Kanye West once described Roc-A-Fella records as a something of a “black Jewish family.” Forgiving how utterly politically incorrect this statement was, if you can roll with the stereotype for a minute it’s definitely on-point. Their artists are brought up, strategically, to achieve success, feeding off each other’s fame until they’re big enough to make it on their own. Kanye contributes a beat here and there until Jay-Z recruits and subsequently promotes him, and before long he’s off and running with accolades and sales out the wazoo. It’s a breeding ground for success AND quality, a combination that’s made the Roc one of the most formidable cliques in the history of the genre.
The Justus League is absolutely the independent equivalent to this concept. Just as the Roc gravitates around Jay-Z and Kanye West, J-League has Little Brother and 9th Wonder. What was once just a cult classic with reasonable underground sound scans has become a blossoming collective and label, and is now one of the most popular cliques in all of hip hop. Emcee Median has not been as notable as his J-League contemporaries, but he’s certainly left his mark. Featured in some of the most heralded rap albums of recent times, including Little Brother’s “The Listening” and Foreign Exchange’s “Connected,” there’s no doubt his peers respect him. On “Median’s Relief” he shows exactly why you should too.
Right off the bat, Median should draw favorable comparisons to Lupe Fiasco – he’s definitely a thought provoking lyricist. In this regard, “Median’s Relief” is a pleasant departure from the normal boast-and-brag sessions that are most J-League albums. You have to listen to every word to keep up with his stories. And due to the consistent, soulful production, the overall listen even feels something like “Food & Liquor.” The opening “Love Again” is a haunting lyrical display, vividly describing his adolescence, while “Brenda’s Baby,” something of an updated remake of the Tupac classic, one-up’s the creepiness with the tale of a broken prostitute. The beat is appropriate and bangs hard, courtesy of Nicolay.
“How Big Is Your World” puts life on a scale – another contemplative track on his own personal issues, he compares his problems to that of the world. Ant of Atmosphere laces a sweet, soulful number for “What Would You Do,” and Median plays off the chorus for his verses. Most impressive is how a guy as relatively unknown as Median handles the load all by himself. He doesn’t rely on the seemingly obligatory guest verse from Phonte or Big Pooh.
The beats definitely ain’t bad either. A few new J-League producers crawl through the woodwork, all sounding extremely similar to 9th Wonder and Khrysis, but the album flows beautifully because of this. Nicolay can’t rock the sample on “Powershift” as well as Marco Polo did “Marquee” earlier this year, but he more than makes up for it on his two other tracks. Khrysis lends a slamming horn number for the single “Rize.”
Although the production is nearly as good as to be expected, it still can’t live up to Median’s outstanding performance. In some ways his gentle flow doesn’t measure up to the heavy issues he’s touching on, in some ways it compliments the mood perfectly. It’s all gravy when an emcee has the gonads to rock a line as ill as “I like to pick my nose, and get a big booger, because I’m old school.” For most that are used to the J-League formula, it will feel different lyrically, but the bread and butter is definitely there.