Try this: never mind the methodical, calculable approach to logic that says that if this yields then that and which is based on proven, tried and true theory. Eschew it, chew it, and spit it out. There is something intangible about the way we experience intangibles such as art and music, the source of our feelings sometimes logical in a recognizable way, sometimes not. The Hip-Hop Affect, producer J Rawls’s latest LP, is liable to induce a causal relationship between good vibes and a few spins of the record (or plays in your media player). Here’s a shot at trying to explain it.
J Rawls, the longtime inhabitant of a place we often times call hip-hop, knows something about cause and effect, particularly when it comes to the genre. He’s observed the mutations the form has undergone throughout the years and mucks about its present existence, that of a gentrified, blighted, spruced-up, anchoring, and ultimately written on place like a tagged wall. Rawls’s work as one half of The Lone Catalysts and on cuts like “Yo Yeah” and “Brown Skin Lady” on Black Star’s self-titled masterwork, established him as an inspired guy. Tracks like THHA’s pleasant, horn-inflected “Who Am I” and the mellow, sax-riffed “Sandsy,” dazzle and show that despite being older, he’s just as eager as some of the new kids on hip-hop’s block.
On the superb “Face It,” J Rawls composes one of the richest beats built upon a simple vocal sample. The song is persistent in its recommendation, as the singer repeats with sage-like, been-there-done-that wisdom, “Facing all the sorrows/I had to stop/Face it with a smile/And you’ll enjoy.” The vocals are rearranged to form the phrases one hears and the beat is flavored by the oft-sampled hi-hat that’s been featured everywhere in hip-hop but that was used most ostensibly in Raekwon’s “Incarcerated Scarfaces.” “Face It,” and many of THHA’s songs affirm Rawls’s status as an on-point sample chooser, just as the opening segment of “Brown Skin Lady” hinted at way back when. In this song, Rawls, the beatmeister and the more overtly philosophical aspects of his production personality converge and offer a plaintive thesis on how to deal with the wobbly vicissitudes life has to offer each of us at one time or another.
The eight-minute closer “We’re On Top,” meant as the backdrop for a posse cut featuring all Ohio rappers, feels too long on the instrumental version of the album, but is nonetheless interesting with a prominent sample of a singer scatting. See, there’s something nebulous about feelings you get from music. The ebullient, jazz-injected The Hip-Hop Affect just makes sense, although I can’t tell you why exactly.