J. L. J - "Stay Focused" album review
by Jason Randall Smith
Representing Houston, Tx, Jeff Jefferson (alias J. L. J) is poised to put it down for not only the Lone Star State, but for Southern hip hop in general. As co-founder of E-LETE ARTIST RECORDS, he has seen his share of mix CD circulation, but Stay Focused marks his full length album debut. Riding atop bass lines lower than bucket seats, J. L. J takes on the haters through 18 tracks of hard rhymes interspersed with occasional inner city introspection. The circle of special guests is kept to a minimum, allowing for the artist to truly shine without distraction. In addition, the production team is lean and precise, with TRED80E handling most of the tracks with bounce to spare and club placement to follow.
Lyrically speaking, most of the album mirrors the gritty environment that raised J. L. J, its content both hard and combative in nature. "Droppin Hataz" finds him firing off lines like "It's time to take a nap son (the kind you don't come back from)". TRED80E saves his darkest track for this song, incorporating a sinister piano line and bass thumps that creep up on you from behind. He even takes time to spit the second verse, the type of verbal pistol whipping that gangster dreams are made of. "Always Bumpin" continues the agressive assault on those that are all talk and no action while "We Got Da Heater" is equally as ominous in regards to vocal delivery.
However, life reflections are intertwined with these machismo moments. "Don't Fall Short" is the voice of reason in the midst of real life drama. Over a poignant string-plucked track produced by Los, J. L. J tells tales of Murphy's Law running rampant, but offers encouragement to stay on the straight and narrow. The album's motivational title track has him sounding like the career coach of H-Town, refusing to see his people stay on the street corners for the rest of their lives. "Live Life To The Fullest" remains the most moving selection on the album with J. L. J showing love to his brother caught up in the penal system and the eternal memory and wisdom of his mother. E-LETE co-founder 'D' Sheezy provides the hook ("We gotta be here for our loved ones and our children") while TRED80E ably provides a sparkling and bittersweet instrumental.
A touch of R&B influences the production behind "Can't Leave You Alone," namely the cloud of sustained keys and the light programming of digitized percussion. J. L. J as devoted lover appears ready to take a walk down the aisle, but that notion is put to rest two songs later with "Tap That". Perhaps a slower, down south equivalent to Sir Mixx-A-Lot's "Baby Got Back", the song is an unapologetic ode to butts and the bigger, the better. Backsides will certainly be in motion to "Party On," it's mid-tempo beat featuring punchy synth-generated horns and hand claps. "Down South" is a monster of a closing track and could catch on well beyond the Texas border. Producer Crumz gets crunk behind the boards and comes up big working a harpischord pattern through a stuttering drum track.
Stay Focused makes for a debut album that Houston can stand behind. It shows the diversity in lyrical content that J. L. J is able to maintain. At the same time, a good producer has been known to either bring out the best in a rapper or get the audience on their side immediately through stellar production. TRED80E does both of those things for J. L. J, and hopefully releases will contain more work from this fruitful partnership.
Review by Jason Randall Smith