Two acts defined hip-hop in 2012 for me. One was Death Grips. The other was JRocc.
JRocc (Not that one. Or that one.) is Justin Lampson, a 19-year-old MC and producer from Sydney, Australia. Taking influence from old school hip-hop merchants as diverse as Dilated Peoples, Wu-Tang Clan and Eminem, he has just followed last year’s Heart Of Stone EP with released his debut mixtape (but since the term makes me think of hand-recorded C-90 cassettes, let’s call it an album) Suicide Note, released online Sunday just gone.
Oh, and he has cerebral palsy.
Why is this relevant? Because he makes it relevant. Let me explain.
Cerebral palsy is a group of non-progressive motor diseases that cause physical disabilities in its sufferers. Being non-degenerative, it means the condition never deteriorates from the age of about three-years-old. Given the musculoskeletal issues that can arise from the condition, it can seriously affect communication, causing sufferers to affect a drawl within speech.
Now that you know this, think about the idea of someone with this condition then rapping and producing. It results in a completely unique take on hip-hop that sounds like a live version of the late DJ Screw, the pioneering Houston DJ who played hip-hop 45s at 33rpm. When your speech is slurred, you have to change the way you write, because you’re rapping two or three times slower than virtually ever other MC on the planet. But don’t think this makes JRocc a technically bad rapper; on the contrary, he possesses far better flow than some rappers I can think of. Half of Odd Future, for a start. It’s far from conventional, but it’s undoubtedly there. Oh, and he produces too. Quite how he does that is completely beyond any explanation I can think of, but it’s never anything less than competent, and at times brilliant. It takes a brave man to sample the notoriously abstract ‘Tubular Bells’, as he does on Suicide Note’s ‘Vice Grip’.
So that’s the form. What of the content from “Sydney’s Original Spastic Spitter”? (His words, not mine. Can’t say they sit too easily with me, but hey, it’s his right to say it.) Well there are some of the old school gangsta rap tropes at work here, the kind pioneered by NWA, along with a certain level of posturing, as demonstrated on Heart Of Stone’s ‘Under The Microscope’:
You can’t change me Rearrange me Obstruct my point of view Writing rhymes You know my shit’s true I’m under the microscope
Confession booth sessions Trying to learn my lessons Count my blessings This is how loneliness affects me Mind’s fucked because I’m rejected Neglect breeds insecurity All I need is purity This is nothing new to me
The juxtaposition between his old school production and this kind of lyrical content is remarkable, because instead of marrying the beats with self-deluding grandeur as is often the wont of gangsta rappers, he is keeping it about as real as it gets. Having cerebral palsy is a pain in the arse, and he’s in a position to say it. Often when you hear of disabled artists its presented in such a way that it celebrates what they have, while conveniently avoiding the problems they have on a daily basis. JRocc tackles it head on with Suicide Note in a way this manages to be profound, but very entertaining.
JRocc in the studio
JRocc clearly won’t be for every hip-hop fan. But if you have an open mind, and if you’re reading this you probably do, you will absolutely love this. You’ll never have heard anything like this before. Anyone looking for an insight into the Australian underground hip-hop scene should also take note, given his extensive collaboration work. Laura One and B-Don in particular provide excellent verses on ‘Hip-Hop Saved My Life’, ‘Spit Your Game’ and ‘Morphine’, with the latter also providing production work on Heart Of Stone.
He’s only been active for about a year, but already has a decent chunk of material available. If you live in Sydney, head over to Lopez Records for copies of Heart Of Stone and Suicide Note on CD. For the rest of us, you can try contacting him on Facebook for CDs, but your best option is to go digital. Heart Of Stone is available to stream on JRocc’s SoundCloud account, and is for sale on iTunes. Suicide Note, in the modern mixtape tradition, is available for free on MediaFire.
If you’re in Sydney, you might also be interested to know that he will be making his debut live appearance in the city on Friday 10th May 2013 at a disability fundraiser. I get the impression that this is a private event however, so you will need to contact him directly at his Facebook page for information on this. If I weren’t on the other side of the world I’d be there, so if you don’t have that excuse, do what you must to get there.
PS. Hello to any new readers here via Luno’s kind reposting of my earlier post. If you’ve contacted me, please accept my apologies for not replying as yet; I’m not ignoring you, I’ve just been really busy.