Mr. J Medeiros
Of Mr. J Medeiros, emcee, producer, and activist: forgive him for pondering the serious and waxing melancholic. He’s got a lot on his mind. In the past few years he’s dealt with the breakup of his group, the Rawkus Records-holding The Procussions, and in 2007 he launched a vigorous crusade against human trafficking and child pornography anchored by the anthemic “Constance,” the song associated with his movement. It’s only fitting that he’s titled his latest release Saudade from a Portuguese term that although elusive in its exact definition, roughly connotes a state of nostalgia and longing. The LP, financed primarily by his fans, comes across like a rap-rock tone poem on loss.
Highlight “Go,” featuring J Kyle Gregory, has the thump of boom-bap era hip-hop with a jazz sample that wafts over the scene Medeiros depicts. The synthesis of not just rap and jazz, but of rap and rock mutated so from its King of Rock roots works well for the most part in the hands of Medeiros. The synthesis is made more salient given the strong narrative tendencies of the emcee.
The songs, though filled with characters dealing with emotional issues, like the young woman in the Logan-assisted “Swallow,” don’t feel like thinly disguised pathos perpetrating a fraud on our listening subconscious. It doesn’t feel like the impassioned wailing and rapid drumming characteristic of many songs culminate in sleight-of-hand emotional maneuvering. Says Medeiros on “This Is Not A Home,” the tale of a homeless man, “So now the privilege can imitate the working class/And get they street cred /Trader Joe’s and wheat bread/Catering they nose on the weekend/See them on the deep-end/In the neon the city sleeps in/And me, just another peon man/Meet me where the leash ends.”
The production, handled exclusively by The Stare, could stand to be more adventurous. The instrumentals oscillate between trippy electronic beats matched with hard and fast drumming, to more still songs that are anchored by precise piano playing. Genre wise the music leans more toward the rock side of the spectrum. The lack of variation in beat type leaves something to be desired, although the fact that the album is essentially a tone poem could explain the production choices. The guest spots featuring Bekah Wagner, A Mouse Named Wolf, Stro, J Kyle Gregory, and the above-mentioned Logan, mainly on hooks, compliment Medeiros’s compositions and contribute to the overall vibe of the record.
“Shower Curtains,” the album closer, is a spare, somber cut charged by nimble keys and Medeiros’s deft vocal performance. Medeiros delivers each line in a manner consistent with his tight, emphatic rapping throughout the album, but the lack of a raucous sonic backdrop makes the first half of the song feel like a spoken-word piece with accompaniment. But at the end comes the optimism that you knew just had to show up somewhere, given Medeiros’s activist leanings. The drums come rataplanning in, clearly building towards something, and then there’s the trumpet, soothing something opened up earlier, and then the flute toots like an enervated bird chirping some kind of message you weren’t expecting. It seems, at the album’s close, that the saudade has been interrupted, though during the album’s entirety one is consumed with its grip. Saudade isn’t for those looking for a party record or a casual jam, but it is recommended for the listener willing to take the ride with Medeiros to the state of saudade and back.