With reliability always comes some degree of perpetuation. There are several factors that keep me coming back to Bay Area rap artist J. Stalin, the majority of them grounded in, it cannot be denied, conservative personal habits. But while it’s perfectly okay for the music fan in me to stay in my bubble, the music critic should step outside of it whenever he gets the chance. At the same time professional curiosity plays into why I’m inordinately loyal to J. Stalin. At the root is the expectation that his reliability can lead to excellence, at least within his chosen field, as it has occasionally been the case before.

If a musician is set in his ways, even a bit of retro-refurb can prove refreshing. While not innovative as such, “Still Doin’ Numbers”, coming late at position 19 of “On Behalf of the Streets Part 3”, might just be a career highlight as The Mekanix slickly update “The Message” for J. Stalin and guest Daz Dillinger to unapologetically tout their street clout.

It’s not like “Still Doin’ Numbers” would be a last-ditch rescue attempt. The very first track, “Young Nigga”, kicks off the album on an ambitious note. It follows the concept of getting the chance to have a talk with your younger self:

“Check it out, lil’ nigga, let me talk to you
Fire up this blunt, let me walk with you
Where you see yourself in five years?
Cause you could become rich or be doin’ a bid
Locked down, nigga can’t even see his kids
Look around, you think them niggas gon’ ride for you?
Look at him, seriously, you think he gon’ die for you?
Don’t get me misunderstood, I ain’t a hypocrite
But I just really see you doin’ some ol’ bigger shit
Stack your dope money up and get legitimate”

J. Stalin is a throwback to when rap was relatively easy to understand and easy to figure out while still attaining a level of sophistication. Let’s call it the ’90s school of browbeating, as displayed for instance in “Let Me Fly”, which turns up the intimidation factor as J. gives it straight to anyone who might doubt his determination.

If we imagine the rap world as a marketplace where authenticity is sold and bought, J. Stalin would vehemently insist on having the last word. Out of the hundreds of thousands of rap artists bragging about some kind of hand they might have had in trading illegal, addictive substances, few can write something as concise and concrete as “Sellin’ crack, see, that was the family business”. The Oakland rider regularly revisits his youth. Exhibits here include “Windows”, “All the Smoke” and “Drug Dealer”. True, it’s tragic when practically all recollections of family life are invariably tied to deaths, drugs and survival tips from one’s mother. To which J. Stalin might respond that those conditions made his career as an artist possible: “Early in the morning I was up on the go / Steppin’ over family members that would sleep on the flo’ / It’s the reason I started grindin’, if you wanted to know”.

That may serve as an explanation for why artistically J. Stalin is relatively resistant to change. Moreover, if it ain’t broke, why fix it? Spanning 15 years, all three installments of “On Behalf of the Streets” have been produced by The Mekanix. All of them generously dispense funk and melodic tunes (sonically strictly of the polished variety, some nevertheless more ominous) that don’t take away from the star’s natural presence. Again far from breaking any new ground, the street corner acapella based on “10 Crack Commandments” still highlights his authority as a performer. The vocal variations during the storytelling of “Tommy Brown” could be a voice acting pitch. And “Pull Up” (which smoothly incorporates a Freddie Jackson sample) hints at Stalin’s potential when he would generally calm down a bit.

The language will always be an issue for J. Stalin. Two dubious words in particular are simply standard for virtually all of his songs. And although our publication already explained the Stalin/stylin’ pun, we also have to mention the indisputable connotation to a mass murderer, particularly at a time when the rap industry’s biggest public figure is on the air expressing his admiration for Hitler.

These gripes aside, the late ’21 entry “On Behalf of the Streets” (which has an agreeable chilliness to it) perpetuates the quality of most previous J. Stalin projects. But to come back to the mechanics imagery, it wouldn’t hurt J. Stalin to fine-tune his craft here and there. His motor would only run more smoothly.

J. Stalin :: On Behalf of the Streets Part 3
7Overall Score