Why does Joell Ortiz have to make it so hard for us to wait for a new Slaughterhouse album? Putting out nice albums like his latest, That’s Hip Hop, makes it even harder. You can tell how great he would sound in the group again because his rhyme game is so tight here, and after all, he’s obviously been working on it continuously. The Brooklyn backpack bomber comes off of 2014’s House Slippers and 2015’s Human with Illmind for this very retro, throwback-themed project, and it’s got a lot of hardcore rap cats on it just doing their thing, with production that is true-to-the-pit boom bap. That’s Hip Hop was released Tuesday, March 15 on the record label of the same name.
The album was clearly designed with the pure rap/rhyme addicts in mind. Like a typical Joell Ortiz set, it is not loaded with messages and really only aims towards a social end when Jo describes his urban N.Y.C. milieu and community across a handful of songs, when he tells a woman’s sob story for her in “Precious” and when he tells some of his own war stories of hard times in “Trouble.” Everything else is pretty much a lyrics-fest. Experienced, respected guys like Kool G Rap, Lil Fame and Billy Danze of M.O.P. start that good golden-era fire, and some neo-shine is cast by new jewels like Raven Felix, Chris Rivers and Token, the last of whom has a very double-edged verse in “Kill at Will” – it’s very fast, very nimble and very impressive delivery-wise, but as insane rap mouthpieces tend to do, the search for meaning and message gets lost in his ravishing rapacious technique.
Joell’s well tuned machine-mouth works just fine here, but those offensive, shockingly controversial bits and pieces that all hip-hop heads know, love and look for are few in That’s Hip Hop. Without making striking statements that are anti-status quo or anti-establishment, like he should, he depends on his striking yet easy obscenities and profanities to turn heads. And it was just like this on his last two albums as well. Many of us look to talented and skilled emcees like Joell to spread awareness about the world’s problems, but sadly there’s too little of that in the correct form here. Technically, Joell Ortiz is a beast and so are his features, and the producers have properly and impressively fashioned their beats into that vintage ’90s style of hip-hop production, but if you’re looking for new enlightening messages, you may not want to spend a lot of time on this disc.