A King puts his crown back on

The newest Labseven spin-off
By SAM PFEIFLE  |  May 1, 2014

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JOIN THE PARTY On this collection of party rockers, JJ King seems to be enjoying himself.

What’s the difference between listening to rap in your car or in your headphones, and being part of a show? Well, quite a bit. While not every hip hop show succeeds — sometimes it seems an awful lot like karaoke — the good ones, with a cadre of talented MCs and producers, are like house parties with all your friends. The combo package of danceable beat and participatory lyrics, the high art of call and response, can make for a pretty good time.

It was interesting, then, to note the commentary surrounding Outkast’s big return at Coachella after more than six years of inactivity. The crowd just didn’t get it. Used to the instantly catchy beats of EDM-fueled raves, they reportedly didn’t know what to do with lyrics-based hip hop where they didn’t actually know the lyrics. The deep cuts Outkast busted out, likely thinking long-time fans would be thrilled, were lost on them.

Similarly, JJ King and hip hop collective Labseven have been mostly quiet, with just a couple of Big Easy shows in the last five years, other than a Rap Night appearance here or guest spot there by individual members. So, the question may be a fair one: How will King’s new collection of party rockers, I Ain’t Got Time to Bleed, be received when there haven’t been very many parties along the way?

Well, King does his best to bring the party with him, with plenty of guest turns from the likes of Spose, Kenya Hall, Ill by Instinct, Labseven mate Luke Mallett, and, eventually, the full Labseven crew. “I don’t write ballads, only rock the bangas,” he notes at the beginning of “Whip Banger” — so you don’t have to worry about finding a partner for the slow dance.

King also notes, over production created by Leon Samson of the Dirty White Hats (King’s sometime side project), “I’m an entertainer not a fucking teacher,” so don’t expect him to get all political and shit.

Except when he does.

“Redeem Yourself,” backed by horn-filled, verse-chorus production from Labseven’s Autonomous, cuts deep, full of admonishment — “You like to point your finger?/ You should point it at yourself” — and universal truths: “Skinny jeans are detrimental to your health.” There’s even a bit of get-off-my-lawn from a guy who’s been on stage since 1997 and seems unimpressed with your status updates and text-based hookups and teenage pregnancies leading to methadone dependencies.

Has JJ King gone crotchety?

Not if you’re judging by “Dirigo Flow,” a tune that could double as a marketing vehicle for the Maine Tourism Association, where “a poor country boy who digs the boom” extols the virtues of Portland’s James Beard winners. The Mallett Brothers join in for a doubled up chorus that features just a few hints of the acoustic guitars they normally carry and the total package makes Maine sound mighty appealing: “We get high on Dirigo dreams.”

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