Always Has Been/Always Will Be (Fatbeats)

J-Live 

Always Has Been/Always Will Be (Fatbeats)

Fourteen tracks split over two discs and sold separately at ten bucks a pop is a far cry from the overstuffed generosity of J-Live's The Best Part and All of the Above. But it's a relief that now -- finally -- he seems unburdened by aspiring genius and is content to make stirring and accessible independent hip-hop. Always Has Been, a compilation of his attention-grabbing mid-'90s singles, has an aura of underground legend but doesn't outshine Always Will Be. The latter is fresh but conceptually more dated than the old stuff, echoing all those Native Tongue do-gooders in the rhymes, with tracks (which J-Live produced himself) that recall the genre's beginnings -- a little Sugarhill, even a little Scott La Rock -- which ain't bad at all. J still values erudition more than beats, which can be just as unsatisfying as a killer track glazed with dumbass rhymes, but his flow and ideas (such as the painstaking metaphors of "Car Song") more than make up for any lack of bump.

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