Retrospective: Johnson&Jonson

While this Blu-affiliated group only saw one official release, its eponymous 2008 album, Johnson&Jonson still manages to kick all sorts of lyrical ass. Let’s take a few paragraphs to break down why. I mean, this is an album that, even among Blu fans, still doesn’t, to me, get its just due. And it should, because it’s an album that takes what we love about Blu and deconstructs it, and reconstructs it into something that much more amazing. Many Blu fans know that this album started as Powders & Oils, but this is the final released version of the album.

Fresh off Blu’s 2007 Below the Heavens album, Blu and Mainframe delivered 16 tracks of underground boombap rap that wasn’t stuck in the ’90s. In 2008, when there was (yet another) boombap revival (because you need boombap in music, just like crazy-ass bass and trap hits), that was unexpected, from my personal experience. You had a lot of artists trying to just emulate that Premo sound, that Large Professor sound, or that Alchemist sound, without adding their own flair to it.The title track, “J&J,” you get the feeling that this is going to be something different, something you’re not used to. But, there was a familiarity to it, even among the unknowns.

From the DITC sample, the somewhat odd choice to have parts of Blu’s verse edited, the sing-songy chant of a chorus, the song sets a precedent that this is going to be an album that explores a wide variety of topics, tropes, and more in a way that’s still fresh enough to keep your head nodding throughout if you let it. The cypher feel fin the second section Blu provides is something worth noting. It’s a lot more free than some of Blu’s other stuff from this era, in the sense that there’s no real structure, an exchange of bars.

“Up All Night” is a cool track. But, it’s kind of subdued in a way that keeps me from fully rocking with it. I guess it’s because the intro sets us up for some crazy-ass shit, but then we get a late-night ramble about Blu’s excellence. I get its place on here, though.
“Half a Knot” is another standout track. The sample overpowers the drums, but matches the energy that Blu gives. From here, we go to “Mama Always Told Me.” “Mama” is a track that reminds me a lot of a 70s sitcom theme, warped to talk about the realities of the world. But, like “Half a Knot,” it stops right when it’s kicking into its final gear. 
These two songs, and this is a weird comparison, are like an edged orgasm that’s denied, but replaced with another form of lyrical satisfaction. You’re given a buttload of feels and you’re almost there, to that point of lyrical completion. Then Blu just says “screw that, let’s go into ‘Go For The Gusto Room,'” a track that takes the energy of gambling and transplants it into the high stakes of rap. The Bo Bo Lamb interludes just showcase the craziness of life and that, if your gambles don’t pay off, you’ll probably lose it all and end up just wanting some ass and pound cake.
…hmmm, doesn’t sound that bad. Maybe.
“WOW” is just bars. No break, no chorus, just Blu spitting. “WOW” sets up “The Only Way,” a track, again, warning about the dangers of living wrong (see a pattern here?). I love how Blu, like on “WOW,” almost duets with the sample. It gives the tracks a sense of urgency and a vibe like “you need to listen to me speak on this.”
“In the Building” continues the early Blu tactic of employing Miguel Jontel (yes, that Miguel) to provide soulful hooks and ad-libs. Blu takes a backseat and lets Miguel sing his soul out about love with slight religious overtones. The chill vibes continue with “Bout It Bout It,” a track that’s more lyrical shit talking.
“Get The Name Straight” features a plethora of multisyllable lyrics that are delivered in a way you’ll miss some. It’s a multi-listen track, just to get all the lyrics and punchlines. We’re effortlessly taken into the jazzy “Long Time Gone.” A song speaking on, and reminiscing about, the past, “Long Time” is another standout track. Its storytelling is great and the instrumental lends well to some deep thought. I’m not a fan that it fades out in the middle of the track, though.

“Still Up All Night,” featuring Co$$ Dollars and “Perfect Sense” present a duality of sorts. On one hand, we’re given some funky bass and braggy lyrics from Co$$. On the other, we get Blu storytelling a bit and talking about his prowess over guitar-heavy instrumentation. If you want a TL;DR of the album, I couldn’t think of a better duo than these two tracks. It’s a fun album that still has a lot of room for introspective lyricism.

“Anything Possible,” for me, is a track that could’ve been scrapped. It’s not a bad track. The dramatic slowed sample provides a smoky atmosphere. Gonja Sufi gives some dope flows on top of the cypher flow, as in the intro track. But, it just kind of stands there, especially when it comes before “The Oath,” the de facto outro of the album (since “Hold On John” is counted as a bonus track).

“The Oath” pretty much tells us why Blu is one to keep an eye on. With a poignant line like “since I heard Cube and Ice-T and ’em/I knew I had to lead the next movement, and I’m doing it,” it’s clear that Blu was (is) gunning for the top of the game, to help lead the West Coast to prominence again. And, in his own way, he’s helped to do that. Sure, Blu doesn’t have the eyes on him that Kendrick or Game do. However, when the man spits, you can’t help but listen to what he’s got to say.

That’s especially true for my personal favorite track off the album, “Hold On John.” It’s a simple John Lennon sample that allows Blu to vent his soul. It’s one of the most introspective tracks on the album. Think K.R.I.T.’s “The Vent” with a bit of Jada’s “Why?” for a barometer of what you should expect to hear from it. It’s a song that paints Blu as imperfect, but a man who’s still growing into the man he wants/needs to be.

Overall, the album, while having a few hiccups (tracks end right when they ramp up, some of the lo-fi aesthetics blow a few of the songs up before they begin), Johnson&Jonson is a must-listen if you’re a Blu fan or a fan of underground hip-hop. It has aged gracefully in a lot of regards. The lyricism is still as poignant as it was eight years ago. The beats, while slightly niched, still bang heavily. The flows aren’t just your run-of-the-mill “BARS!!!” flows. And, for real? Who can doubt introspective songs that feature DITC samples and John Lennon flips? I know that I can’t.

Speed on the Beat

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