The intro to The Hip Hop Affect will either completely turn a listener on or discourage him from hearing out the rest of the album. As a soulful beat bumps in the background, J. Rawls’ young son Joshy asks him a simple question: “What does Hip Hop feel like?” Considering the man who was asked is the producer behind songs by Mos Def and Talib Kweli as Black Star, Slum Village and others, many Hip Hop heads would drool at the prospect of J. Rawls to school listeners on Hip Hop’s essence amongst today’s evolved, commercialized times. Meanwhile, other listeners will see it as a dreadful, archaic effort to live in the past and hate on anything new and different. The result is a mixture of both.
One thing is still clear: J. Rawls can still make beats. The Ohioan’s jazz-influenced soundbeds still knock and swing, and when the right emcees are paired with him, the results are enjoyable. “Find A New” pairs a jazzy backdrop with relaxed bars by Casual, and the soothing “Heeey” meshes subdued keys and woodwinds with serviceable vocals by John Robinson, El Da Sensei, Lefortheuncool and Afaliah. On the grittier end, “Just Rhymin’ With Fest” is a simple-yet-effective display of beats and bars with Rhymefest, while “Are You Listening” showcases solid rhymes by Bad Azz, Copywrite and Edo G. Conceptual gems are the real standouts: the laid-back “That Very First Day” recounts when J. Rawls and emcee Fat Jon first met, while the hilarious “Your Friends In The Way” repeatedly finds Senor Kaos on the wrong end of haters while trying to get poon. Above-average beatboxing and posse tracks round out the Hip Hop teaching sessions.
At times, the album feels contrived or boring. Despite its great sample-based beat and the nostalgia from hearing Sadat X and Wise Intelligent rhyme, songs like “Face It” try too hard to tell listeners what “real Hip Hop” is and how new rap doesn’t live up to the legacy. The Hip Hop Affect is better-served when its songs are showing what Hip Hop’s affect is instead of telling you what it should be. The 21-song playing time is a bit lengthy, especially when the disc is so cohesive that the songs occasionally sound alike. There aren’t any weak songs here, but there aren’t many songs that are mind-blowing either.
With its solid beats and rhymes, The Hip Hop Affect does a commendable job of showcasing what good Hip Hop is. As far as showcasing the actual feeling of what Hip Hop is (as it promises in the intro) it comes up slightly short. Still, if it can inspire others to evoke the feeling—the way that it does with Joshy on the album’s outro, and as it requests new emcees to rip a final triumphant instrumental and email Rawls their results—then the intention is pure.