Thursday, October 20, 2011

Yo! That's a Mixtape: Justa "21st Century Man"

--Official Stats--
Artist: Justa
Title: "21st Century Man"
Release Date: September 12, 2011

I suppose that I have to start this out with a little something we call "full disclosure": I've collaborated with Justa in the past, not in music but it writing (I'm not a musician or MC or whatev's). I've contributed work to his blog (which is much better than this blog, how do you do it Justa? Writin' school? Bein' smart? Who knows?). Anyway, I know you're thinking "this is a bad sign that will lead to a bad biased review"! Well, you're wrong, fella...actually you're right. My review will be biased since they all are, and I tend to be in favor of independent hip hop artists that actually put in work, so Justa already has that going for him. And you're also right in that this will be a bad review, they all are on this blog (we try though...on content, not spelling or grammar or research skills)! But fear not! I will be appropriately critical and call it like it really is! Hip Hop!

So who is this Justa guy? I don't know. Based on the websites listed where his album is uploaded he is...actually there isn't much information. I think he is from the Bay area, which is a good thing, and, uh, that's about all I can gather. Which is nothing...and one thing that I guessed at. So I hope you can see the skill of our research department (shout to Tina, Trish, and Devin - you earned your paycheck this week fam). I guess we'll let the music speak for itself!

Here we go! Come on...(GZA voice)...

1. Pro Day
The beat is straight ill and a good way to start an album. The verses are skillful, but could use a little more force, Justa sounds like he is holding back a bit - like he’s afraid of waking up his neighbors. The high technology beat (is that industrial?) gets better as it rolls on. Nice job.

2. 21st Century Man
The titular track! Once again the beat is decent and reminds me of a Tribe flow (nice job there, if your beat is reminding me of A Tribe Called Quest in a good way then you are ahead of the pack). The vocal production issues are gone (thank goodness) and we’re left with another decent track. "What vocal production issues?" you ask. Well, I'm no producer, but I think the vocals just need mastering (or finishing) so they match the beat. I don't know though, I run a blog. I push keys and letters come up on the thing. Technology!

3. Dug Funny
Okay, I have no idea what the Dug in Dug Funny means, I’m sure it’s something, but we may never know. So this is a "dear diary/journal" song, in the vein of Young MC (cough, sorry Justa, cough) and it describes typical funny events in the life of Justa. Now I need to be very clear here, the reason that anyone knows about Young MC is because he dropped an easily relatable story rap called Bust A Move. He also helped Tone Loc write Funky Cold Medina and Wild Thing and I know you've enjoyed all of those songs at some point in your life, so, great resume Young MC! But why am I telling you this? Because Young MC was very talented at the story raps, he was no Slick Rick, but he could still write rhymes about everyday things and make them fun. Now the problem with this song, besides the chorus (which is on a Grandmaster Flash tip, but could use some polishing), is that the events described aren’t particularly funny to me, and that's part of the promise in the song's title: funny shizz. Ah well, there are plenty of other tracks on the tape.

4. Gentleman
This beat is dope, and I mean dopity-dope. It’s high energy and the vocals match the beat. I’m starting to notice that Justa’s style is indeed very similar to Young MC (not a bad thing) and his presence is a lot like Speech from Arrested Development (maybe without all the political mumba-jumba) and those are both good things (a weird combo though). Now, it’s odd that I noticed the comparison to Speech here because being a gentleman is an unusual topic for any MC, maybe except for Speech. So good job! Best track so far.

5. You Should Know This
Remember the comparison to Speech I made two sentences ago? Well, this could be a Speech song! I’m not a fan of the singing on the chorus, but it’s done well and that’s just my personal taste. If it were up to me all choruses would be a DJ Premier scratching mash up or “Protect Ya Neck”, which is just angry yelling, I guess. That being said, I easily got into the vibe of this song and fell into the groove. So, respect on that.

6. Prelude into the Future
Holy crow this sounds old school. I’m not talking 2005 either, I’m talking 1986. I’ve noticed that a lot of the underground tapes are adopting that way-classic style, and it’s sounding good. But does it sound good here? Well with some tweaking on the vocals we might have something, I don't mean tweaking the production I mean the enthusiasm.

7. Stop Yo Calling (ft Dirty D)
The first guest spot of the album is Dirty D (I’m guessing that’s him on the chorus) and that was a wise move. I'm of the mindset that all hip hop albums require at least one guest spot. It breaks things up. Plus, that was one of the ways we used to find out about dope MCs. Where would Busta Rhymes be without the guest spot? Go ahead and think about it. Answer: he would be taking your order at TGIF's! Now, the beat is fine on this track, it pulls off-key sometimes (which sounds off), but I think it works overall.

Now get ready because here comes a major criticism (a/k/a the big one): the first verse of this song demonstrates something that keeps reappearing with Justa that I just can't overlook: flow. In several songs Justa has either bunched words together or spread them apart to make them fit a bar, now this may be an artistic choice, if so, fine: it's not my taste and keep at it. Nobody can make the sound you make right? Or it may come from over-rehearsing or under-writing, but whatever the reason (or cause), it sounds unnatural and breaks up the flow. I could elaborate and get all technical, but I won’t (because that’s booooring), I’ll just say that Justa changes between good lines, to lines that are rushed, to lines that drag, and it stands out like something that stands out a lot. Whatever that means. It pullls me out of the lyrical content and forces me to think about the technical content, which is bad newz. I hate to drop a major criticism like that on a legit MC, especially since I’m not an MC at all, but I think it’s something that needs to be addressed in future recordings. Word.

8. Worst Job Ever
I'm going to get mad random here: this beat sounds straight up Boards of Canada and that's DOPE. The theme this time is similar to Kanye West's Spaceship in that it pulls from the well of the horrible working world but takes a different approach. Justa points out that his job (and specifically his boss) are terrible, but at least his paycheck is enough to get him a bottle of rum which is mad nice. The song is fine and everything is in its right place but then it ends with a nice change up as it slides into some big band sounds that expand the theme (the source material)? Another good track!

9. American Beauty
I hate to keep making direct comparisons but I can't seem to stop: the beat on this track reminds me of a late-album "ATLiens" track, while the theme is like J. Cole's Light's Please. I guess the question here is how good is it? Really good. A little mastering on the vocals and this would be hype.

10. Questions
Justa saved the best track for the end. This shit sounds mad professional, all the components fit and sound ill. Whoever produced this beat nailed it, so, shouts to the producer. What can you say about a good song? It's good, okay, jeez.

11. Could Come True
Wait, wttttf?? There is another track? The embedded player led me to believe that the last track was the last track, ya dig? Okay, whatever. Now for the official last track: another professional level track and it sounds mad nice. It's on a laid back something. And something about this sounds like something else. Review skillz. Don't take this as any form of disrespect, it's just that good songs are tough to review because you can sum them up in one word: GOOD.

So let me quickly review my review: I did a bad job. Tort Team #Salute! The reason that I say that is because I frequently visited the shallow well of "this reminds me of that", which is just bad reviewing. I suppose that it's a testament to Justa that his work brings to mind such a diverse collection of good music. Was he actually inspired by Outkast? Who knows? But for me to say that a track brings to mind ATLiens is a very good thing. I love ATLiens.

21st Century Man is a good independent album! It has several repeatable songs and this would definitely pull me in to check for future work from Justa. My main complaints with the album come down to some odd choices that Justa makes with his flow and a general shortage of enthusiasm on the vocals. This might just be a simple step of mastering the vocals, but I don't know. Also, since the production is spot on for most of the songs, strong vocal production could easily push many of these songs onto some playlists. In fact, on the songs that sound like they have mastered vocals, things sound perfect. Nicely done and check for this.

21st Century Man Score 6/10

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