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When hip hop was first being created by DJ Kool Herc and his contemporaries in the 70s, New York was the place to be. As time has gone on, obviously, hip hop has migrated to various localities around the nation. Since the 80s, Philadelphia has produced some major names, both in terms of commercial hip hop and the underground. Everyone from Will Smith to Eve, Roots to Jedi Mind Tricks has called The Illadelph their home base. Continuing in that city's varied tradition is Japhia Life, with his new album, Nazareth. If you’ve never listened to Japhia Life, then get ready to hear stories of real life filtered through imaginative lyrics and beats that just might make your head nod.

The album opens with “Close My Eyes.” A meditation on being able to keep your head held high while dealing with the pain that life brings. Producer Kid Classic, who produced six of the fourteen tracks on the album, starts the track with a spacey keyboard sample, which sort of floats over a somewhat subdued drum beat. The kick doesn’t hit too hard on this song, but I think the vibe totally fits what Japhia was trying to do with the song, and is really effective in getting the point across.

Kid Classic is joined on the production side by Saint Man, Cris Crossed and J Rippa. Japhia even gets into the act, co-producing two tracks on the album with Saint Man. The mixture of producers results in a mixture of production techniques that are used to varying success. Kid Classic has a habit of chopping samples in an odd way. On several tracks, including “Mama’s House,” “Upside Down” and “Pain,” the samples give the song a sort of odd, disjointed quality. I don’t personally like it, but your mileage may vary. For me, it’s kind of unfortunate, especially on “Mama’s House” which features guest vocalist Rita Fields on a very cool R&B flavored hook. I do like the beat that he laced together for “Think What We Had,” which has a very cool soul vibe. Saint Man cooks up another of my favorite beats on the album, “One Shot.” Some very cool strings, pianos and an Eminem sample that sounds like it's been put through a lo-fi filter, makes for a very cool track.

One of the things I noticed throughout the album is that a lot of the instrumentation sounds somewhat “synth-y.” The strings on “Desperado” suffer from this, as do the pianos on “Crack House Blues.” I am, far and away, a fan of more organic sounds, and I was able to find some on tracks like “I Wanna Go” and “Don’t Keep Me Waiting.” The piano on those two songs sounds as if someone was sitting in the studio wailing on the keys…and I love every note. As far as the rest of the production goes, the drums are clean and distortion free. The mix seems to be spot on, as does every other aspect of the recording.

I like Japhia Life's voice. He's got a smooth voice that I really can't compare to anyone else's, as I can't think of a comparison that would do it justice. His flow is, for the most part, uncomplicated, but not overly simple. His flow just works for the kind of music that he does, and it allows him to ride the beat pretty tightly. However, when he tries to change his flow, for example the hook of “Close My Eyes,” things get a little messy. The hook on that song features Japhia speeding up his delivery, and it just doesn't seem to work very well with the beat. Lyrically, the album features, as I said, a look at real life. Unfortunately, real life isn't always pretty, and Japhia makes that very clear. However, he also makes it clear that Jesus is an aid in the struggles of life. It's very clear that the man loves the Lord and gives Him the credit.

Overall, this is a good album. However, there are a lot of things that, in my opinion, break up its flow. I feel like, with a few different choices, this could've been a great album. As it is, I'd say it's certainly worth a listen.

Purchase 'Nazareth' on iTunes



Label: Arms Out

Release Date: 4/6/10

Track Listing:
1. Close My Eyes (Prod by: Kid Classic)
2. Desperados (Prod by: Saint Man) feat. Rob Hodge, S.O.G. & Linkz Virus
3. Mama’s House (Prod by: Kid Classic) feat. Tru Knowledge, & Rita Fields
4. Crack House Blues (Prod by: Kid Classic)
5. Think What We Had (Prod by: Kid Classic)
6. Upside Down (Prod by: Kid Classic)
7. Does Anybody Know (Prod by: Chris Batson)
8. I’m Needing You (Prod by: Chris Batson)
9. Don’t Keep Me Waiting (Prod by: Saint Man & Elvin “Wit” Shahbazian)
10. Pain (Prod by: Kid Classic)
11. I Wanna Go (Prod by: J Rippa for Lambworxs)
12. One Shot (Prod by: Saint Man & Japhia Life)
13. Moment in Time (Prod by: Chris Batson)

Bonus Track:
14. Turn My Back (Prod by: Saint Man & Japhia Life)

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