ALBUM REVIEW: Joyner Lucas – (508) 507 2209 / (2017)

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Plenty of rappers are assholes. But most of them are pantomime assholes – overblown, played up characters that we love to hate, carefully curated by shrewd artists to generate a cult of personality and media attention. Here’s looking at you, Kanye. Very few of them, though, are assholes like Joyner Lucas – unreliable, unavailable and often downright unpleasant, making ends meet in whatever way possible.

(507) 508 2209 is the man’s debut album/mixtape, and it begins with a voicemail message from his girlfriend, asking where he is and why he isn’t answering her calls. The message cuts out, and Joyner responds with the album’s first verse, a nasty and belittling reply – “I don’t think you know just what you done to me / I think you should know that you are under me”.

As an opening gambit, it’s a pretty tough pill to swallow. Lucas dares us to hate him in this first song and throughout much of (507), but it soon becomes clear why. This is an album as self-effacing as it is insulting, one which finds Lucas lashing out at those around him as often as he does at himself. It comes from a man who has made some genuinely terrible life decisions, but it set on righting them by exposing them in his music.

(507) 508 2209 is interspersed with revealing voicemail messages – one left by a friend Lucas stole from, one by the mother of his child who he hasn’t seen in days, one from a drug dealer who he owes money – and they often inform the topic of the song which follows them. They lend structure to the album, as well as a stripped down, gritty quality. This is not an album that trades in rap fantasy, but in addiction, depression and compromise.

Joyner’s flows, by contrast, are rampant with energy. On early highlights like ‘FYM’ and ‘Winter Blues’ he switches his delivery up constantly, while ‘Keep it 100’ demonstrates his ability with storytelling. It narrates the journey of a single $100 bill as it passes through the hands of strippers, pastors, and criminals, highlighting how poverty has trapped each one in a vicious fight for survival.

Unfortunately, many of the conceptual and lyrical intricacies of this track are missing for large portions of (507). The record is 83 minutes long, and while it starts and ends strongly, there are many tracks in the middle which play by-the-numbers trap rap and fail to impress. And then there’s the track ‘Literally’, which finds Lucas spitting call-and-response verses with his own penis, before hilariously cutting it off in the second half. Perhaps we didn’t need a conceptual song like that…

Lucas is a rapper who could certainly do with some work in the editing department, but he has more than enough talent on show in (507) 508 2209 to make him an exciting upcoming prospect. He has a great voice, fantastic delivery, and a sense for how to put a conceptual record together. If he can connect with some producers who will stand out a bit more from the trap crowd, he could be on to something very special indeed.

6.9/10

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