When Rawkus ceased putting out records in the beginning of 2004, it abandoned a stack of unreleased albums and a group of extremely pissed-off artists. At its peak, the label displayed itself as an indispensable pit stop for underground rap, a position they now want to reclaim. Some ex-labelmates have watered and groomed their grudge against the owners well into 2007, as Definitive Jux-founder El-P shows in a comment on his MySpace-page: "Well, here they are again. The "new" Rawkus. Launching again for any sad sap of an artist who wants to wake up one day and realize they are getting screwed, for any staff member who wants an honest pay only to eventually realize they are disposable."
Sad sap or not: Mr. J. Medeiros is one of the main acts to prove Rawkus's official return in the hip-hop circus arena. He has all the necessary features which will appeal to most run-of-the-mill indie hip-hop fans. He chooses content over cursing, keeps the club bangers in the closet, and deifies instead of badmouths women on his second album "Of Gods and Girls." This album fits into the procession of albums put out in the 'Rawkus 50' comeback crusade, but puts a lot more weight on the table than another ounce of street credibility.
Some charisma and his good-spirited nature prevent Medeiros from sliding off in that giant barrel of sultry spit aspiring underground artists before him hurled at mainstream success. The leading member of live hip-hop group The Procussions had a rough time while putting together "Of Gods and Girls." He was forced to file for bankruptcy, sold his car, and spent many nights on friends' couches when he wasn't touring with his group. His starving artist persona didn't sour up his MC game but did inspire the cinematographic storytelling that transforms "Of Gods and Girls" from hay to needle.
"When the driver says: "She's my youngest, her name is Constance"
And comments: "And it's only six dollars a visit
Just don't leave any marks on her, it hurts business
Thought for a minute, he confesses that's fair
It was three dollars less than his cab fare
"How old are you, honey?" She says: "I'm thirteen"
Her nose is runny, it's raining in the Philippines
He handed over the money, and until he had seen the truck drive off
And now he's off on the hunt to kill her dreams
The sign reads: No vacancy
He leads Constance to a room he has rented for taping, see?
He's about to turn six into six thousand
And all you gotta do, is click on your web browser
It's not illegal to use raping as a cash crop
As long as it says she's eighteen on your laptop"
It takes talent to turn heavy subject matters like human trafficking and child pornography into a song you listen to from start to finish. The above paraphrased "Constance" tells the tale of a thirteen year old girl abused on camera while a porn addict accesses it live on his Media Player oceans away with his wife temporarily out of the house. By tackling the taboo from both sides Medeiros shows he looks beyond the one-dimensional barrier of moral indignation. Abuse isn't the only bone he has to pick with society and its many inherited flaws. "King of Rock Bottom" offers an eyewitness view on alcoholism and "Apathy" deals with his community's inherited flaws. Time after time, his eye for detail proves to be a powerful weapon against overly presumptuous lyricism.
With his solo debut Jason Medeiros puts "this one is for the ladies" in an unusual perspective for hip-hop culture. "Of Gods and Girls" chooses women's outlook on life, whether that's "Constance" or his own mother, whom he honours on the tender "Call You." No matter how outlandish his approach is, in this case Medeiros follows in the footsteps of a long line of 'MC's and their mamas' songs.
On the production side of things, the MC residing in Los Angeles had some help from his Procussions family, Joe Beats, Headnodic from Crown City Rockers and the French Hocus Pocus-member 20Syl. The soulful backbone they create for Medeiros to cling his flesh and blood to is an edgy one. The pure ode to "Amelie," with its velvet organ loop and whispering horns is followed up by the uptempo bass of "Silent Earth" which, in turn, is succeeded by the almost shy break-up song "Strangers." Constantly spilling your drink in the back of a limo because of all the speed bumps can wipe the smile off your mug.
While "Of Gods and Girls" features a flurry of conscious MC's, Medeiros has no problem staying in one piece on these collaboration tracks. Mad Hatter MC Pigeon John has to strain his voice just as much as the lead MC to outpace the jittery organ sounds on "Money." The seasoned bars from Strange Fruit Project on "Change" get called and raised by his focused contemplations:
"Welcome to the struggle where a poet's gotta rhyme
Hustle going through a blind, cuz I know it's more than mind and muscle
When the divine humbles, my pride crumbles
My eyes bubble with tears, making it clear why I stumble
It's like I'm double when in trouble I got two sides
My life's a puddle to the sudden glimpse of blue skies
Carry the rain away, it varies from day to day
No matter where we say we change, remember who remains the same
We're sending prayers out in his name
With the hopes it might help you cope
Giving appraise to God if you felt what I wrote"
The natural confidence he shows in his rhymes took a day off when Medeiros got behind the production boards. The four tracks he produced, including the compelling lead single "Constance," are in no way inferior to the other productions. Still, he added remixes for three of them by Ohmega Watts, Joe Beats, and Stro the 89th Key from The Procussions. Only Watts manages to catch the vibe of the album on "Silent Earth RMX," while the other two tracks are ground after the original tracks pourred through.
El-P later took back his comments about artists signing to the rejuvenated version of his archnemesis, as he didn't want to disrespect the hungry new line-up. Mr. J. Medeiros doesn't look like the type to hold grudges, but in case Rawkus goes Titanic in the new millennium he has enough volume to stay afloat until the next label comes along.
Music Vibes: 8 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 8.5 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 8.5 of 10
Originally posted: August 14, 2007