“Picture Perfect / Numbers” – Jackie Chain (produced by Beat Billionaire & Sonny Digital)

It’s no secret among those who closely follow quality southern rap, that Alabama has been one of the single biggest producers of quality southern rap over the last four or five years.  Rich Boy probably helped to shed the initial light with the massive success of “Throw Some D’s,” but Slow Motion Soundz’s G-Side has released several borderline classic independent rap albums backed by the Block Beataz, G. Mane has put out some excellent material, 6 Tre G has been a constant quality participant, and Yelawolf has shown enough promise and talent intermittently to land a deal with Shady Records and release a couple of albums with major label support.  Given Jackie Chain’s catalog of material, and track record as one of the most consistent rappers to come out of ‘Bama, it’s a little surprising that his major label debut Ain’t Slept In Weeks hasn’t seen the light of day just yet.

Chain is a rare artist who is as comfortable cracking wise as he is breaking down drug game or writing hooks one major label push away from mass radio and club consumption.  In fact, with little to no support from Universal over the last few years, Jackie has managed to maintain a pretty solid buzz with rap blogs, including earning numerous honors as an artist to watch and accolades for his various mixtapes.  On the surface Jackie Chain’s subject matter might seem to be some of the most hackneyed in rap, he raps primarily about moving weed, coke, and pills, pimpin’ hoes, driving nice cars, all laced with southern regional slang, braggadocio, and humorous pop culture references.  While the story Jackie relates in his songs is one that has been told repeatedly throughout the course of rap history, there is an important distinction between those who tell the story, and those who tell the story well.  Those who have told it well over time, have become some of the largest figures in rap, those who have told it poorly have generally been flashes in the pan if they crack the industry at all.

While Jackie has long been known for his ability to make mixtape circuit hits with his trademark wit on songs like “Alabama Dodgers,” “Diamonds & Cadillacs,” “Molly,” and “Rollin‘,” he hadn’t yet dropped a project that quite felt like a full-length album.  His most complete projects to date, both well worth picking up in their own right, last year’s DJ Burn One assisted Who Da Mane? and this past February’s After Hours mixtape made in collaboration with Nick Catchdubs were both solid selections of songs, the latter more like a collection of songs geared toward the nightclub scene and the former feeling more like a good selection of material put together over a period of time than a cohesive album.  But despite several years of internet hype, based around a selection of quality songs with some real crossover potential, it is with his latest work on Bruce Lean Chronicles that Jackie shows that he has developed his craft beyond making merely flavor of the moment songs, to making both songs with a more lasting conceptual framework and a cohesive album.

Chain shows a great deal of development on Bruce Lean Chronicles, as he delves deeper into his song writing than he has in the past.  While he’s not exactly breaking new ground here, he’s engaging his creativity in a variety of ways throughout the album, making some excellent music in the process.  For instance, while “Numbers” is not a completely original concept, as Mos Def did something similar with “Mathematics,” Jay-Z has done “22 Twos,” and “44 Fours,” and others have certainly tried their hands at creating songs revolving around numbers, Jackie certainly puts the unique spin of a southern hustler as he discusses all of the relevant numbers associated with the rap, drug, and pimp game, while locking his flow into the pulsating patterns of Sonny Digital’s synth work.

First Love,” as it suggests, tells the story of how Jackie Chain met his first love in the 8th grade and the development of their relationship over time.  There’s a nice twist at the end, slightly less clichéd and better concealed than most attempts of the “who I’m talking ‘bout y’all is (fill in the blank)” variety, but more importantly Jackie Chain relays the story from beginning to end with captivating attention to detail to a bouncy vocal and piano sample beat provided courtesy of Diplo (of “Paper Planes”  fame).  It’s precisely the type of storytelling song that can earn repeated listens, despite the fact that the listener knows the conclusion after just one listen.

As the music of hustling has moved from the trap to the yacht, it has become a glossier and flossier endeavor.  While Jackie embraces the country rap tune roots of his regional aesthetic, he’s always seemed like he’d be perfectly comfortable exchanging wealthy witticisms with Ricky Rozay on a speedboat off the Coast of Miami.  Jackie ability to set-up humorous pop culture references, along with his constantly developing slang lexicon, and familiarity with both the appropriate way to converse upon the finer things in life and the ins and outs of the drug game seemingly make him tailor made for modern rap success.  That said, there is a fundamental element of quality narrative writing that is absent from most yacht rap – conflict and struggle.  Sure the 2012 version of Rick Ross can laugh about the seizures he has while getting brain on his jet, while Jay-Z brags about how difficult it is the find the way from his daughter’s room to the kitchen in his latest French estate, but these are not the types of struggles to which the average listener can appropriately relate.

“Road Less Traveled” Jackie Chain featuring Steven Knight (produced by Block Beataz)

Jackie Chain hasn’t always been able to tap into his own struggle and humanity in a very convincing way, focusing primarily on the joys of drugs and clubs, the ins and outs of the drug game, and the pleasures of fast cars and fast women.  At some point though, people most people yearn to hear the downside and the humanity.  On the DJ Burn One produced and Ricky Fontaine assisted “Windows,” Jackie digs into the doubts, struggles, and tough decisions that come with trying to get out of the drug game, trying to make it as a rapper, falling back into the game for one last score, trying to stay out of jail, and contemplating the right next step.  While the life decisions many of us make may not seem as captivating as choosing between pimping, moving weight, and a career as a rapper signed to Universal, Chain does a great job of bringing the humanity into his own turmoil.  Jackie continues to dig into these emotions and doubts on “Road Less Traveled,” giving the latter portion of the album a more contemplative and introspective vibe to balance the more outgoing and boisterous nature of the first half.

“Parked Outside” Jackie Chain featuring Bun B & Big K.R.I.T. (prod by Big K.R.I.T.)

Lest one fear that Jackie Chain has abandoned his club hopping, woodgrain gripping, weight moving ways, rest assured there’s still plenty of that here.  “Parked Outside,” is a great homage to old school cars featuring Bun B with a beat and hook from Big K.R.I.T., “26 Inches,” features Assasyn & Dynomite Kidd in vibrant ode to massive rims, “So Thowed,” is an aptly titled dedication to well, getting thowed.  With beats from Big K.R.I.T., Diplo, Block Beataz, DJ Burn One, Sonny Digital, Beat Billionaire, B Wheezy, YunggStarr, Happy Perez, and Will Power, all of Jackie’s work here is produced by some of the most established names in southern rap production as well as some excellent rising stars.  His impeccable selection only seems to have improved over the years as this is definitely the best set of beats he’s rapped over to date, and given his track record that’s a pretty impressive feat.

Ultimately, it is Chain’s ability to cover a broader variety of subject matter that make this free album one of the best releases of the year.  His comfort moving from club joint to party song to conceptual track to hustler’s anthem to introspective piece shows a range and depth to his work that very few artists in are capable of delivering.  Unlike many of the best releases that have come out this year, this free album has almost as many producers as it does tracks, but the production nonetheless is seamless and the album is perfectly sequenced.  In a summer when many are lauding the works of Nas or Rick Ross, the reality is that a young player from Huntsville, Alabama just made 2012’s best summer album to date.

Comments
  1. […] Album Review: Jackie Chain – Bruce Lean Chronicles […]

  2. joey4100 says:

    Jackin Chain mixtape killin shit

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