House Slippers (to be released September 16, 2014)
It’s time for hip-hop to wake up from its coma and stop sleeping on Joell Ortiz.
As one quarter of Slaugherhouse, the Four Horsemen of rap, Yaowa has been unleashing instantly quotable lines for years now, yet he never seems to get the credit he deserves for his unbridled lyricism.
But Joell seems unfazed. His third solo album is called House Slippers for a reason – he’s never felt more comfortable in his own skin. And that gives him lots of initiative to get some things off his chest.
The title track lets you know what’s in store: “This ain’t for radio play/this is for the Radio Raheems who let their radio play.” Not once will you hear “Mustard on the beat ho” on this record.
“Freedom is overrated till they take it/when it’s gone it feels like nothing can replace it,” he spits on “House Slippers,” giving a detailed account of his music industry struggles and personal battles, including watching his mom shoot insulin while his song battles asthma. It’s part of Joell’s everyman appeal that makes his music so genuine.
Speaking of music, he shouts out the old school on current single “Music Saved My Life”: “Looking back, daddy left bad/ it was cool though, music was my stepdad/I was raised by Stevie Wonder, Lionel Ritchie, Luther and all the Jackson brothers.” B.o.B. and Mally Stakz help out, but Joell goes hardest.
His brothers in rhyme Slaughterhouse show up on the solid “Brother’s Keeper” for Joell shines much brighter in the solo spotlight. He goes on an absolute rampage on “Q&A,” tossing out razor-sharp bars like ninja stars: “This ain’t snapbacks meets new era/ this new era gets smacked till their neck snaps back – and that goes for whoever.” Ortiz puts the entire game on notice: “BRB, I don’t mean like ‘be right back’/I mean, B, y’all R&B singing, I write rap.”
Joell explores da art of storytellin’ on “Phone,” showing that going through your girl’s cell phone can have disastrous results. And the heavenly “Say Yes” is masterful – Ortiz hits the altar and begs for forgiveness while admitting that he tends to bury his own spirituality:”I just conceal it until we’re all alone and then my knees get filthy/as I cry before you like “Lord, you feel me?”/You must think I’m silly, even I don’t feel me.” That level of honesty is lost inside and outside the churchhouse.
Sure, there are a couple of missteps. Some purists will likely roll their eyes at the lightweight hooks of “Better Than” and “Candy” but life’s frigid realities on “Cold World” and the soothing sax on “Dream On” help provide balance.
House Slippers might be Joell at his most comfortable but by no means does he take it easy. His hunger remains. Stop sleeping on Yaowa.
Best tracks: “Q&A,” “Say Yes,” “House Slippers”
4 stars out of 5