Scouted by 2Pac collaborators DJ Daryl and Richie Rich, J. Stalin has experienced commendable success over the past four years. Nominated for the 2006 B.A.R.S. Awards’ Best New Artist category and granted the San Francisco Chronicle’s 2008 Bay Area Album Of The Year award for Gas Nation, Stalin has been crowned by Bay Area legends E-40 and Too Short as the next big thing out of the Bay. Considering himself as a blend between Messy Marv and TQ, the West Oakland native, born Jovan Smith, has modeled his persona after Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, due to their common initials, short stature, and tough disposition. Forever married to the block, Prenuptial Agreement provides a 22-track vignette of Stalin’s relationship with his 10th Street dwelling within the Cypress Village housing projects.

While the creation of Gas Nation was due to a promotional opportunity, facilitated by hasty arrangement of previously recorded tracks, J. Stalin painstakingly took the time to work out every detail in his Prenuptial Agreement. With nearly as many guest appearances as one of Stalin’s Livewire compilations, the album benefits from the assistance by both regular guests such as The Jacka and his Livewire and Town Thizzness affiliates as well as high-profile studio album first appearances by cosigners E-40 and Too Short, Explosive Mode collaborators Messy Marv and San Quinn, and Glasses Malone.   

Recognizable by his soul-texture bearing voice, self-harmonized hooks, and explicit semiautobiographical tales, J. Stalin demonstrates commendable versatility on Prenuptial Agreement via his remarkable ear for eclectic bass-pulsating instrumentals. With 11 contributing producers on the album, instrumentals range from tracks that are more southern-sounding (“Rock Day” ) to brass instrument-infused (“Self-Made Millionaire”) to 1980s R&B-inspired (“When It’s Real”).   

As a lifelong hustler, J. Stalin is truly a product of his crack epidemic affected environment, having served 11 months parole with weekends in juvenile hall for dealing. Although Prenuptial Agreement is not as dark as Livewire Da Gang’s Pay Ya’Self Or Spray Ya’Self, the project contains strong elements of his street learned grit and determination, epitomized through his second single, “Rock Day.” Followed up with “H.N.I.C.,” Messy Marv rhymes, “They 16 in L.A., 24 in Chicago / I’m up and down the interstate nigga with the rollo / 30-round clip in my shit with the hollow / I jump out strapped nigga everywhere that I go / There’s always a drought around Cinco De Mayo / But Bloods still got ‘em for the seventeen five though.”

Though present in previous efforts, Prenuptial Agreement opens up to a higher concentration of female-friendly tracks. Although on the album’s third single (“Last Night”), J. Stalin stretches the crossover appeal a bit too far with perturbing singing and synthesizer usage. On the more substantive “When The Club Is Over,” Live On Da Wire collaborator Stevie Joe bluntly spits, “She didn’t wanna have sex / Daddy made her do it / Neighborhood freak, but it ain’t her fault / … / Try to catch a nigga slippin’ / She took off the rubber / Perfect example of an unfit mother.”

Overall, fans should salute J. Stalin for compiling his best album to date. Prenuptial Agreement provides Bay Area connoisseurs with a substantive start to 2010, with numerous tracks having future single potential, including the Too Short and Mistah F.A.B.-assisted “Neighborhood Hoodstars.” While the Thizz Empire struggles to retain potency without Mac Dre as its figurehead, Stalin clearly has proven his aptitude for upward mobility, given his successful track record as solo artist and business savvy as founder of Livewire Records and president of Town Thizzness Records.