Thomas Jefferson once wrote that "a little rebellion now and then is a good thing." While one of our founding fathers was probably referring to our government and what could be America in 2017, Jansport J subconsciously ended up taking the adage to heart in the studio for his new album p h a r a o h. During a visit to the Rotten Apple one January in 2016, one of hip hop's founding fathers--Rakim--and an intangible magnetism in the city brought on a break from his familiar narrative-driven album structure in favor of raw, gut feelings. Taking a page out of J Dilla's book, he shirked care for track listing order to give the listener a bumpy, immersive trip with no sense of direction like a tourist caught in the morning rush on the L train.
You're not supposed to ever get too comfortable while you listen to p h a r a o h. It reflects the unforgiving hustle and bustle of New York City as the crowd takes you one way or pushes you in another just as quickly. There are familiar roadmarks on the trip like news clips referring to the death of the gorilla Harambe at the Cincinnati Zoo and familiar vocal samples. But the rest is an interpretation of classic East Coast production, namely by Eric B. and RZA, as told to you by Jansport J. And just as New York City is a colorful mixing of personalities and backgrounds, so is p h a r a o h. The California producer allowed himself to experiment with nontraditional samples and ideas like triggering different clips of ODB shouting at the same time ("The Dirty II") or having one of the most moving melodies play over a X-rated Facetime call ("ShowMeUMissMe").
To listen to p h a r a o h straight through is to wake up in Jansport J's body that one cold January and relive his whole visit as he trekked to shows, listened to Paid in Full, and hit the reset button on his production habits. All in about 42 minutes. As he tells that story, you'll hear hints of Madlib's singular rhythms, Eric B.'s knock in the percussion, and J Dilla's attention to sound design. But the change of pace for the creation of p h a r a o h wasn't always so comfortable to live with for Jansport. Instead of letting the anxiety get to him, he reminded himself of one particular picture of Eric B. and Rakim standing in front of a red brick wall, and the resolute, silent confidence in Rakim's eyes. This was Jansport J's Rakim moment.
While Jansport was still in the thick of completing this album, he told himself, "This is your weird, raw gritty album. Who cares if it sounds not super mixed? This is your fuckin' album." He owned it and because of it he has been able to find a new passion in working off of a clean slate. But before we get ahead of ourselves, sit down, hit play, and show respect to the Pharaoh.