Let’s be real. If you’re reading this, you likely already know who Joell Ortiz is. Brooklyn, New York’s own pulls double duty as both a solo entity and one-fourth of hip hop dream team Slaughter House. Not to mention being one of the baddest Latin rappers post Big Pun. Since hitting the national scene in 2004, he’s demonstrated a penchant for tight multisyllabic couplets and slick punchlines. While the wait for the group’s Glass House album continues, the members are using the time to explore their individual ambitions. For fans of Mr. Yaowa, that means two full-length albums in one calendar year. 2014’s House Slippers saw Joell working with an assortment of producers. One of those beat smiths was !llmind, who shows up here as the album’s sole producer. Together they’ve crafted an eleven-track set simply titled Human.
From the intro, the album seeks to flesh out the Joell Ortiz story a bit more. Unfortunately, that story is still somewhat shrouded. A large chunk of the album idles around familiar themes for Ortiz and rap. Project life, the hood fleet on their worst behavior, drinking, smoking, fucking, scuffles, threats of violence over infractions and disrespect. “Light A L” for instance, is a crash course in hood politics for those uninitiated.
The songs “I Just Might” and “My Niggas” revolve around repetitive deliberate phrases. They aim to bogard a spot for themselves your brain. While they are capable, you may not give them much if any thought after they’ve passed. Some of the instrumental work tends toward styles popularized by Drake and Noah 40 Shebib. This makes sense as !llmind had a helping hand in Drizzy’s If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late album. Despite the similarities, the songs themselves are consistently well written and produced. This is an album that’s meant to be played in the whip at a high volume on a warm day. If you’re not in tune with the low-end theory, though, this probably isn’t for you.
The simple approach is often the most beneficial. Some of the best songs this project has to offer finds Joell Ortiz stabbing the life out of the beat. “Six Fo” with its quirky bleeps and off-kilter bounce wins. Likewise for “Latino pt.2”; a speedier number which features Emilio Rojas, Bodega Bamz, and Chris Rivers. Being the other guest rappers, they put on a clinic. No basic 16 bar verses here. Everyone goes for broke. I think Bodega Bamz took it on this one, but this is the kind of song that corner store rap debates are built off of.
It isn’t until album’s end that we get glimpses into Joell’s vulnerabilities and fears. “Human Outro” is about the effect his upbringing had on him. His verses are dense with glimpses into a fractured and hurried adolescence. “Them drug dealers at my door again? / My moms meetin’ them in the hall again / I swear when I grow up I’m killing all of them / Man, that shouldn’t be your thoughts at 10 / But that’s the life that I was brought up in / I never had a choice…” It isn’t like he’s the first rapper to have a rough upbringing, but not everyone’s descriptions are this gritty. They make for some genuinely sentimental moments.
The hook on “Who Woulda Knew” can be a bit grating, but it’s not enough to ruin the tune. !llmind’s rubbery soul backdrop keeps makes sure of that. Same can be said for “Bad Santa.” Jared Evan’s syrupy pop crooning can cause your eyes to roll right out of your head, but the song is nonetheless necessary. And for the record, singing hooks aren’t a bad thing. These singing hooks just don’t add anything essential to the mix. Regardless, more rappers should leave it on the record this way. Being a good parent after a relationship falls apart takes maturity. And, Ortiz questions whether his efforts to be a fit father have been enough. Lines like “It’s that look on his face when he happy that makes me proud to be daddy / When runs over and grabs me, filled with true joy / In the same moment, I’m bothered / I mean, he knows I’m his father but am I just that once-a-year homie with new toys?” It makes for a solid tail end cut. More than that, they edify the whole affair.
Overall, Human is a worthwhile outing for Ortiz and !llmind. It can lean toward the derivative at times, and can also be a touch generic. But at least it’s confidently produced and penned with passion. Clocking in at under 40 minutes, it manages to be entertaining throughout; never overstaying its welcome.
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