For a rapper who is more known for his entrepreneurship than his artistry, JT The Bigga Figga showed remarkable ambition in 2003 by naming his album “Project Poetry.” What’s more, the cover art openly referenced Nas’ trademark portrait of himself in front of urban skylines, as seen on the covers of “Illmatic,” “It Was Written,” “Nastradamus,” etcetera. Stressing his newfound poetical agenda, JT invited the listener, “Every verse is a work of art / dissect and try to take it apart.”

While not every lyric withstood the test, the San Francisco veteran was able to draw from his experience, inserting his street dreams with harsh reality and his hustling activities with mature contemplation. “So Come On” saw him leading the way, encouraging others to follow his path. Mixing an inspirational tone with destined-to-be confidence, he looked back on his come-up, recounting:

“Got homies that got they head blew from runnin’ they mouth
and the other half got sent up for dope in the couch
It’s like a revolvin’ do’ where you win or you lose
Or you could be about your business, or the 10 o’clock news
if you expose the game; we soldiers, mane
Keep your head high no matter what they told you, mane
I’m from the depths of the underground, my face was ashy
clothes wrinkled, nappy haircut, a day could pass me
without watchin’ the time; I could follow the grind
cause every dollar in the compound eventually mine
I used to run from the coppers, had me down on my knees
until I found a better way to try to count a few g’s
I was confused, until I found my way
Now everybody wanna come around my way
It’s game to be told and it’s thangs to be sold
where you make your first 1000 ’bout 10 years old
Through the view of my project window
My pad and pencil influenced by them gangs, my kinfolk
No thang ain’t strange, it’s simple
It’s all the same, makin’ moves by the cars and trains
Take dudes to the stars and reigns
with no provision, title bout for the heavy division
No runnin’ to the white towel for lettin’ it go
we only want knock-downs and technicals”

Like many rappers hell-bent on success, it isn’t so much monetary wealth that interests The Bigga Figga, it is winning. In a society that labels people like him born losers, to win becomes the ultimate challenge. In a way the successful rap hustler is a variation of the Afrocentric aspiration to reclaim the throne as kings and queens. JT says himself, “I take steps in the direction of kings.” On “Project Poetry”‘s closing title track, he addresses slavery as if he had experienced it himself, furthermore illustrating that he’s but one of many, that his purposeful raps aren’t purely ego trips but “a message to the young black youth.” Only if you have street-bound rappers down as irresponsible or ignorant, JT rapping about being “energized by my history traced back for centuries” might seem out of character. Thus the album ends on a positive, life-affirming note with thoughtful lyrics casting a hopeful view on the eternal cycle of life and death:

“Sittin’ at the coffee table catchin’ a fill of weed
In the paper on the front page the latest gang killin’
Another cousin is gone, another family’ll mourn
Domestic drama; fifty babies was born
a second chance for the life that’s lost, a better generation
With no hesitation be a strong black nation
I know it look like we be some murderers
I know you never heard of the
atonement process, that’s what we workin’ with
Apologizin’ to the mothers for the sons we took
and make it better for the children with computers and books
And buildin’ up the projects, cleanin’ up the projects
Stoppin’ the beef, makin’ peace on all sets
I feel the inspiration, brand new breath
Peace over war, life over death”

It’s not all love, peace and nappiness, though. “Nine Clips (Remix)” fires off round after round after the “Made You Look” sample that serves as an intro. But while this song is stuck somehwere between gunplay and crime story, the equally banging “The Hood” presents The Bigga Figga in the role of the observer rather than the participant, reasoning, “It’s a dirty game of cat-and-mouse all on your bumper / everybody wanna beef and leave they house with the dumper / find a reason to compete for they space on the street / but I rather get to the lab and make me a beat.” Then there’s the opening “We Make Moves,” which finds JT business-minded as ever. He starts out stressing the need to be on the move in “a cold part of town where the score is endless / just a handful or homies give a morgue they business.” So he packs his bags and travels east to take care of his own business, one score yet to settle regarding a certain Memphis Bleek wanting to set up a vanity imprint called Get Low Records, a label name JT had been successfully operating under since 1991:

“I’m like a West Coast ambassador, I’m out on the East
but it’s all the same cause I’m out on the streets
And I’ma get it how I live cause them suckers tried to tempt me
In the Marcy projects till them suckers come and get me
Get Low, nigga, rep the ‘Sco, nigga
and never underestimate a Fillmoe nigga
I take two to the chin of Mr M dot Cox
He can’t come through his hood cause I’m tucked on his block”

Smart businessmen don’t have to resort to strong arm tactics, but being ignored after years of paying dues is enough to make anyone mad. “Project Poetry” was an artistic step towards wider recognition that unfortunately too went unnoticed on a larger scale. All things considered, it was and still is a very solid rap album that reflects the rapper’s experience and expertise. In case JT banked on the two major guest stars, both “What You Say Mane” and “When Its Hot” (featuring Nelly and Juvenile, respectively) are underwhelming. But the irresistible “We Make Moves” with its Arabic vocals, the almost R. Kelly-esque “So Come On,” both – like the majority of the album – produced by Gigalo, or “The One” by Michael Muhammad, who produces like a funked out Happy Perez, are top-notch tracks that should have been able attract the attention of larger media outlets.

Whether he keeps it “hyphy” in a pre-hyphy era with “Bounce Business,” gives a quick demonstration of his impromptu talents with “G-Style, Freestyle,” pens an actually decent love song with “The One,” or analyzes the streets with “Stay Polished” and “Without Weapons,” JT The Bigga Figga has grown into a rare well-rounded rap artist. It goes without saying that rap music – or in his words, project poetry – is part of the equation when he says, “Nobody understand how I complete the puzzle / to keep my head high on this concrete jungle.”

JT The Bigga Figga :: Project Poetry
8Overall Score