As a music nerd, January is my favorite time of the year. You can absorb all the new music you got for Christmas and you can catch up on catalogue joints from your collection without worrying about buying new releases on a Tuesday (hell, I still do that at least).
After spending 372 hours listening to Nico’s mixtape Dinner is Served Vol. 1 (release party next Sat. Jan 31st, worldwide release Mon. Feb 2!!!), I wanted to ride out January with old shizz from my cavernous CD shelf. Enter J. Rawls…
I bought J. Rawls’ debut The Essence Of… at this dope ass underground hip hop store on South Street called State of the Art (that is now a jerk chicken hut, or Korean nail parlor, or a Korean jerk chicken hut with Jamaican hair braiding) back in 2001 on the downside of my allegiance to all things indie hip hop. J. Rawls is one half of Lone Catalysts, a solid late 90s duo from Columbus, Ohio. Rawls did the beats, J. Sands was the MC, a guy who had one of the most underrated voices of all time. I remember hearing Rawls’ “Check the Clock” featuring J. Sands and Grap Luva (Pete Rock’s kid brother) on some Landspeed compilation and thought it was incredible.
Seeing The Essence Of… on the shelf at State of the Art, I grabbed it as an impulse buy. Listening to this album 8 years later, it was what I thought it was (to paraphrase Dennis Green): solid with a few great songs. J. Rawls’ sound at the time was more Pete Rock than anything. He first broke out on Black Star’s “Brown Skin Lady” by flipping this ill Gil Scott Heron joint (forget the name of it). And it didn’t hurt to get a Mos Def shoutout on “Definition”: ‘J. Rawls yes he’s running HIP HOP!’.
The Essence Of… follows a true school vibe–warm basslines, saxophone solo’s, playful rhymes. The guests are wide ranging, from my abstract weirdo hero Dose One to vinyl sultan Asheru. J-Live stops by for “The Great Live Caper,” an excellent storytelling joint from probably the smartest writer in underground hip hop (has J-Live ever made a wack cameo?). Some of the guests are bordering on ehhhh but I’ll leave that up to you to decide which ones fit that bill.
On second listen, my favorite song is “Super Heroes” featuring Mass Influence. The bass line on this is frickin devilish. It reminds me of early GangStarr with a touch of Liquid Swords. The distant horn stabs are pure Soul Brother #1 and a vocal sample from Prodigy can never be wack. I will be ripping this off soon.
Rawls have gone on to do tons of out-there stuff with the Liquid Crystal Project with their 7” “Tribute to Dilla” getting lots of love. He has this interesting career in that people are aware of him but rarely shout him out as an influence or hunt him down for beats on their album. He’s not big on the URB scene like his partner Fat Jon of the group 3582, and he’s not getting checks from G-Unit like crosstown homie Hi-Tek of Cincinnati. According to his wikipedia, Rawls started his own label POLAR Records in ’05 and has worked with some of my favorite hip hop/soul acts like Aloe Blacc, Dudley Perkins, Georgie Ann Muldrow, and Slum Village.
I think I’ll be spending February getting up to speed with the rest of J. Rawls’ catalogue. But for now, I’ll be getting my neck realigned after listening to “Super Heroes” for the umpteenth time this week.