Despite some lyrical issues that obscure his thematic statements, this is the strongest rap release out of Provo to date – and a fun listen.
There has been a lot of buzz lately about Jamesthemormon. Many know by now that his EP, I Am Not a Rapper, hit number one on the iTunes Hip-Hop/Rap Chart and the Billboard Heatseekers Albums Chart. Almost over night, Jamesthemormon became the next Provo artist to start making his way into the mainstream. We found it only fitting to review I’m Not a Rapper and see if it lives up to the hype.
First things first: the production on this album is flawless. Producer Chance Lewis did a wonderful job with making this EP sound slick, modern, and full. In addition, it’s mastered very well. It’s not quite up to par with recent releases like 2 Chainz’ COLLEGROVE, but it’s just as solid as Lil Wayne’s 2013 release, I am Not a Human Being II. What this means is that if JTM’s releases were mixed in on a playlist at a party, recent releases will play slightly – slightly – louder than Jamesthemormon tracks, but you’ll hear no difference in volume level when played alongside songs that are at least 3 years old. Pretty impressive for an independent release.
The EP opens with JTM’s breakout track, “Motivation.” This song definitely deserves to be the lead single. It has a very modern rap sound – like the harmonic bed of Drake’s “Jumpman” had a baby with the rhythm section of Lil Wayne’s “6 Foot 7 Foot” and injected all the best qualities of Sean Kingston into the mix (see Junior Maile’s verse). The serious tone, driving rhythm, and inspirational subject matter make this a perfect song for gym rats everywhere. The product placement for Surge Supplements in its music video makes perfect sense.
I’ve been following Jamesthemormon since he teamed up with Mimi Knowles and Atheist for “Freaks N Geeks” – their take on Childish Gambino’s “Freaks and Geeks.” It’s been nice to see his growth as a rapper. “Arrow Plane” is a perfect example of that growth. It seems like every prominent rapper has his own style of delivery – rhyme scheme, pronunciation, inflection, etc. Jamesthemormon has done an excellent job at developing a palatable and pleasing persona, and this really shines through on “Arrow Plane.” The first verse and moments like 1:37 are evidence of this. Junior Maile sounds great on this track, though this is admittedly one of the weakest hooks on the album. You can’t help but feel like his talent got wasted after his stellar performance on “Motivation.”
“Love You Back” features the incredible vocals of Ali Shields. She really steals the show on this song. Its hook sits in direct opposition to the hook on “Arrow Plane.” Vibrant, catchy, full of life – it’s a true ear worm. Sonically, this song’s composition is reminiscent of tracks from JTM’s past release, PMG. It’s feel good pop rap, and that’s not a bad thing in the least. It definitely provides variation on the album and is a nice change of pace after the first two tracks.
Production wise, “Carry Me Away” is probably the most interesting track of the bunch. Dub-step influenced, a heavily chopped and screwed sample plays throughout its duration. Instead of becoming annoying or grating, it instead feels more like an instrument patch. It takes the lead – coming front and center when it’s supposed to – and sits nicely in the back during JTM’s verses. My only issue with the production on this track is the weak cymbal at 3:13. It sounds really cheap and was a poor way to end such an intriguing arrangement. Lyrically, this is probably JTM’s most honest and intimate track, detailing his abusive childhood, his divorce, and the impact both have had on him emotionally.
“That Thing” is so catchy it’s ridiculous. I want to criticize the guitar sample – since it’s slightly out of tune – but it becomes a part of the song’s character and contributes to the carefree, chill vibe present throughout. It sounds like a guitar would sound if you were jamming with your friends outside on a sunny day, passing it back and forth. So the tuning is forgiven. It’s a smooth track with a fantastic rhythm section and a wonderful bass line. Perfect for summer drives.
“I Will Never Stop” is in the same vein as “Motivation” stylistically. Nearly 5 minutes of straight bars from Jamesthemormon, it aims to establish him as a capable rapper – not just a feel good artist who raps occasionally on pop tracks. While his flow is definitely impressive, this song encapsulates what may be an issue for him overall. His lyrical style is very similar to early Hoodie Allen and early Childish Gambino, so I’ll level the same criticisms that were leveled at them early on. Sometimes JTM relies too heavily on stream of consciousness word association – often making one or two word pop culture references with no real reason for doing so other than to fit the rhyme scheme and rhythmic pattern. This is a great device when used sparingly, as it can improve flow and illicit knowing chuckles from the listener for the clever references. However, too many references in a row obscures the overall meaning of his verses. They can also undo any serious tone he may try to establish thematically if the references are too flippant or juvenile (See the line “You won’t talk to me – Helen Keller” from “Arrow Plane”). While I enjoyed “I Will Never Stop” for its flow and for the clever references, I honestly can’t tell you what it’s about after listening to it ten or eleven times, and that’s a problem. Some of the most powerful rap I’ve ever heard has been rhythmically and lyrically complex without sacrificing logic and a clear thematic statement.
Lyrical criticism aside, this is hands down the strongest rap release out of Provo. It features high production value, great songwriting, a bold and impressive performance from Jamesthemormon, and some wonderful collaborations. There’s a reason he’s gaining a following around the country. Looking forward to the next release.
I’m Not a Rapper is available on iTunes. It’s also available to stream on Spotify. Make sure to like Jamesthemormon on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @Jamesthemormon. You can watch the music video for “Motivation” below. You can read our interview with Jamesthemormon about his breakthrough success here.