I was going to start off by calling Jake One the most underrated producer in hip-hop. Then I...
DJBooth Album Review
Jake One, known to his mom as the much less cool James Dutton, is quickly becoming the biggest force to come out of Seattle since Sir Mix-A-Lot (ok, so it’s been a slow decade for Seattle hip-hop). Using his unique blend of soul and street sounds, Jake’s rise through the production ranks has included joints for everyone from De La Soul to 50, resulting in a spot in the G-Unit production team. Now, thanks to the Rhymesayers label, Jake’s released his debut solo album, White Van Music. Unsurprisingly, White Van is a collection of superbly produced tracks that lack a strong and cohesive identity, but still carries more than enough musical momentum to continue to spread the good word of Jake’s considerable skills.
It’s hard to describe a Jake One song. Not because he doesn’t have a style, but because he’s so skilled at adapting his style that he doesn’t have an easily identifiable sonic trademark. Let’s start with The Truth, a track that takes a 70’s soul approach, slowly blending string harmonies with muted horn lines and live percussion to mellowed out effect. Lyrically, The Truth brings on Freeway and Brother Ali, who may seem like an unlikely pair until you realize they’re both brutally honest, both have extraordinarily loyal fan bases and they both spend The Truth spitting the truth. On a similar wavelength, Little Brother stops by for Bless The Child, a track that knocks up the intensity just a notch, adding a kicking snare line without sounding forced. Jake One’s production may not seamlessly vibe with Little Brother like 9th Wonder, but he come closer than anyone has a right to.
I interrupt this review to bring you an important message. At no point in this album does Jake One rap, and more importantly there is nary an auto tune to be heard. Thank Jesus not everyone is blindly following Kanye and T-Pain. And now back to your regularly scheduled review.
As chill as White Van Music can be, you don’t get to be a G-Unit producer without bringing some heat. The head-nodding Gangsta Boy takes a rolling bass line, wraps it around an unhesitatingly hard drum line and subtly injects some classic west coast sound; after all, Seattle is on the west coast. With M.O.P. doing their usually aggressive thing behind the mic, Gangsta Boy is White Van’s certified banger. If you’re not already talking about Dead Wrong, you will be once you know it’s a Young Buck track dissing G-Unit (including the previously mentioned M.O.P.). I’m going to need a minute to work out the complexities of a G-Unit producer placing a Young Buck track that disses G-Unit, on his album featuring G-Unit affiliates, but putting the beef aside it’s an undeniably street beat that drips with menace. From summertime cookouts to mixtape battle tracks, Jake can do it all, and White Van Music has it all.
Ironically, that’s exactly the problem. While Jake One’s strength is his versatility, he covers so much ground that it’s hard to get a feel for who he is as a producer and an artist; a problem for an album that’s primarily his introduction to the world. On White Van you could be listening to the gloriously insane MF Doom on Trap Door one minute, then the impossible raspy Keak Da Sneak on Soil Rap the next. A great producer has a larger vision but if Jake had a vision for White Van, beyond simply making good music, I missed it. Still, White Van may be the most underrated album of the year, not because no one thinks it’s good, but because it continues the largest assembly of underrated talent in recent memory. Damn, there I go using that word again.
DJBooth Rating - 3.5 Spins
Written by Nathan S. on Oct 13, 2008
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