Sorry I’m Late Review
How can one review their own album? Well, while it’s true that I’m intimately involved with the creation of the album, I am also a perfectionist who is always striving to grow and improve. So, while others are surprised by all the positive aspects of the album – and there are many – I am able to more clearly recognize the flaws. Other reviewers were surprised it was this good. I’m disappointed it wasn’t better. To say this album is a perfect 10 would be saying I don’t believe I am capable of creating anything better, which is something I don’t believe in the slightest. While I’m happy the album has been getting so much love, nobody has really bothered to definitively explain the negatives.
The album has many bright spots, starting with the production. There is hardly anything negative to point out here. Every beat, every song – feels like it’s complete. The sound quality, as pointed out by many reviewers before me, is on par with any major release and doesn’t have the sound of an indie at all. People will tune in for the production of Needlz, 88-Keys and Nottz – and they all were incredible – but will be both pleasantly surprised and blown away by relative newcomer YZ, who provided the backdrop for 9 of the 14 songs. The music is damn near perfect, which leads me to wonder what this album would’ve sounded like had a more experienced, more established artist such as a Joell Ortiz been the lead vocalist.
And that is where the album’s major shortcoming lies. While John Regan establishes himself as a very capable artist, he doesn’t command the attention the way an Ortiz or a Joe Budden does. By no means does John take away from the album or feel outmatched, it’s just that he doesn’t jump to the forefront or steal many of the songs. It personally leads me to ponder “what if Sorry I’m Late was J. Cole’s debut album instead of John Regan’s?”
On the flipside, never does John seem outmatched, despite sharing the mic with some of hip-hop’s most respected lyricists. It never really feels like John is competing with Skyzoo, Sha Stimuli or the aforementioned Joell Ortiz. Rather, they compliment each other well on each track. The features are well placed and never overshadow John. It’s surprising because when you run down the list of features – on paper – it feels like it would be more of a compilation album or mixtape than a solo project, but that isn’t the case at all. This feels like a John Regan solo album in every way possible. Kudos to John for standing toe-to-toe with some of rap’s heavyweights, despite this being his first go ‘round.
Another negative, if you can call it that, is the album’s pace. While Breath of Fresh Air, Nobody’s Somebody and 9:57 Interlude do a good job of shifting gears and changing the vibe, the rest of the songs feel as if they were all recorded within a few bpms of each other. And although they do it well, the majority of songs do focus on the same few topics. Suicide ediciuS does a nice job of stepping outside of the box, but I would’ve liked to have seen more of that. The songs were all executed extremely well, but there was little in terms of innovation. Also, I could’ve used a couple of uptempo or lighter (fun, maybe) tracks. I know, that would’ve taken away from his theme – and I applaud him for staying true to his message – but for long term play value, I would’ve liked to have a couple of tracks that pop off the tape a bit. It reminded me greatly of Blueprint (obviously, we’re talking about a different level of album). Blueprint had a very mellow feel to it, with only a couple of songs straying from that theme. This was similar. But as good as Sorry I’m Late is, it isn’t the Blueprint. Jay-Z also already had a catalog filled with a wide array of songs.
Getting back to the production – it might be as good as any hip-hop album released in recent memory. There were a great variety of beats, but they all blended well together. The album flows seamlessly from track 1 through 14. And a major kudos to YZ because ALL of the tracks sounds good together. Much like Skyzoo’s “The Salvation”, a listener would expect the big name production would stand out. But on this album, every track sounds perfectly produced.
The choruses were also very impressive. Many hip-hop albums – especially indies – seem to rely too heavily on samples or on singers. Sorry I’m Late has a great mixture of everything, including rap and chant hooks, scratches, and singing/samples. It never felt like too much of any one thing.
I’ll say it again – quality is a huge plus on this album. Too many independent albums seem to skimp on things such as recording, mastering and mixing – choosing to focus the majority of their budget on features and production. Sorry I’m Late does not lack in any of these areas. I listened to it in a six-figure system and it sounded amazing. The sequencing is also great, as the moods on the album blend together very well. You can listen from front to back with no skips. One thing I question regarding sequencing was the decision to have all the “rock” tracks at the beginning of the album. The first four songs are all guitar driven, rock influenced tracks. That could give the listener the wrong impression about the album. Would they have been better off sprinkled throughout the album?
Lyrically, the album was extremely honest – and that’s a good thing. But it wasn’t overly witty. It was very relatable, which again, is good. John sounds how any of his listeners, except he has the talent to express himself exceptionally well. But he doesn’t separate himself from the rest of us in a way that leaves us in awe. He doesn’t say anything that’s mind-numbing, though he does manage to say quite a few things that’s heart-wrenching. It’s bittersweet. When I first listened to Joell’s “The Brick”, it almost didn’t matter what beats he was rapping over. He commanded my attention. John seems like a perfect fit for every one of these songs, but I question if I would really listen to him over more mediocre production. He reminds me of Derek Jeter. Would Derek be Derek if he wasn’t put in the perfect situation? If he was with the Kansas City Royals? But once you’re in that situation, you need to perform. And both Derek and John did just that.
My final thought is this: is John Regan this good? If this is John’s starting point and he’s only going to get better from here, then I think he can be one of hip-hop’s mainstays for the next decade. If this is John’s best work and all the stars aligned properly for this album to come to fruition, then I’m afraid this album will be a singular gift to hip-hop fans and nothing more. Now that we know John’s story – and it’s a good one – will he be able to bring us something new on his next go round? Will he be able to build upon the strong foundation that he has laid? It’s one thing to be the underdog coming out of nowhere. Now let’s see what he can do with the spotlight on him.
But regardless of if this is the beginning or the highlight of his career, congratulations to John for doing something that few aspiring artists can lay claim to. He created one of the best hip-hop albums of the year. He has hip-hop rooting for him.