The New Classics

April 6, 2009

Album Review: Jim Jones, Pray IV Reign

04.06.09

pray_iv_reign

I wouldn’t classify myself as a fan of Jim Jones at all. In the past, I’ve found his lyrics to be lazy, his constant ad-libbing after every line annoying, and his cockiness unwarranted. His mixtape/album last year, Harlem’s American Gangster, was not only a cheap and completely obvious ripoff of Jay-Z’s American Gangster, but he somehow tried to play it off as an original idea. A few years ago, Jones had a nationwide hit with ‘We Fly High (Ballin)’, which some misguided people are still shooting invisible basketballs to. That was 2006, also the year of ‘This is Why I’m Hot’. But instead of going the way of Mims, Jim Jones has managed to stay relevant, still coasting off of his ‘Ballin’ success, and music business connections. Besides a song here and there (‘My Life’ from Hustler’s P.O.M.E.), I haven’t enjoyed much of the music he makes.

All expectations for Pray IV Reign, at least in my case, were extremely low. But despite all of these preconceptions, Jim Jones might win the 2009 Most Improved Player award. Pray IV Reign is actually not bad.

Jones stepped his beat selection WAY up on this album. The generic beats that made every Dipset song sound the same has been replaced by songs that each have their own voice. Chink Santana does a great job on the production end, claiming six production credits, and making sure that each one is unique. Legendary producer No I.D. produces album opener (creatively titled) ‘Intro’. THIS is the type of song that we should have heard on that Harlem’s American Gangster project last year. It has an old-school bluesy feel that cuts into you and opens you right up, serving as a perfect introductary track to the LP.

The second song, ‘Pulling Me Back’ almost feels like a second warmup track before ‘Let It Out’ is let loose. A smooth guitar picking loop is played over some frantic drums, and thanks to another fantastic producer, Supa Dave West, the album has it’s first really dope song. Jones’ flow is perfectly suited for this beat, rhyming about themes he’s never really strayed from, but doing it in a subtler way (drink fine liquor / on the quiet nights, you can hear the crime whisper).

‘How to Be a Boss’ returns to the classic Dipset sound of anthemic strings and heavy bass, with guests Ludacris and the Jay-Z soundalike NOE. Actually, producer Ron Browz must have been listening to Jay-Z’s Volume 2 album before hitting the studio, because it sounds like this is a beat that could be straight from that era. No complaints though, as anyone who pays for a Luda feature knows that they’re going to get their money’s worth, and he outshines both Byrd Gang members on this one.

Skipping over the sexually explicit and possibly future strip club favorite ‘Medicine’, we get to ‘Frienemies’ in which Jimmy allegedly bears all about past musical relationships & old friendships, including Max B. It has a mean electric guitar-based beat, but if you couldn’t care less about Jones’ personal life, this is an easy one to skip over also.

I’ve already expressed my enjoyment of the next two songs, ‘Precious‘ (featuring & produced by Ryan Leslie) and ‘Blow the Bank‘, although ‘Precious’ has been reworked a bit since it leaked, probably for the better, surprisingly. On the other hand, ‘This is for My Bitches’ is a weak “for the ladies” R&B slow jam, and ‘Girlfriend’ is most likely another attempt at a mainstream club hit that may or may not catch on, but it’s nothing special and Juelz Santana’s subpar verse doesn’t help.

The quality of the closing six songs on the album is scattered. ‘This is the Life’ & ‘My My My’ are both songs primed for night driving, and work pretty well (‘Life’ being the better track) in that sense, but nothing makes either of them stand out tracks. ‘Na Na Nana Na Na‘ does stand out, but not any positive way whatsoever, which I’ve already written about. ‘Pop Off’ must have been added last minute to try to balance out all the singing on this album, because Jones and tagalongs NOE & Mel Matrix overcompensate by turning their gangsta up to 11. ‘Pop Champagne’ features Ron Browz’ obnoxious T-Pain mockery, and if he weren’t on it, the song would work much better. The problem with that is, it’s actually Browz’ song that Jimmy jacked as a single for himself.

Ron Browz isn’t all that bad though when he’s behind the boards, as he designs one of the best songs on the album. ‘Rain’s optimistic feel and chilly synth/snap beat show a different side to Jones’ music, one that he should explore further on future records. Maybe having Rell AND Starr singing on the song is a bit too much filler, because I actually found myself wanting another Jim Jones verse; something I’ve never said in my life. Not so much for his lyrics, but after hearing this entire album of mostly good to excellent songs, I’ve realized that I can now call myself a Jim Jones fan.

The ad libs are kept to a minimum, and the melodies are more prevalent than any other Jones project that I’ve heard. These are two huge steps for him as an artist, and it shows growth, at least in getting him out of his comfort zone. Pray IV Reign isn’t a consistantly solid album, but that is ONLY because there are too many songs; usually a recipe for a few clunkers. It’d be better if five or six tracks were shaved off, but there are enough bright spots in the lineup to chalk it up in the win column. And if it can make me appreciate Jim Jones’ music, it has to be doing something right.

Album: Pray IV Reign
Artist: Jim Jones
Release Date: March 24, 2009
Label: Columbia Records
Featured Artists: Ludacris, Juelz Santana, Ryan Leslie, Ron Browz, Rell, NOE, Chink Santana, Oshy & Starr, Mel Matrix
Featured Producers: No I.D., Supa Dave West, Chink Santana, Ron Browz, Dangerous LLC, Illfonics, Magnedo7, Trackslayerz, Triple-A, Young Yonny, Young Seph
Highlights: ‘Intro’, ‘Let It Out’, ‘How to Be a Boss’, ‘Precious‘, ‘Blow the Bank‘, ‘Rain’
Rating: 6.5

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