Album: Ear For Music
Rating: 8 / 10
Reviewer: A to the L
Welcome to Atlanta. With the likes of Outkast and Ludacris blowing up the spot and representing for Georgia, the bar has already been set fairly highly for other residents if they plan to come out and get some shine. Luckily for Jahah, the blueprint he is following has already yielded success – y’see, Jahah is also known as Dirty J, a member of the talented squad Good Company, who’s “S.O.U.L.E.D. Out” debut album received high marks in these very review archives. Jahah however also fancies himself as something of a vocalist and this album is the sum of his efforts in dabbling with a few Hiphop, R’n’B, Jazz and Soul projects that perhaps may not have fitted so comfortably onto the GC joint.
On first listen, its easy to realise that this “neo-soul” tag that Good Company seem to have been landed with, would rest much easier on the shoulders of Jahah, since there is much more evidence of the combination of all the earlier-mentioned influences here, than on GC’s more straight up Hiphop joint. Jahah’s ability to fuse the roots of old school soul with more modern hard edged beats is evident right from the off, when the boom bap of the drums and the driving bassline of ‘No Pressure’ mesh easily with Jahah’s laidback vocals. Next track, ‘Push-N-Pullin’ is simply superb – built around a simple piano roll, a chunky bassline, and a buttery chorus from Jahah and Pam – its both old school, and modern at the same time, coming off like a 2002 Hall & Oates remix. My next mix tape has just found another ingredient!
Things continue with the summery ‘You Remind Me’ which unashamedly borrows ideas from the Mary J Blige and Patrice Rushen joints of the same name, and yet improves on the formula to come up with another nice track. The track is a contradiction of sorts, with the funky wa-wa bassline and heavenly flutes continuing the laidback theme that the album has so far followed, while the addition of the harder drums, and the Roy Ayers ‘Red Black & Green’ sample layered under Young Legend’s verse give it a more rugged backbone.
‘Can’t Believe’ is, as the inlay explains, a tale of love lost. What the inlay doesn’t point out though, is the fact that the tale is told over a snappy snare-driven beat, which is peppered throughout with swirling synths and another killer piano break. ‘Rock With You’ meanwhile utilises the same Yarborough & Peoples hook that Eve is currently boring us to death with on the turgid ‘Gangsta Love’. Here however, things are tempered slightly by a Tribe-esque backing track circa “Beats Rhymes & Life” which keeps things a little more bouncy than the pedestrian effort the first lady of Ruff Ryders came with. Be interesting to see if Jahah is on the same “no royalties whatsoever” deal that Eve reputedly had to sign for the use of this sample…
The second half of the album, as most R’n’B albums tend to do, slows things down. ‘Special’ is an ode to Jahah’s mother and baby girl, and instantly evokes comparisons with Jill Scott’s style of production… on this joint you’ve got the same rootsy guitars and jazz organs that the Philly female likes to have all over her tracks. ‘For You’ picks up the tempo just a little and features some more of that funky organ, backed up this time by an insistent handclap that drives the song on. Its this track and the following one, ‘BabyGirl’ (dedicated to Jahah’s niece) where you notice exactly HOW much emotion J has channelled into this album – perhaps the different elements of the production on the earlier tracks make it easy to overlook. However here where things are a little slower, a little sparser… you can hear the depth of feeling in J’s vocals, and its cool to be a part of it all. When they talk about music touching people – THIS is what they’re talking about.
‘Situation’ is built around a squelchy bassline, and breaks down an experience that many fellas may be familiar with. You know how you see an ex-girlfriend with her new man, and you get the bumps? Then you look at her, and you see that she still has some feelings for you? Well this track puts it all into audio form, and Jahah captures the emotion of the situation perfectly again.
The following track, ‘Ghetto Philosypher’ is also featured on the Good Company album, and although I felt that it was perhaps a little out of place on there, here it fits perfectly – totally in theme with the rest of this album. ‘So Fine’, meanwhile is another cut that features several layers of production, and is one that perhaps needs a few listens in the headphones to be able to catch all the elements that make this track up. It’s dominated by a superbly funky bassline, and Jahah’s smoky jazz club chorus. Things round off with the Donna Summers’ cut ‘Bad Girl’ being used to great effect on a track of the same name. This one features the additional talents of Mr Moody who drops a filthy Biggie Smalls-inspired verse that certainly made me sit up and take notice!
It has to be said that as a vocalist, Jahah is not in the league of an Aaron Hall, a K-Ci, or a JoJo… but then I don’t think he’s really ever trying to be. For him it seems to be more about how his vocals sound WITH the music – he’s not trying to dominate and overpower the tracks the way the aforementioned artists often do, being more content and more comfortable to actually blend with the music to provide a much more pleasurable listening experience. The end result is an album that keeps a little of that “ruff-around-the-edges” appeal that the more polished artists have long left behind in their moves into superstardom. This ain’t no ‘I Believe I Can Fly’ or ‘All My Life’, and its all the better for it. For lovers of D’Angelo, Mystic and Jill Scott especially – this should be one you’ll appreciate.