English nerds have probably already noted that producer/MC J. Rawls titled his album The Hip-Hop Affect, not Effect. It was deliberate, as the Ohio native centers his first solo album in over 10 years not on cause and consequence, but on the imprint that his (presumably) first love leaves after the beat lets up. “What does it feel like?” Rawls’ son Joshy asks his father on the album’s intro. The following 18 tracks hinge on this establishing theme, as the hip-hop figure and now family man enlists brethren in similar stages of career including Count Bass D, John Robinson, Diamond D and Kev Brown to convey how the genre has affected them since joining the scene years ago.
Rawls came to attention during the ’90s indie hip-hop era now shrouded in nostalgia, producing two cuts off of Mos Def and Talib Kweli’s collaborative debut as Black Star, before meandering away from the genre to dabble in jazz and soul. In recent interviews he’s expressed his reluctance to return to hip-hop proper, but the retrace back to his origins on The Hip Hop Affect presents a casually confident return to a style that precedes the attention-seeking Maybach Music pow or the synth clinch of the Neptunes. Swinging backpack-era beats support his voice and largely those of his peers—”grown ass men,” if you will—not angry post-teen youngsters rife with 20-year-young internal struggles.
With the much-awaited/buzzed/tweeted about Tyler, the Creator’s album out this week, it’s an interesting time for The Hip Hop Affect to be released. The album’s neither edgy in beat or rhyme, nor fraught with dark tension. J. Rawls and his friends found out who they were ages ago, and they don’t seek attention using shock tactics. While men will still be boys—especially when it comes to the ladies (“I’m trying to get witchya but your friend’s in the way,” Senor Kaos raps on the aptly titled “Ya Friends In The Way”)—they’ve got bigger concerns. From the man himself: “Nowadays my thoughts are life insurance, college savings.”