Rel & J-Billion
MVMNT comes from Bay Area emcee J-Billion and producer REL of the Drums & Ammo collective. The album represents the burgeoning new hip-hop scene bubbling in the Bay area and the movement to bring this music back to the forefront.
It’s Rel’s beats that distinguish the duo’s material from it’s Bay Area brethren; Full of dirty soul samples, hand claps and more bounce than a 9th Wonder beat, the majority of the album reflects a strong East Coast sensibility. While it’s a far cry from what is expected from the Bay Area scene, there are elements borrowed from their home turf, like the thumping bass of “Block Business” or the synth wail of “Cappuccino Music.” On the Smoke Break interlude, Rel’s production sounds similar to Chillwave darling Toro Y Moi, while the album highlight “My Blessings” uses the same L.V. Johnson sample that Dilla flipped for Airworks. As a producer, Rel definitely wears his influences on his sleeve and the overall effect leaves the album feeling slightly derivative, but there are moments of freshness that save the affair. Influences aside, the beats are high quality. If Rel can find his own lane, he will definitely be a producer to look out for.
For his part, J-Billion is definitely part of the younger generation of rappers, with a slick flow that is equal part Drake’s spoken word flow and Wiz Khalifa’s lackadaisical delivery. He is deft with his wordplay, in a way that puts him the same category as MCs like Blu and Wale. But beyond a few clever lines, he’s not saying much. While Billion’s flow is interesting enough to carry a solo project, his content is nothing to write home about. Guest appearances by Tha Jacka, Enoch & 1 O.A.K. help, but J-Billion would do well to find a stronger MC to partner with. As a duo, J-Billion and Rel make a great team, and it’s fitting that this project is being billed as a movement to highlight the diversity in Oakland’s hip-hop community. They have delivered a listening experience that recalls a specific time in hip-hop’s past that many listeners consider a ‘golden period’. While a little derivative of their predecessors, MVMNT is a solid effort and it will be interesting to see where Rel and J-Billion can take the scene from here.