Artist: Likwit Junkies
Album: The LJs
Rating: 8 / 10
Reviewer: Patrick Whittemore
It’s been a long time since I’ve felt inspired enough after listening to an album to write a detailed review of it. That clock is now reset as I think the Likwit Junkies album is maybe my most enjoyable first listen since Gang Starr’s “Moment of Truth” in 1998. March 31, 1998 to be exact. In fact that album and this album have a lot in common. The production is top notch on both and I think both Guru and Defari elevated their game lyrically on both these albums. I’ve been a casual fan of Defari through the years. Heard his singles off “Focused Daily” and various 12″ guest appearances, even saw him open up for the Liks in Vancouver once. I didn’t hear all of his last album “Odds and Evens” either, but I did fall in love with the track ‘For the Love’ (check that song out if you haven’t heard it). So here is a song by song review of what I consider to be the best album in quite a long time.
A short, ahem, intro
The first real track starts off kind of disappointingly. The sung hook is kind of lame. But then Babu drops in the ill piano and things look up. It’s kind of a shame that this is the first song because it might be the weakest overall on the album and put people off continuing through. Suffice it to say though it only gets better from here. And Defari has a few choice lines “paper soldiers fly away when the wind blow, real soldiers stay around while their kids grow, so it’s royalty, built on loyalty, Likwit Junkies is here, so act accordingly.”
One Day Away
You may have heard this as the single. A beautiful track. I think the concept is extremely dope. It’s a song of hope and philosophising about how quickly change can take place, both positively and negatively. The production on this album is so damn solid and this is no exception with Babu’s violins giving the song a real contemplative, introspective vibe. Defari has lyrics for days here, for example, “did I tell ya that you’re…One Day Away (sung)…from life and death, every child born is a resurrection of perfection, it’s a gift, how could you never love your kids, I know I’m…One Day Away (sung)…from doing great, jump from plastic to china plates”. He then gets a little political with “I told em that we…One Day Away…when the bully gets choked out, the president gets voted out, but then again he was never voted in, it’s a brand new level of devil.” and “We all just, really just…One Day Away…from the unemployment line, or a victim of a crime, or smoked out on a dime, it’s suicide, but still you’re…One Day Away…from a righteous newbeginning, brand new with a brand new feeling, lucky you you survived dope dealing, lucky ending, we’re ALL just…One Day Away.” Then in the tradition of Pete Rock, Babu throws in some instrumental interludes at the end of tracks that sometimes outshine whole songs from other producers.
A real feel good, bouncy, boom bap track with Defari talking about his hometown of L.A. The chorus is nice – Babu cuts in MC’s like Slick Rick and Big Daddy Kane all saying “you don’t stop.” He then splices in a soul vocal to provide the perfect, windows down in the summer kind of joint.
Another summer vibe kind of song biggin’ up Cali, which I guess is apropos since it’s pretty much summer there all the time. For those not so lucky to have that kind of weather all year, it’s songs like this that let you feel the rays vicariously. I think this track could get the ladies dancing in a club if the DJ dared to play it. Another great interlude follows. Does anyone know if some of the interludes are the original breaks involved in the previous track?
A storytelling track. First verse is about a heroin addict. Example “it’s so bad, there’s no more veins, so he stick it in his neck to ease the pain, it went straight to his brain, his heart stopped beating, his life was thrown away, OD, the story’s so OG, of course he knew the stories of the people who OD’ed, nobody cried when the dopehead died, nobody even tried to remember the devil inside.” The chorus has Defari going “help us change our life, I think I want to change my life, God help me change my life” interspersed with cut up lines from INS rhyming “but as the world turns I learned life was hell, survival got me bugging, but I’m alive.” The second verse is my favourite:
“It’s unlimited, the amount of beatings he gets for little shit, he’s only seven, and already he doesn’t get home from school till eleven, at night, cuz he’s scared as shit, he figures the longer I’m out, the less I get hit, but here’s the whole fucking twist, instead of the usual, tonight she’s going to use her fist, she even breaks little man’s wrist,scream at him, tell him that his dad wasn’t shit, little man, he’s just a kid, he has to tell the doctor in the school that he fell and shit, you know mom’s got him like scared, feeling like…runaway…I dare you, and he don’t know what to do, he only seven, look what he’s struggling through, [INS]life as a shorty shouldn’t be so rough”
The last verse is another good one about a homeless guy, who might be a street preacher as there’s a lot of religious references.
Strength in Numbers
Posse track with longtime cohorts Phil Da Agony and Evidence. The girl chanting in the chorus isn’t so hot, but the Redman chop “more than rough, we calling your bluff, and when it comes to rhymes…” more than makes up for it. An eerie, haunting and heavy beat accompanies it all. Babu shows off his skills on the 1200’s at the end.
The Good Green
A weed rhyme. Defari works the personification style by talking about the weed like it’s a girl. Been done beforeand probably could have been left off but the production saves it. I’m a sucker for the chipmunk soul and Babu drops in a line or two from time to time. The chorus is supposed to sound weeded but it’s just kind of annoying to me. However, I don’t smoke so if you do this may garner better results if you’re so inclined.
Keep Doin’ It
Hands down my favourite track. This should be a classic single. It encapsulates everything I love about hip hop production, neck snapping drums, crisp horns, a little soul sample and once again just that feel good, glad to be alive bounce. Lyrically Defari brings it – especially in the second verse, voicing the everyman’s thoughts, “I’m trying (sung)…to get a crib on the westside, but shit the prices nowadays are sky high…to finally frame both my degrees, but Defari man you owe so much cheese, I’m trying (sung), to make sure the rents on time, to make sure that my chick’s on time (you’re not pregnant are you?)” If you don’t like this track then we’ll just have to agree to disagree on what good hip hop is.
Another posse cut with Krondon and Planet Asia. This one refers to the popo. “He was just running home in the rain, he died too young, what about the brother who they chased in the pool, and when they had him surrounded they stun gunned him to death, the shock of his life, his mother and father cried, Lord why did our son have to die? thank you’re local one time, to destroy and to serve those who disturbed them, and the cold part is the stories are as old as America, am I scarin ya? cuz you trust the policeman, don’t forget they sicked the dogs on us in the sixties, the pressure of the firehoses broke noses” The chorus could have used some work but overall a good track.
A short sex rhyme. Whenever Defari slips into the cliched topics Babu pulls it out with another far from cliche production job.
6 in the Morning
A reggae styled track. No ‘Sound Bwoy Buriel’, more akin to ‘Ludi’ by the Dream Warriors. I like it, I think there should be more of this. Mad Lion, Smiff N Wessun, Ayatollah, KRS, Kardinal and Defari have to come together sometime and make the defininite ragga influenced hip hop album.
I can never get enough piano in hip hop tracks, it almost always comes out nice, and this is no exception. Here Defari’s reminscing “memories of when music was real, Chaka Khan’s ‘Do you Love What you Feel’, memories of black Mike, and ‘Off the Wall’, had to clean the bathroom, mom’s vaccuming the hall, the ghetto life, just another day in the hood, the bills are all paid, we got food and it’s all good.”
Another shoutout to Cali. Dope horns. “I took some money and I gave it to my little girl, daddy play a major part in her little world, so here I go again, spillin’ all my life, to a crowd of folks who love to see me in the night, on stage, full blast, with a mic device.” Never figured out what Scans stands for though.
Feat Rakaa. About the darkside of Los Angeles. I like the chorus on this one, it’s from the old Percy Sledge song. A nice, building drum pattern.
Man, I can’t say enough how nice the production is on this album. Here’s another Babu masterpiece. Dodee Westwood’s voice on the chorus may be an acquired taste but I find it appealing. This is a song about women obviously but I think it avoids getting corny. A definite headnodder.
A very late 80’s sounding track. Reminds me of the sound of “It’s A Big Daddy Thing.” “Are you my brother, like Malcolm and Martin, they killed em before we could bond em and unite, power to the people, power to you brother who I see as an equal.” “Are you going to make a difference, or just say another bullshit sentence, are you my brother, mi casa, sous casa, you a real dude right, no impostor, are you my brother, like the O’Jays, like Franky Beverly and Maze, or the BarKays, we the children of slaves, that’swhy we kill each other in so many vicious ways, brothers unlock the chains, cuz mentally we’re burning in eternal flames, cuz hell’s here on earth, I’m being very clear right now with my words, are you my brother?”
Here Defari answers questions from an interviewer in rhyme form. He pledges his alliegance to hip hop and the soul classics. He goes over his influences, how he started etc. Another stellar musical backdrop.
So there you have it, not a perfect album but a damn solid and enjoyable one that’s for sure. I didn’t think that this album was getting enough shine so I wanted to hopefully get people to realize what a gem it is. The varied and mature subject matter means that it will stand the test of time. Going back to the Gang Starr analogy, I think the problem with “The Ownerz” was that even though you had the scratched choruses that I love, the beats were too slow. Here you’ve got Babu’s great cuts on almost every track and a lot of uptempo songs with plenty of bounce. The best of all worlds. Give this one a listen. All I can say is that this pairing is a real match, let’s hope they continue to collaborate. A great album. Do yourself a favour and take a listen.