When I first read about The Light in da’ Addict, I thought about two rappers: Wale and Rhymefest. Last year, both released very high-concept completely free mixtapes that blew everyone away about things I haven’t thought about since the 90s – Michael Jackson and Seinfeld, irrespectively. Jay Who? has released a second album named after a Shel Silverstein book for free on his website – though that’s not what the album’s about. The album is about Jay’s porn addiction. He’s not being facetious, he’s not using “nympho” as pejoratively as so many rappers do. The Light in da’ Addict is Jay doing his best to describe the ups and downs of addiction and recovery, trouble with the law, damaged relationships, et al. Stop me if you’ve heard that one before.
Not that he’s trying to be Ray starring Jamie Foxx (Though Jamie’s “Blame It” can be heard in the background of one of his skits). He can rarely stay serious for very long, and most of the other characters from his story are him doing silly voices. His storytelling style is closer to that of Slick Rick than James Frey, and in case you hadn’t made the connection, he makes it explicit for you on his track three manifesto, while describing his addiction: “At some point in my life / I had to come to the grips with / the fact I’m addicted / to grabbing my dick, kid / And no, not the way that Kane or Slick Rick did / walkin’ round stage with the microphone spittin’ / But more like Peewee at the cineplex / but me, I’m at home watching Skinemax.” In case that doesn’t make it crystal clear: Jay isn’t wearing his sexual exploits as a point of pride. He’s unrelentingly crude and direct, talking about masturbation in more detail than most rappers talk about blowjobs. But he’s not proud.
It’s quite an accomplishment. He manages to address the most serious of topics, one of the low points in his life, without plunging to the murky depths. He’s honest without depressing you. He makes you uncomfortable without making you uncomfortable. He’s jovial but pays the topic proper respect, he’s explicit without being lewd. And he tells a story with a definite beginning and an end. There’s definitely nothing like it.
Not only does he do the whole album solo, with the exception of some women on some of the latter skits – he also produced the whole record himself. It sounds like a cohesive whole, sure, but more importantly, he’s really good with samples. He samples not one, but two Sesame Street songs (including Mahna Mahna), takes on a number of undoubtedly uncleared samples, among them Sarah Bareilles and Jay-Z, and speeds up the Foo Fighters and Amy Winehouse to raucous effect. I’m sure you’re tired of rappers doing “Rehab,” but believe me, he makes it fresh again. There are clips of various recovering addicts admitting their sins shuffled throughout the record to lend it any more cohesiveness that it might need. Even the tracks not keeping directly with the theme of the record are put in the right spots. His “88 Lines about 44 Women” style ode to international women, “Gals Around The World,” is placed near his inevitable post-rehab relapse. His “Love Song” sampling track about the world closing in around him, “Breathe Easy,” where he confesses “I’m breathing easier / ‘cause you’re no longer in my face,” falls next to his indecency-related arrest that serves as the catalyst for his recovery.
Jay Who? is not a good actor, and he knows that. The silly falsettos and nerd voices make that obvious. I considered docking him for remaining a little distant from the situation – he tells it like it was, but he doesn’t take much time to reflect on anything. It feels a little impersonal, despite the embarrassing details of his life he shares, the justifications and excuses he uses. But as silly as the story gets sometimes, he never stops being sincere. He lays out his mistakes, his attitude, and where he fits into the world as an addict. It’s a thorough exploration, and it’s pretty legitimately comprehensive. It’s his retrospective, and he dealt with it the way he needed to deal with it. Do his ball jokes undermine his message? No, because there really isn’t one. This isn’t conscious hip hop, bemoaning the perils of addiction – it’s how he fell down, and how he got up. If that’s how he tackled it, well, it certainly doesn’t detract from one of the best albums of 2009 so far.
Posted by Joe Kaiser at May 20, 2009 03:33 AM
This album is fire! People need to check this dude out.
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