You may’ve heard whispers of the emcee JGivens (Not to be confused with his cousin, and fellow wordsmith, John Givez of King’s Dream Ent.) in the Twitterverse or Disqus comments, but, for no reasons that justify the naps that have been taken on him, never bothered to track down more than a track from this Las Vegas rapper. I was in the same boat, and his latest release El v. Envy, a marinating combustion of lyrical narrative and organic production notes, is the perfect train to save a seat on before the rush hour crowd catches word of the hype.
I hesitate to say this for unfair criticism to be preconceived against the project, but El v. Envy is clearly an album that comes in the hip-hop universe after Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, m.A.A.d. City. Like Kendrick’s classic debut, JGivens invites the listener into the universe of his life at an undefined point of time and walks them through life. This comparison is no knock on Givens creativity. If anything, it’s testimony to it because of what a larger scope Givens tells around the outdated living room of lower class urban America. As much of a copout as it may sound, El v. Envy is more of an environment than an album. The “Beauty and the Beast” sample of album opener “(a)bridge(d) thoughts” lends itself to this template, although once the nostalgic strings fade, and JGivens shreds the mic with an intensity that comes from a disciplined flow more than loud volume, the focus turns clearly on the music.
The live instrumentation intertwined with the expected synth flexes and, often subdued, bass thumps to be found on so much of the record, adds a home grown feel to the album. Instead of just believing a label that says it’ll improve your health, you can immediately feel the production here is good for your eardrums. “The Pledge: ‘They Say’” boasts some fresh drum rhythms and a blending piano line along with an understated hook by guest braveheART is the best example of this clean eating. “Help Me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re My Only Hope” is a highlighted backpack minded track, just in case the average hip-hop lover thinks this album is more symphonic orchestra than traditional hip-hop. “Stop Requested” and “Friends” are likewise familiar in their sonic ancestry but high quality in their final product.
If the album has a downfall, it is it’s own ambition and breadth. I’ve spent two weeks with the project, and I’m still wading through the multiple layers and concepts to be unearthed in the album-title concept of man versus maker, a la Jacob wrestling the Angel of the Lord. This is a two-sided coin since the volume of content to be found has kept drawing me back to the portrait and adds to its replay value like a piece of technology whose capabilities are deeper than spending a day on it can reveal. But, on the negative side, as I was always told in English class, being too broad in topic and scope can hurt the final product by lessening the impact because the target is so large.
El v. Envy is a slow-broiled pot of lyrics scribbled in notebooks, jazzy notes of nuanced musical flavor with the marination of musical patience, and artistic maturity sealing the flavor of the entire project in. This is an album where the production, emceeing, and even the song themselves, blend on the processing line leaving the emphasis on the final product, hence the lack of a track-by-track discussion. The album buckles under its scope at times, but it’s such an enjoyable, confident journey that one could be forgiven for thinking that is just a part of the ride.
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