Joell & Gunz Line‘ em Up & Mow‘ em Down
2010 was the beginning of the turning point for rap music and Joell Ortiz probably had no idea how prophetic his words would be. We’ve interviewed Joell numerous times, and he would consistently speak about rap’s changing landscape and what he had hoped Slaughterhouse would bring to the industry (here, here, here , here with Royce. And maybe none more clear than when he was recording his Covers the Classics tape, then talked about how pure the industry once was.
“What good is looking fly if you’re rapping like a bum?” – Joell Ortiz
Fast forward 7 years and the industry is flooded with rappers who don’t even rap anymore. Most of the lyrics have become unintelligible, but it sells. It doesn’t sell as much as it used to, but that’s to be expected when you water down the product and saturate the market with a bunch of clones, look-alikes and sound-alikes “rapping” about absolutely nothing.
The Jerry Seinfeld theory
Has rap music adopted the Jerry Seinfeld theory? For the younger readers, Seinfeld was a show about nothing – and it was extremely popular. The show itself was about nothing in particular, yet people ate it up. Week after week, millions tuned in making Jerry Seinfeld one of the highest paid sitcom stars on television. It lasted 8 seasons and has gone down as one of the greatest sitcoms of all time.
In 2017 mumble rap has taken over the industry. If you’re not mumbling you’re probably not selling records or getting signed. The amazing thing about that is that rap music has pretty much always been about the message. Today’s rap music doesn’t seem to have a message. At least not one worth actually paying attention to.
To say that 2017 rappers have zero to offer to the music industry would be unfair though. Maybe there is no message but generally people who listen to music regularly do it because they enjoy the music, period. Not everybody cares about the lyrics or even the artist on the track. If the beat sounds amazing at full blast in a club people will eat it up. Just like they ate up Seinfeld for 9 whole seasons.
In The Studio
In this video you will see Joell Ortiz and Cory Gunz get right down to business selecting a beat. Joell is hanging on to a speaker as the beat pumps. Gunz off to the side, head bopping, going through his library of lyrics and flows in his head. This is true artistry at its best. Neither of these guys are willing to water down their lyrics for record sales, that’s rap music. Seeing it unfolding before my eyes gives me flashbacks of Kool G Rap, an artist who stayed true to his style knowing it would cost him in record sales. G Rap is an underground king of rap that is respected by just about every true lyricist on the face of this planet.
“It’s time to pick your pen up.” – Joell Ortiz
It’s interesting to note how Gunz is typing away on an electronic device while Joell is doing it the old fashioned way, with a paper and pen. Like the past and the future on course for a head-on collision they immerse themselves in the beat and add their own ingredients to make a mouth-watering meal. These chefs may use different tools to get the job done but their blades are sharp and always ready. We’ve had the opportunity to record a couple of songs with Joell, including Yesterday (John Regan: Sorry I’m Late), En Why Cee and It Could Be Anything (Juganot), and the original Up There with You (Joell) – and we can confirm that this is very representative of Joell’s typical process.
In the booth, Gunz goes first. Holding his phone in his hand he fires off lyrics relentlessly as he reads what he just wrote flawlessly, it’s like he wrote it 5 years ago and already knows the lyrics backwards. All the while Joell sits back watching, waiting, foaming at the mouth, this dog can’t wait to take a bite. Ortiz lays down the groundwork for the hook like a true veteran who knows his way around a soundbooth. After the hook Joell goes off showing the world how to assassinate an instrumental with a notebook and pen. The recording process flawless for both of these lyrical titans, there is no take two.
After laying down the verses and the hook they kick back and listen to the rough draft. Joell instructing the engineer on the final touches. Making sure it all sounds perfect. No matter how effortless they make it look these guys didn’t come here to play. They wrote their asses off and competed, one trying to outdo the other, that is rap music.
Knowing the direction hip-hop was heading in they could’ve spent 5 minutes putting together nonsensical gibberish over a hot beat and been done in an hour and it probably would’ve sold pretty well. These true artists are very aware of that and yet they refuse to bend. They refuse to be broken by the industry and the latest fads. They want to make history and frankly I don’t know if any mumbled lyrics will ever be remembered in a positive light. If you can’t understand it or relate to it why would you want to remember it?
True artists want you to memorize ALL of the lyrics from every one of their verses. They put in the work, adding subliminals, metaphors and lyrics that go over your head till you’ve heard it the thousandth time and finally get it. The complexity of the flow, the intelligence behind the lyrics, the enthusiasm and charisma oozing out of the speakers… this is what modern rap music is severely lacking.
“The internet is gonna faint!” – Joell Ortiz
In the end, you have to respect mumble rappers for carving out their own niche. Throughout hip hop history there has always been artists that did it their own way. Master P, for example, was never a great lyricist but his music sold and opened up the door for Lil Wayne who is still doing his thing in 2017. There was always a bunch of artists on the fringes of hip hop knocking on the door, trying to get in with the big dogs. It seems they’ve tired of knocking and kicked down the door and taken over. They don’t care that there is no message. They are making music and looking good doing it and in the process they are making money. Whether or not this is a good thing for rap music remains to be seen. I guess you can say that when it comes to mumble rap music, the jury is still out.
So the question remains… when you toss on your headphones and load up your playlist on your commute to work or school; When you are driving from point A to point B and your music is bumping out of your system; Are you tuned in to the next episode of Seinfeld? Or are you lost in something more substantive? And does it matter?
We also take you behind the scenes where you get a glimpse of an impromptu promo shoot gone bad – featuring Cory, Joell’s manager Mike Heron and Axe of In Ya Ear Studios – with hilarious results…enjoy!