Jansport J: p h a r a o h

“I think a lot of us heard Donuts and made it our Bible.”

Talking about his excellent new album p h a r a o h in an interview with Bandcamp, the California producer Jansport J (aka Justin Williams) was blunt about the beat tape’s most obvious influence. Since Dilla’s Donuts came out, a little more than a decade ago, it has stood as both monolith and lodestar at the base camp of the beat scene. Few producers have been able to escape its shadow or avoid the microsample-strewn path it lays out. P h a r a o h does not seek to try.

But by ridding himself of the anxiety of influence, J has made the best of his eight records to date, and one of the more compelling offerings to emerge from the beat scene in recent years. He’s absorbed and built on the lessons to be found on Donuts and in the work of instrumental hip-hop’s other leading lights. P h a r a o h was originally conceived in the midst of a New York snowstorm, and the record jumps off with eight tracks worth of diamantine blizzard beats, many of them punctuated by or predicated on the human voice. Chants, shouts, whoops and screeches fill the record to great effect creating an atmosphere of engaged protest. J explained in the same interview that the track “RIP Harambe” speaks to more to than just an assassinated zoo animal; its sharply edited music is immediately followed by a 911 dispatcher, issuing yet another report of a suspicious male. That ominous audio attends the beginning of a track called “12,” a title barely more subtle than the one N.W.A. kicked off some shit with almost thirty years ago. P h a r a o h is remarkably effective as an explicit political document; no lyrics necessary.

Williams opens up and shows his range in the records latter two thirds, starting around the tributes to classic New York rap on “45 Joint” and “Set it Off.” Though Williams may mean it to signal otherwise—he’s remarked several times that this is his New York record—this section begins something of a national tour. While Williams continues to honor Gotham (check out the MC Lyte sampling on “BKNY”), he stretches beyond the city, from O.D.B.’s shouts to Miami on “The Dirt II” all the way to California on “Live From the Forum ’86” and “Crenshaw” near the album’s back half. In allowing his beats to criss-cross the country, choosing a diverse array of samples even as he cleaves to a classicist style, he retraces the original migration of hip-hop throughout the country.

Donuts was characterized by the Detroit producer’s rare mastery of sampling, both as technical skill and artistic expression, speaking his deathbed fears and desires through prerecorded voices. J shows a similar facility here, but this is not some covers record. On songs like “Crush” and “Crenshaw,” he takes a page out of the pop-loving programming of his contemporary Knxledge, essentially cross-wiring Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You” and Luther Vandross’ “Better Love.” Williams also has a knack for isolating intriguing spoken samples: one of the best tracks here is “IwasFeelinShortee,” which hands the mic over to Mos Def’s lovelorn monologue from “Ms. Fat Booty.” And he favors a diversity of approaches, as happy using a hyper-recognizable Bob James drum sample as he is veering toward the obscure.

A record like P h a r a o h makes a compelling case for Jansport J to be considered for a short list of names associated with transcendent instrumental hip-hop, a pantheon that, along with Dilla, would include Madlib, Knxledge and Oddisee, as well as pioneers like DJ Shadow and Blockhead. Though Donuts and Madlib’s Beat Konducta series continue to loom over the scene, making it difficult to expand the genre, these artists like have continued to add depth and breadth within the boundaries already set out. P h a r a o h hits upon a particularly deep wellspring, exploring it with curiosity and a coherent point of view that characterizes the instrumental hip hop’s best work. Though it barely features Williams’s own vocals, it speaks in a passionate, warm, consistently recognizable voice.

SOURCE: Album Reviews – Pitchfork – Read entire story here.

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