By Dan McQuade
By Brian McManus
By Hilary Hughes
By Jena Ardell
By Brian McManus
By Chaz Kangas
By Sound of the City
By Peter Gerstenzang
Pick a word, any word. Put a little chuckle in your voice, say it three times, and you've got J.R. Writer's first rule down: Why rhyme when you can repeat? Taking a cue from his mentor Cam'ron, this fierce mix-tape newbie raps like he's got OCD. He turns words, phrases, and sounds over a few times, feeling them out and milking them of possibility before moving on. Hustling through 64-bar verses in the obstinately unvarying cadence of a skipping turntable, he turns deliberate flowlessness into hypnotic minimalism. Jay-Z, say hello to Steve Reich.
One of the finest young talents enjoying better rotation on Canal Street than Hot 97, Writer exploits slang's exquisite instability, the way a single word explodes into signifying flurries. If he mentions birds, he might be talking about jets, girls he'll mistreat, coke he's unloading, or something only guys on 145th and Lenox will get. Call it a gangsta homonym.
On "You Ain't Saying Nothing," he runs a marathon of internal rhymes and ricochets, one of his favorite tricks, leaving room for classic battle wit: "I'm a shine-flaunter/Been on the grind longer/I'll lay .9 on ya/Cop you a casket and bring the box to your crib like Time Warner." Sometimes his wordplay is so microscopic it's absurdist. Over the wobbly reggae of "Jamaican Diplomocracy": "I flip the flip for the flip/Call me a flip-flipper/ Then flip-flop in my flip-flops/With strip-strippers."
Since most MCs think virtuosity means acrobatics, topspin, or superspeed, Writer's emphasis on gravity and traction is radical. Bombastic, urgent, and infectious, the no-name beats here suggest Kanye chipmunk soul done on a budget. Writer shoves himself across each the same bullying way, insensitive to their demands. He's a jerk in his tales too: He's a better dealer than you, a bigger consumer, a bigger misogynist, and a better rapper. But to his credit, he knows it's the last brag that matters most.