All of the Above
Three minutes into the lush, jazzy abridged-autobiography “A Charmed Life,” J-Live, like many MCs, brags about having “to do a bid upstate.” But unlike many MCs, this boast is immediately accompanied by the caveat “I wasn’t incarcerated, but college educated.” J-Live is bragging about a tour of duty at S.U.N.Y. Albany, where he was a “fulltime student and part time MC.” There, he planted the seeds for his underground legacy, releasing some classic singles in the mid-’90s and dropped the never-officially-released-by-his-record-label bootleg The Best Part (which, as urban legends go, he bootlegged his damn self).
On his first official release, All of the Above, J-Live raps in streams that are busy enough to tickle the cerebellum, but unobstructed enough that all messages filter in with ease (KRS-One can call himself a “teacher” until he’s blue in the face, but J-Live actually had a stint as a middle school teacher in Brooklyn). He is a hip-hop revisionist with the flow of Del tha Funkee Homosapien, the arty cadence of De La Soul, and the playful word-game-obsessed brain of Blackalicious.
“One For the Griot” tells a tale with multiple-endings, sounding like Slick Rick narrating a “choose your own adventure” story. The gleeful “MCee” flexes pure verbal dexterity, sandwiching dozens of acronyms of the letters “M” and “C” into a coherent, mind-altering braggadocio. “All In Together” is even more labyrinthine, especially considering that it is spit twice — once straight and once with every other line omitted.
Even his more serious moments have deft wordplay His post 9-11 missive has high-concept lines like “the grass ain’t greener on the other genocide” and “they say to eat good, you gotta swallow your pride.” But for all his cerebral verbal gymnastics, the best part about All of the Above is that you can buy it in a store, not off a rug from some dude on a Manhattan street corner.
Oh, and he does his own scratches!