Review: JSP (Justuce Street Poets) “Magnanimous” by Rami Bensasi
By Rami Bensasi (@HolaRamito)
“Tell me what you stand for, Rosa Parks, sit it down / Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream to wear the crown / Took it and we melt it, now we wear a chain around our neck / Funny how these dummies meet their death over disrespect / Show me where’s the disconnect / Say he’s the best because he died / Catch him on the rap in his prime, gone before his time.” – “Magnanimous”
I started writing this review as soon as I hit play on “Magnanimous“—at that point I was still unsure of what to expect from The Justice Street Poets—a four-man Pittsburgh rap ensemble. While I was aware of the group prior to this review, I had yet to actually listen to any of their music before, so “Magnanimous“ was my introduction to JSP. I went back three or four times to rewrite the review as the group continuously showed me new things as the album progressed. But let’s start at the beginning.
“Magnanimous“ kicks off with the title track, a statement record featuring some quality verses from each member. At this point I’m thinking I may enjoy what I’m getting into. The rhymes are thoughtful and notably tight, evidence that some real time went into writing them—a quality I greatly appreciate in an emcee. After the forgettable “HustlinMuzik” comes a series of tracks that are all different and, to be honest, pretty quality. In fact, the first real dip in the lyricism on the tape arrives on “Everyday Is April 20th,” where the effort feels forced and some lines too predictable. Following that is the radio-friendly “Candlelight White” and the high energy “I’m On It.” Before I knew it, the first half of the album—a project self-described as “an experience”—was done and I really wasn’t moved so far.
Then, everything changed.
“Heaven Catch Me” caught my attention—the way a really great song makes you stop what you’re doing and listen. I think this is JSP at their best. Everything came together for this record—the haunting production and epic hook were matched by wonderfully introspective verses. Vulnerability in an artist is appealing to me, and there’s plenty of that on this record: “Hard to tell if I’m doing shit correctly / Cause I was influenced by niggas that never met me / Heaven catch me, they turned my world upside down / Led me into danger when they claimed that they protect me.” At this point, I’m thinking I may have found where JSP can thrive, and “Fear To Fly” only cements my suspicion—these guys can really make some uplifting, inspirational records—especially over I.N.F.O.’s production, where most of the high points occur.
The second half of “Magnanimous“ is head and shoulders above the first. Aside from the out of place “Jumping Jacks,” the album ends with barely a misstep. “Teardrops,” “Truly Yours” and “Paranoid Delusions” are about as powerful of an end to any album as you can ask for—but at seventeen tracks and over an hour in length, it takes too long to get there. There were a few records that did more harm than good by being included on “Magnanimous“; they took me out of my rhythm of enjoying the numerous highlights on the album. Basically, though JSP says on “Truly Yours”: “Won’t catch me rappin’ about that bullshit,” there were some moments that felt like they were contradicting that statement.
Overall, I’m pleased with my first impression of Justice Street Poets. “Magnanimous“ has some really special moments on it, moments that I could come back to again and again. But for my money, they are trying to be too many things to too many people. It’s tough to balance this in a group album, given that every member has his own personality—and some records felt forced at times. Personally, I’d trim the album in my iTunes from 17 tracks to about 12, and it would exponentially increase the replay value—but that’s just my taste. There’s something here for everyone, so find what works for you. JSP have strengths and weaknesses, but they’re never afraid to stray outside their comfort zone, that much you have to respect.
“Ego swimming with the fishes, mental process full of glitches / Try to write these hits and misses, glam and glits but get no riches / Terrified, these scars and stiches, I can’t handle what life dishes.” – “Paranoid Delusions”