L’Orange and Jeremiah Jae’s The Night Took Us in Like Family, from 2015, remains one of the most inventive rap concept albums in recent memory. L’Orange, a meticulous producer from North Carolina, and Jae, a Chicago rapper-producer who shares some of Prodigy’s cold paranoia (although with more poetic flair), teamed for an LP that told the story of a 1940s crime boss framed for murder.
On the follow-up, Complicate Your Life with Violence, the same mobster enlists in the army service with the hopes of leaving his life of crime behind, going on to spew “be or be killed”-themed reflections on the bleak realities of military life, and the PTSD that lingers long after the last shot’s been fired. With Florida prodigy Chester Watson and NYC enigma billy woods backing them up in the trenches, the pair navigate an eclectic battlefield of loops and samples for a lurching 42 minutes, their strands of dialog serving as narrative connection throughout.
Even if Jae’s poetics can be dense, oblique, and even overwhelming on cursory listens, it’s clear both he and L’Orange were intensely committed to the concept driving the album. The pair have cited the 1940s radio show Man Behind the Gun and the 1967 film The Dirty Dozen as inspirations, and Jae even went as far as to undertake a military exercise regimen during the album’s creation. All that extra work affords the record depth and dimension that’s rare even within the endlessly explorable world of “art rap.”
Undoubtedly this is a niche album, one likely to be cherished by veritable rap nerds more than anyone else. But few can craft such a record like L’Orange and Jeremiah Jae, especially when they team up.