With six and a half billion stories in the world to tell, it's easy to look at each new rapper bio I come across with a jaded and skeptical eye. I'm reminded of a key scene from the movie "21" where a skeptical academic reviewing the protagonist's bio notes that even though he's an exceptional intellectual, nothing about him "jumps off the page." Said protagonist eventually improves his bio by winning (and losing) hundreds of thousands of dollars in a Vegas card counting scheme, nearly getting his life curtailed several times in the process. When looking at J-Swing's bio, I'm hoping for something that exciting that will "jump off the page" too, and a few items do catch my attention: he's been rapping AND beatboxing since the age of 12, he met his DJ Rob1der when his stepdad was stationed in Germany, and Swing would regularly make trips from his native St. Louis to the heartland of Kansas to link up with him when they both returned to the States. There are definitely aspects of J-Swing's story that jump far enough off the page to intrigue me, as does the fact Swing's label is dubbed Recession-Proof Records. That name may seem silly in a year or two when the economy recovers, but right now it's definitely got my attention.
Sadly all of this turns out to be more interesting than Swing's actual "Marked Man" album. There are 17 songs varying in length from just over a minute to just under four and a half, and none of them are standouts. Falling somewhere in the middle at 3:30 long is "Boss of Your Camp," where Swing delivers his lyrics with all the intensity and enthusiasm one can muster after drinking a whole 40 of Olde E and half a bottle of NyQuil:
"The fame came sure, but fuck it, it's now or never
Like the neighborhood Columbo, mix it up like gumbo
The garnish from my flow will tarnish your rap soul
That's why, you do you and let me get this dough
I'm talkin dollars like Creflo, won't stress no mo'
When I can count my monster Benz plus that beachfront condo
Stay high like Kimora Lee Simmons"
I didn't even know Russell's ex-wife liked to smoke like that, but then generally speaking J-Swing's punchlines are only half that - a line with no punch or vice versa. Thurman Young's beat on "Boss of Your Camp" adds nothing. The bass has no thump, the chorus doesn't even change up the beat, and all the bragging that Swing spits "lyrical hype" and spits "soul on the mic" doesn't add up when he says nothing original. In fact the song titles are fairly indicative of the wholly unoriginal sentiments Swing expresses, from "Money on My Mind" to "Manslaughter" (after EPMD did that song in 1990, no one ever needed to again) and "We Made It" among others. There's also unexplained song titles that imply unseen prequels or sequels, such as "TdF '09" (who has heard any of the previous years) and "Beast Mode Pt. 1" (there's no part two on this disc). Let's take a closer look at the latter:
"Lost in the madness, blowin that good green
Had to sew the block down, got me a good team
Can't relate, it's the oh-eight Scarface
Move the weight, you in better hands than All State
And I push it in all states
My main connect, had tall rates"
So it seems that J-Swing's beast mode is simply another street corner hustler mode. No need for part two of this tale after all, even though this is one of the better produced songs on the CD. That's even more ironic given it is one of the few that are completely uncredited - even Swing himself doesn't take production credit. The one song Swing lists as his own beat is "More Than Talk" and it's chiefly a beat that sounds like a ceramic owl being scraped against a rusty pipe. "Come Clean '09" it's not.
Going into "Marked Man" I really wanted J-Swing to impress me, because he seemed like a man with an interesting story, and I always respect artists who have their own hustle and move their albums with their own muscle. Unfortunately the best thing I can say about J-Swing is that he has a great bio on paper. Listening to him rap is like St. Louis tried to produce their own version of Z-Ro without any of his writing ability, charismatic delivery or charm. With all due respect to J-Swing, he's not a marked man at all, unless he's marked down for clearance.
Music Vibes: 4 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 4 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 4 of 10
Originally posted: September 29, 2009