In 2008, Posdnuos, Oddisee, & J-Live Came Together To Upgrade Hip-Hop
Twenty years ago, MC/producer/DJ J-Live was putting the finishing touches on his debut album, The Best Part. During that time, the talented artist was heard on DJ Premier’s New York Reality Check 101 compilation. The Brooklyn, New York-based English teacher was also putting in acclaimed work with Prince Paul and Dan The Automator’s Handsome Boy Modeling School. Meanwhile, an anticipated LP for Hip-Hop Heads was jammed up in delays as Justice moved from Raw Shack Records to Payday/London Records, all without letting his release see the light of day.
It was not until 2001 that The Best Part released. Preemo and Prince Paul produced songs, as did Pete Rock and his brother Grap Luva, DJ Spinna, as well as 88-Keys. Even if the LP was late by J’s watch, the effort was right on time for legions of Hip-Hop fans. He wasted no time following up. A year later, All Of The Above was a powerful and personal sequel to one of the brightest talents out the Underground Hip-Hop. While there was Rawkus, Fondle ‘Em, Hydra and other crews of artists, J-Live teamed with The Artifacts El Da Sensei as well as Asheru & Blue Black for another team of talented voices.
By the end of the 2000s, J-Live had left NYC for Georgia, with a stop in Philadelphia in between. After two EPs and 2005’s The Hear After seemingly did not live up to the excited response of J’s first two albums, the triple-threat put it all on the table in the form of 2008’s Then What Happened?
For an artist who had been so personal with his audience, the release was another candid conversation, a dozen years after the journey began. DJ Jazzy Jeff, Da Beatminerz, DJ Nu-Mark, and Capital D produced. However, J-Live also involved Foreign Exchange’s Nicolay as well as an artist he’d been working with throughout the decade, Oddisee.
Originally released on BBE Records, the album contains the ultimate collaboration in J’s catalog. “The Upgrade” is a moment of optimism, shared between J, Oddisee (who also produces the cut), and De La Soul’s Posdnuos. At a time when the housing market bubble burst, Hip-Hop’s middle class seemed pushed to the fringes, and the CD was dying, these three men still found a reason to celebrate. That joy and positivity resonate more than a decade later. It was three artists whose careers seemed to start in three different decades, teaming up with a common message of self-worth and survival.
J kicks things off. Midway into his pepped-up verse, he declares, “I doubt that the stakes are that high / Not do or die, more like die or do / That’s what I’m going through / So J can get live at a venue near you / That’s why I quit the job way back in ’02 / We’re not here merely to survive off Rap / We’re trying to eat way healthier than that / So not to tread water, but to run laps / My legs been crampin’ since the starter-gun clapped / Not too many in the crew survived from that / So I learn how to stretch to avoid those traps,” Justice celebrates the sacrifice to get him to this point and fights for the cause, and references some De La song titles in doing so.
Oddisee rhymes next. The soulful multi-talent was a few years before a flood of attention was paid to his material. However, the moment shows that the great was always there for the Washington, D.C. product. “Born in D.C., raised in Maryland / Right away the corner from the grays and heroin / Played in the playground where them strays found / I’m talkin’ ’bout caps, y’all, not greyhounds / It’s all about the cap, y’all, I stayed down / Recess over, y’all, Oddisee don’t play now / Lookin’ for a beat? Holla at me, upgrade now / Unless you’re J-Live or Plug 1, you pay now.” The former A Touch Of Jazz affiliate was asserting his worth, and letting the industry know that he was more valuable than perhaps thought of in the past. Time shows that Oddisee was absolutely right.
Pos’ closes out the song with a trademark here-and-now verse from the Long Island legend. “Some say if the shoe fits, know there’s another foot that can fit in too / Don’t ask / Slip that foot in, walk that foot to the cash / Y’all can call me cash-shoes, some others call me work-matic / I’m a category 6 when at it / You’re all ecstatic in the form.” The nimble and unconventional rhyme is in the pocket as Plug 1 scoffs at people who were still calling the 20-year veteran “underground.” He compares himself to fish, and blows bubbles in the face of haters with an artful verse.
At a time when Hip-Hop needed a shot in the arm, J-Live, Oddisee, and Posdnuos gave us all an upgrade. J-Live recently added Then What Happened? and other titles to digital streaming platforms via his Mortier Music imprint.
There is a freestyle video of J-Live, Run The Jewels/Company Flow’s El-P, The Jugganots’ Breeze Brewin, and others available on AFH TV. It is part of the DJ Eclipse collection.
#BonusBeat: J-Live’s October 2018 release Lose No Time: