripper beefing with her significant other, who thought she worked at a Dairy Queen as opposed to pole-climbing for the money.
While the 10-track effort satisfies, it also has its drawbacks. The Billy Danze-supported “Fall Back” and “Reppin’ N.Y.” featuring Kool G Rap, Lil Fame and Bumpy Knuckles sound dated. Domingo's production here, replete with heavy scratches, sounds like a 1980's throwback, which doesn't fit Fame's aggressive lyrics about stomping a cat in the club. Fans are accustomed to hearing the Brownsville's native pugnacious lines over hostile soundscapes, such as the DR Period-produced "Ante Up." And G Rap doesn't quite live up to his glory days here.
Throughout Joell Ortiz's career, he consistently proves that he can spit, pen relatable life lessons and wax poetic about his love of hip-hop. Songs like "Music Saved My Life," from 2014's House Slippers, and "Bad Santa," a song from 2015's Human, are solid examples. On That's Hip-Hop, with the exception of "It's Time" and his verse on "Trouble," which is quickly forgotten due to verses by Zooka Joe and AJ Larson, the gripping stories that we've come to love from Ortiz are few.
Despite the misses and the abundance of features on such a brief 10-song project, That’s Hip-Hop is worthy of playlist placement. Joell Ortiz lives up to his reputation of being a rapper's rapper. He continues to prove that he can still hold his own amongst the heavyweight spitters in the game without sounding out of his league. From the start of the project, he aimed to fulfill his legacy as a nice MC. Mission accomplished.
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