Tag Archives: J Dilla

A New York Blizzard Inspired Jansport J’s Aggressive New Album

 

Jansport J

As a child growing up in Covina, California (a diverse suburb of Los Angeles), Justin Williams fell in love with the sound of Timbaland’s productions. His use of thumping drums and unusual instrumentation sparked Williams’ imagination. But when he started making his own beats—under the name Jansport J—Williams moved in the opposite direction, leaning toward gritty, eccentric compositions—the kind that have more in common with Madlib, J Dilla, and the Alchemist than Missy Elliott. His sound earned him a solid niche; Williams has become a staple in L.A.’s famed underground beat scene, producing for the likes of Snoop Dogg, Planet Asia, and Dom Kennedy.

Williams’ new album p h a r o a h, named after his distinct facial hair and personal leadership philosophy, first started taking shape in early 2016. The producer was stuck in New York during Winter Storm Jonas, which dumped up to three feet of snow on the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern parts of the country. “That was my first time in New York, while a blizzard was happening,” Williams says. “It’s crazy, because we were out there in 10-degree weather, and I’m a California kid. Everyone tried to prepare me, like, ‘You’re not gonna be able to deal with that weather.’ But I loved it.” At 27 tracks, p h a r o a h is a sprawling work, foregoing the cohesion of a regular studio album in favor of giddy stylistic detours and experiments. Nevertheless, the project feels incredibly cohesive, each snippet quickly leading to the next, making for a seamless listen.

We spoke with Williams about the importance of studying his heroes, keeping a consistent work ethic, and what Donuts meant to his class of producers.

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Album of the Day: Reginald Omas Mamode IV, “Reginald Omas Mamode IV”

There’s a rich, organic quality to the music of half-Mauritian/half-English musician Reginald Omas Mamode IV; the South London composer’s tracks come off as breathing lifeforms that are equally steeped in hip-hop, funk, soul and jazz. Those rhythms are woven throughout Mamode’s self-titled debut, resulting in his strongest effort to date.

If you’re familiar with his work, you’ll hear pieces of this album’s sound across his previous releases, especially last year’s We Are The Universe EP. Whereas that project felt a bit looser, Reginald Omas Mamode IV is a fully formed collection of rhythmic mantras and tropical sonic arrangements. Here, his voice isn’t the main focus: he tweaks it to accentuate the album’s main ingredients—layered drums and tumbling bass lines.

He becomes a Dilla-esque hype man on “Bump It Up,” one of the album’s many standouts. Elsewhere, on “Talk to Me,” it sounds like he’s simply freestyling with the beat. That speaks to the heart of the artist and the record as a whole: Mamode wants to communicate with listeners, building a natural rapport that slowly draws them into his aesthetic.

Andrew Martin

Album of the Day: Jaw Gems, “Heatweaver”

Producer James “J Dilla” Yancey helped revolutionize the way rap instrumentals are composed. You remember his drums—the way they snapped, and the way they seemed ill-timed, yet perfectly on rhythm. Though his music scanned as hip-hop, Dilla dabbled in soul, jazz and electronica before his tragic death in 2006 at the age of 32. Kanye West and Pharrell have taken sonic cues from Dilla, and producers Black Milk, Oddisee and Flying Lotus acknowledge his influence.

Now add Jaw Gems, an electronic quartet from Portland, Maine. Of the group’s origins, keyboardist Hassan Muhammad says “Dilla is the common thread for how we all met and began playing together.” The group started recording collectively in 2009, and on its new album Heatweaver, you can hear ties to the Dilla’s creative approach—though the end result lands closer to Flying Lotus circa 2008. Heatweaver thrives on that same sort of loose electro-rap fusion, but the quartet’s blend feels light and improvised, skewed more towards jazz. The LP doesn’t lock into a singular groove, pivoting instead between pronounced and ambient soundscapes for a breezy, nuanced listen. On “Side King,” for example, wafting keys conjure pastoral images—you can almost see the sun-drenched beaches, the water washing up the shore. “Lead Sister” evokes similar scenery, yet the vibe is more festive due to a cavernous drum stomp.

Mixing live and electronic elements, Heatweaver feels relaxed, like four friends banging out a few cuts in a home studio just for fun. Albums are tough to pull off without a strong vocal narrative, but Jaw Gems have created a work that’s remarkably visual and nomadic, full of radiant energy that stays with you for its duration. This is the album you play when you want to go somewhere, when the destination doesn’t matter, and the road is unclear. If Dilla laid the blueprint for what hip-hop soul can sound like, Jaw Gems lets it breathe a bit more.

—Marcus J. Moore

The Encyclopedia of Knxwledge

Knxwledge

Knxwledge. Photo by Jake Michaels

Finding a starting place for Knxwledge’s catalog is like stepping into the world’s biggest library when the librarian has the day off. Since the Philadelphia native, born Glen Earl Boothe, dropped his first EP in 2009, the producer has released a whopping 75 projects on Bandcamp, and nearly every one of them has something to offer. His lo-fi blend of hip-hop, soul, and jazz has earned him comparisons to luminaries like Madlib and J Dilla, and his prolific pace has provided him a career’s worth of music in just seven years. And with placements like “Momma,” on Kendrick Lamar’s Grammy powerhouse To Pimp A Butterfly, it seems even clearer that his tireless work ethic is paying off.

But that still leaves the question of exactly what to listen to. Our list below is designed to be a field guide to the world of Knxwledge. This guide only tackles his instrumental albums; which means stellar remix albums, like his WrapTaypes series or his remix of selections from rapper Danny Brown’s XXX, or his collaborative release with Anderson .Paak as NxWorries, won’t show up. And be forewarned: we can only cover what’s already been done. There might be even more to listen to by the time this piece is published.

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