“It Is What It Isn’t”
As a deejay, graffiti artist and member of the legendary Rock Steady Crew, it’s safe to say that NYC’s JS-1 is no stranger to the foundation elements of Hip-Hop culture.
Having made a name for himself during the 90s through battles and mixtapes, the Queens-based turntable technician has spent the last ten-plus years putting his production talents to good use, working with mic icons such as Kool G. Rap, Masta Ace and Pharoahe Monch on his own series of album and single releases.
Suffice to say, when anything drops bearing the name DJ JS-1, it should immediately be on the radar of anyone who considers themselves to be a supporter of quality underground Hip-Hop.
With his latest release, “It Is What It Isn’t”, the Rotten Apple resident’s musical formula remains unchanged – uncompromising, sample-based production coupled with impressive lyricism from both veteran artists and more recently renowned rhyme-sayers, which, in this instance, includes KRS-One, Ras Kass, Torae and Fashawn.
Given his deejay-ing background, it’s no surprise that the album opens with the brilliant “Turn The Tables”, a dedication to deck-wreckers everywhere featuring Diggin’ In The Crates legend O.C. shouting out everyone from Kool Herc and Roc Raida to Jazzy Jay and Boogie Blind, paying homage to all those “chirping with (their) fingers like birds very early in the morning” as he flexes his potent lyrical muscle to break down the science of turntablism from a variety of angles.
Ominous pianos accompany the raw five-borough wordplay of Spit Gemz, Wes and Nutso on the rugged “Forgotten”, whilst Brown Bag Allstars member Soul Khan lashes the heavy drums of “Pay Attention” with an acidic tongue until the beats are close to bleeding (“If you’ve never heard of me? F**k it! You’ve got moves like Jagger, But the blood of Freddie Mercury”).
X-Clan’s Brother J can be heard continuing to take it to the East, Blackwards with the help of trademark ad-libs from the late Professor X on the relentless “Higher Level”, which is followed by Bronx wordsmith C-Rayz Walz utilising a “flow like solid gold” on “Groom Lake” as he manages to gain lyrical access to Area 51, peppering his gruff rhymes with references to digital clones, time travel and alien abduction, all the while keeping one foot planted firmly on the streets of New York and the other on the rings of Saturn.
Clocking in at a lengthy 21-tracks, jaded consumers might be forgiven for expecting “It Is What It Isn’t” to suffer from a quantity over quality approach, but JS-1 pulls off a masterful sequencing stroke here, with some of the album’s most impressive tracks closing the project, ensuring the listener’s attention is retained until the moment the final cut fades out.
Golden-era greats Kurious, Craig G and Smooth B breathe new life into Common’s well-worn “I Used To Love H.E.R.” metaphor over the jazzy swing of the entertaining “Love Me Not”, whilst Brooklyn’s PackFM paints vivid images of his NY childhood on the feel-good “My Neighborhood”, with his memories including old-school block parties, listening to Red Alert’s radio show on the weekend and chasing ice-cream trucks.
“Soo Real” features Rasheed Chappell and EMC’s Wordsworth dropping thoughtful, heartfelt verses over melodic boom-bap, with the pair displaying a chemistry that suggests they should perhaps consider doing more work together if the opportunity ever presents itself.
The project’s penultimate cut, the dusty-fingered “Sample Abuser”, is arguably the best track on an album which is impressive throughout. A.G., Sadat X and Neek The Exotic each take a turn to reminisce on the producers who’ve had an impact on their respective careers, with the likes of Diamond D, Buckwild, Pete Rock and Large Professor all receiving well-deserved props for their ability to turn an obscure loop into sonic gold.
With “It Is What It Isn’t”, JS-1 has produced yet another solid collection of subterranean sure-shots, simultaneously showcasing and celebrating the undiluted essence of true-school Hip-Hop.