The Essence of J. Rawls, J. Rawls Groove Attack Records

As of late, radio-friendly Midwest hip-hop artists have been gaining more attention and love from people located in the traditional media centers of New York and Los Angeles Unfortunately, their less commercial comrades are still working to do the same in the underground scene.

In Columbus, Ohio, native J. Rawls is somewhat of an exception. He lent his production skills to Mos Def and Talib Kweli”s Black Star and built a name for himself with the Lone Catalysts. With his release The Essence of J. Rawls, J. Rawls lays down 14 tight tracks while enlisting a talented yet almost unknown group of wordsmiths from the Midwest and East Coast.

On “Great Live Caper,” a frantic J-Live tells of an apartment break-in where whack emcees get away with his sacred book of rhymes. After a car chase through New York that ends at a New Jersey airplane hanger, the suspects escape only to have J-Live detonate the book as they fly to supposed safety. J-Live”s creativity and delivery allows the listener to follow and visualize each scene he sees throughout the chase.

“Far Away” features two-thirds of the Polyrhymaddicts” Apani B. Fly and Mr. Complex. Both rappers describe the globetrotting they”ve done through hip-hop and their love for their home. If anything, the number of locations they name proves that hip-hop is a global phenomenon. At the same time, though, it makes you wonder why they didn”t name any locations in the U.S. beside New York.

With “They Can”t See Me,” J. Rawls shows he can bless the mic. He states flat out that he isn”t getting rich from his rhymes or producing, but he”s having fun. Even if he did happen to strike it rich, it doesn”t look like he”d be running for the jewelry store or Bentley dealership. Rather, Rawls works on refining his already well-honed skills.

Overall, J. Rawls performance on The Essence is somewhere between solid and excellent. His heavily jazz-influenced style makes the album pleasing to the ear. However, it falls a little short of the efforts put out by other producers this year like Jay Dee, Pete Rock and Rawls” Ohio compatriot Hi-Tek. While introducing some lyricists that people may not be familiar with could be regarded as a positive for the album, it also limits Rawls mainly to “underground” hip-hop heads in the U.S. and abroad. Although this album definitely isn”t a total negative, J. Rawls may have to wait longer for people to capture and appreciate his essence.

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