It’s been nearly two years since Tres Records released Shawn Jackson’s highly-touted, underground favorite “First Of All..” Loaded with heavy hitting cuts such as the Ty-featured, Mekalek-produced “Go There With You”, the Ta’raach-laced, Big Tone-featured, Bloggerhouse/SneakerPolitics appearin’ “Maan Up!”, and the album’s debut smash “Feelin’ Jack”, “First Of All..” was THE album that truly put Shawn Jackson on the radar of this blogger. While “First Of All..” wasn’t exactly Shawn’s introduction to Hip Hop, as far as I’m concerned it was the album that set the precedent for what you could expect from one of the Left Coast’s most potent underground emcees. Although I’ve been somewhat let down by Shawn’s collaborative effort with Alex Newman (of Giant Panda) as New Jack Hustle (they released “Sound Check” near the start of ’09, yeah I forgot too!) and his EP/Singles with Ben Grymm didn’t really pique my interest much either, Shawn J is back to his old self with “Brand New Old Me” (to be released on Tres Records, July 27th). As a warm-up, Shawn recently leaked his “Hollywood Shuffle Mixtape” as an appetizer to hold fans over until the main course is served, but again, shame on me I totally slept on it as well. I promise, Shawn and I will both redeem ourselves with this review.
Before I even get started, please let me forewarn you, “Brand New Old Me” is muuuuch more radio-friendly than Shawn’s previous works, so if you can’t handle a few R&B-belted hooks from time to time, you may want to stick to the John Robinson/Lewis Parker album, Apollo Brown’s “The Reset” or The Heart & Brain’s “Mbodiment”. Hell, take a listen to the Roots’ “How I Got Over”, they didn’t even bother getting “urbanized” hooks, those are some “alternative” vocals if you ask me?! However, if you know my tastes, you’ll soon learn that I love some smoove-ass vocals over a hard, bass-heavy, drum track, cats was even doin’ it in the mid-’90s with stellar results. You ever heard “Rik’s Joint” by the Beatnuts (on that note, wait till you hear the Blue Scholars’/Beatnuts blend on the new B-House mixtape dropping TOMORROW!!)? Ok, enough justification of the sultry hooks that can be found often on “Brand New Old Me”. I’ll admit, I’ve listened to this album at least half a dozen times since Dart sent me the advance, and it did take some acclimation. The Astronote-produced title cut which features JimiJames on the hook is my favorite cut from the album, yet it’s a far cry from “Maan Up!”, maybe it has more in common with “Go There..” (both cuts from “First Of All..). Even Shawn’s delivery has changed up a bit as he’s added he’s slowed up his delivery to mesh perfectly with the majority of the album’s mid-tempo production.
What I found most intriguing with “Brand New Old Me” was the production line-up that is showcased on the album. It’s good to see the LabTechs’ extended fam, Astronote (who’s responsible for the production on one of my favorite tracks EVER, Now On’s “All You Ever Knew”) receiving a well deserved opportunity on this album, as his workings can be found on the album twice. There’s also four appearances from Russia’s very own, Beat Maker Beat, which is very surprising being that his name truly began to circulate in blogosphere with the release of his recently released beat tape “Blue Magic” (Draft). Shawn even pushes the boundaries, with the inclusion of Snowman Jack a.k.a. Jordan Rockswell (who also handled a track on Shawn’s debut) and Knxledge, who’s production isn’t categorized necessarily as “Hip Hop” as often as it is electronica. You know what? That is only a small dose of what makes this album so damn refreshing, and the fact that it’s gonna’ drop in the middle of Summer only improves Shawn’s chances of moving some units with “Brand New Old Me”. You’ll also recognize the production of Ro Blvd. (see his workings with U-N-I), Cook Classics and Beatnick & K-Salaam, all of whom have made quite a name for themselves over the last two years with production that can be found on releases from that range from Lil Wayne to Sean Price to Pac Div.
“Brand New Old Me” is an appropriate title for the album as the album is highlighted with the increasingly popularization of electronic instrumentation, a noticeable difference from the traditional boom-bap that fueled the New Jack Hustle release as well as Shawn’s debut. Shawn has also kept in touch with the ever-changing spectrum of Hip Hop as shown with his beat selection and the producers who he’s collaborated with on this outing, yet he still remains true to the underground in doing so. Lyrically, his growth is quite evident, he may be rapping about different themes and subject matter, yet he’s done so competently without “selling out” as his personality shines through on virtually every cut that’s inclusive on “Brand New Old Me”. With a silky smooth, effortless, buttery flow dancing with the usual braggadocio, Shawn will win you ever with his clever metaphors and one-liners. Guest appearances from fellow Left Coast residents U-N-I (Thurzday) and Co$$ are also sprinkled into the mix, which offers up a nice family vibe of three emcees pursuing the same common goal: keep it underground, without crossing over.
One of my favorite underground, over-looked emcees, Shawn Jackson gives a brief look into his past, yet he’s remained open-minded and optimistic of his future. Thinking outside of the box with a change of direction in his lyrics and production, “Brand New Old Me” could have just as easily been a complete disaster. Thankfully for Shawn and the listener, it’s anything but as he easily matches the quality of the product found on his debut with a solid if not stellar second outing.