It’s probably too easy to classify J-Live as a throwback MC, even if the evidence is there to support such a claim. His rhymes are heady, forcing listeners to dissect the subject matter without nodding aimlessly to simplistic lyrical themes. Many of his instrumentals are scratchy and exuberant, evocative of the hip-hop that was so prevalent during the 1990s. Then there’s the overwhelming good nature that breathes through the music: J-Live often talks to himself on record and slows down to explain the meaning of his punch lines. He’s also been known to bristle somewhat under the “old school” moniker, although many of his peers seem content with the mundane. And he surely loves his New York squads: “Knicks goin’ all the way, Giants goin’ all the way,” J-Live says playfully on his new album, S.P.T.A. . “Naw, I ain’t puttin’ no money on it. I’m just sayin’.”
Nonetheless, an album like S.P.T.A. — Said Person of That Ability — can only be classified by the nostalgia it emits. For 12 songs, J-Live travels naturally over an eclectic bed of tropical instrumentals, electro-soul compositions and effervescent break beats, taking listeners on a wistful journey through musical yesteryear while observing hip-hop’s pitfalls. And while this recording feels rooted in the past, it doesn’t feel staid. Instead, portions of it glide along at a comfortable pace and feel reflective along the way. Elsewhere, the New York native is irritable and battle-ready. “It’s a shame, the way you mess around wit the art/A sheep in wolf’s clothes that gets ripped apart,” J-Live rhymes on “From Scratch,” the imposing first song of this 50-minute opus (a marathon by today’s album standards).
On “No Time To Waste,” the MC sounds urgent — if not downright anxious — utilizing insistent strings and dripping percussion to make his point clear: He needs hip-hop to survive and there’s no time to trifle with the livelihood. But it’s not completely ominous; “Pronounced Spitta,” the de facto title track, has a subtle Caribbean groove and sporadic organ taps, in which J speaks on his definition of “MC.” Above all, S.P.T.A. seems to mature as it plays, beginning as a playful album of clever wordplay and transitioning to a calmer state of being. “Life Comes In Threes,” for instance, is an atmospheric jazz instrumental with flutist Rasheeda Ali taking center stage. Still, this album is versatile, held together by complexity and celebration, but fidgety enough to recognize goals that haven’t been accomplished. J-Live doesn’t wag the finger too much here, but he believes the new school could learn a thing or two from him. Whether or not they choose to listen is up to them.
-Marcus J. Moore