He stood on Brooklyn’s frozen January streets dealing dope to pay the rent. By the time he got home he was too exhausted to kill the cockroaches that scattered across the kitchen floor under the light of the open fridge. Every nerve is his body wanted to rest, but he needed to fill just one more page of his rhyme book and when Joell Ortiz slept, he dreamt of hip-hop. Who the hell is Joell Ortiz? The man with a mixtape that asked that exact question has been making more underground noise than any MC …
DJBooth Album Review
Who the hell is Joell Ortiz? The man with a mixtape that asked that exact question has been making more underground noise than any MC in recent memory, resulting in a major deal with Aftermath. Before he sits down with the good doctor, Ortiz decided to release the album that caught Dre’s ear, The Brick: Bodega Chronicles. The album is a gritty and sprawling chronicle of Brooklyn’s streets that could be the opening shot of a legendary career. Despite the lack of a single club-friendly track, this is an album that will have you burning copies to hand out to your friends; now that’s hip-hop.
The Brick opens with the track 125 Pt. 1, a third-person autobiography that has Ortiz laying down a flow that’s simply intimidating. The Bio is the first of a four-part series (The Bio, Fresh Air, Brooklyn, and Finale) that runs throughout the album and ultimately adds up to a kilo, or a brick. 125 times four, do your math. Each 125 track is more than five minutes long without a hook or bridge, just a verbal attack from top to bottom. The list of MCs who could go hard for five minutes straight is pretty short: Rakim, Nas, Jay-Z, a few others. Tracks like 125 Pt. 2 Fresh Air, a song that will have you wearing out the repeat button to catch every syllable, proves he belongs in elite company. Ortiz’s declares “I took the hip-hop exam and aced it,” and it’s hard to disagree. From asphalt hard battle raps to deep metaphors, Ortiz is a complete MC.
How did it take eight years for this man to get signed? Ortiz didn’t lack musical ability, he lacked marketability. First off he’s fat, so the chances of a “50 Cent shirtless with a bullet-proof vest” poster are slim to none. Second, he’s not shinin. Ortiz is from the bottom and he’s not afraid to admit it. On Brooklyn Bullshit he brings some honesty, admitting he “wears the same pair of jeans two days in a row,” and skips out on cabs without paying. You just can’t put the man in front of a Lamborghini and some models in a video. Third, he defies categorization. Ortiz is Puerto Rican but calling him a Latino rapper (as many have) is an oversimplification. He doesn’t deny his heritage, the track Latino is an ode to his people, but it doesn’t define him. He’s a Brooklyn MC before anything else and that means he’s the product of a place that condenses two million people into a single borough. The truth is finance is currently the foundation of hip-hop, and execs weren’t seeing dollar signs when they looked at Ortiz.
Ok, let’s take a deep breath. At this point he’s the hip-hop version of Lebron James in high school. It’s impossible to watch his game and not wonder if he could be the next Jordan, but until he hits the pros and locks down a championship it’s only hype. On tracks like Block and Keep On Callin Ortiz brings heat, but instead of blazing his own lyrical path he sounds more like he’s borrowing some heat from Fat Joe. In addition The Brick’s production is solid but uneven; there’s not a wack beat to be found, there’s not a great one. Dr. Dre will take care of the sound boards, and if Ortiz can bring his game up to the next level his Aftermath debut could be the album of the year. So go cop The Brick and make sure you can say, “I was listening to Ortiz back when…”
DJBooth Rating - 4.5 Spins
Written by Nathan S. on 05/7/07
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