November 04, 2003
Fat Beats
Rap, Underground Rap, Alternative Rap

Album Review

The companion to Always Has Been, a six-track re-release with classic mid-'90s singles like "Braggin' Writes" and "Can I Get It?," the 2003 vintage Always Will Be is short at eight tracks, but just as impressive as (and probably tighter than) the past J-Live full-length masterpieces The Best Part and All of the Above. As a producer, he's distinctive, catchy, and able to conjure a variety of sounds with a minimum of effort, easily equalling the imagination on display from his early tracks -- helmed by East Coast paragons like DJ Premier and Prince Paul. As a rapper, he's the equal of Blackalicious' Gift of Gab in touching on themes that are deeper than other rappers', reciting lyrics that are smarter than other rappers, and delivering all of this faster and more poetically than other rappers. Every track here is a triumph of its own, but "Car Trouble" is the most impressive: in it, a young rapper hails a taxi, only to find J-Live at the wheel. In response to a question about his trials with major labels back in the mid-'90s, J-Live spins a tale that deftly equates the record industry with a dispatch service and sidesteps explicit criticism by counseling the rapper on his choice of "rides." His live favorite "Walkman Music" is excellent as well, a driving singalong jam that displays his love for lower-class music lovers, and "Add-a-Cipher" is a valentine to the Golden Age. The connections from Always Has Been to Always Will Be are never made explicit, but J-Live has no need to worry about his label problems of the past -- his artistic career of the present is reward enough.
John Bush, Rovi

Track Listing

  1. Always Will Be
  2. Add-A-Cipher
  3. Deal Widit
  4. Get Live
  5. Car Trouble
  6. Walkman Music
  7. 9000 Miles
  8. Skip Proof