Despite being the debut album from Seattle-based emcee J. Pinder, Careless tells the familiar story of an artist struggling to navigate his way through the music business, questioning choices made, the choices that may lie ahead, and the elusive nature of success. Even if the concept of the record is not a novel one, Pinder is an articulate lyricist who paints a vivid picture of the trials and tribulations characteristic of the infant stages of the rapper’s natural life-cycle.
The album’s strength lies in its verses; Pinder’s ability to self-reflect without sounding hackneyed or tired is a skill that many before him have attempted, but failed at. “Pilgrimage” is a refreshingly honest reflection on the intersection of artistry and industry. Pinder weaves a verbal tapestry of the process, aspirations, and self-doubt that come with trying to break into the rap game. When the chorus hits, Pinder suddenly remembers what the whole thing really boils down to, and addresses the listener directly, simply stating: ”I hope you’re feelin’ it.” The brilliance of this statement is certainly understated in a business that has grown increasingly complex over the last few decades.
The album’s title track is another highlight. Pinder questions his choices past, present, and future (“Who am I writin’ for? / What am I livin’ for? / What is this lightnin’ for?”), over a sleek piano riff, organ and horn swells that evoke a sense of nostalgia perfectly suited for a reflective moment. It’s hard not to wonder who changed the station when, a few minutes later, the chorus of “Some Kinda Star” comes through, sounding so radio-friendly that it comes off as contrived or, at the very least, out of place. However, the album returns to form on the next cut, “No Fault of Mine,” and little momentum is lost.
The Jake One-produced “Jet Stream” marks another high point on Careless. Pinder sounds even more at ease than usual here, which may in fact be a testament to the producer’s abilities as much as the emcee’s. A smooth, soulful vocal line and and a chugging drum loop help this jam stand out from the rest of the pack. The track builds to a cinematic string arrangement and drums that feel at once tense and reassured. Despite the album’s tendency towards the live-band sound, the beats are pretty standard fare. The collection can drag at times without much variation. Pinder appears to be set on crafting his own ‘sound’ to compliment his rhymes, the aesthetic may fall a bit short in the originality department. Nonetheless, it’s obvious that Pinder’s relationship with his pen and his pad is a tight one. This is a dude that will, no doubt, continue to strive.