J57, Koncept and their sadly unheralded (and extremely prolific) crew of collaborators, Brown Bag All-Stars have mainstays on this site as I’ve written about J57, Koncept and several other members of crew throughout the years. And if you’ve been frequenting JOVM over the years, you’d likely be extremely familiar with the two most frequent collaborators within the Brown Bag All-Stars; however, I do know that there’s almost someone new to either the artists I’m writing about or to the site, so some backstory will be necessary. So here we go . .
Over the last couple of years, the Long Island-born, Brooklyn-based DJ, producer and emcee J57 has received attention and critical praise for a production style that channels the sound of hip-hop’s golden age — i.e., big, boom bap beats, heavy synth-based orchestration paired with ridiculously tight, catchy hooks. And as a result of being mentored by the legendary DJ Premier, the Brooklyn-based producer, DJ and emcee has assisted Premier on production work with the likes of Nas, Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith. Those contributions have led to collaborations with Joey Bada$$, Action Bronson, Method Man, Raekwon, Mack Wilds, The Roots and others; in fact, if you’ve been frequenting JOVM over the past few months, you’d likely remember that J57 produced “The Purple Tape” off Method Man’s recently released The Meth Lab.
J57’s most frequent collaborator Koncept has been one of the more productive, prolific and consistent contemporary emcees out there as he’s released a number of impressive singles and EPs, including one of my favorite EPs, More Than Meets The Eye with Tranzformer. Koncept and J57 have teamed up yet again for The Fuel EP, which is slated for release later this year.
EP title track “The Fuel” has Koncept dexterously rhyming about having the desire and determination to succeed in even the most difficult of situations, including desperate, hand-to-mouth poverty, working soul-crushing jobs with your dignity and sense of self intact. And he does so over a soulful production that features soaring organ chords, Akie Bermiss’s earnest vocals, and boom-bap drums. It’s conscious and thoughtful hip-hop based around deeply personal experiences and hard-fought wisdom — and it clearly draws from hip-hop’s glory days, when a song like “The Fuel” would dominate even mainstream radio. But no worry, real hip-hop featuring emcees actually saying something important over dope production is still alive and well; sadly, we all have to make more of a concerted effort to find it and support it.
The recently released official video follows a man, who finds himself in incredibly difficult and desperate circumstances — the sort that some of us have found ourselves in at some point, and that many of us can recognize could easily happen to us. The video’s protagonist is a single father of a couple of young boys, who’s struggling to support himself and his boys on a meager job until he’s unceremoniously dismissed during a work shift. The rent is overdue, he’s struggling to keep the lights on and food on the table and when he gets laid off there’s a familiar look on his face — first it’s the recognition that for some people, nothing ever seems to go right and it quickly morphs into how am I going to feed my kids and myself, pay my rent, keep the lights on and look for a job — with no money, no support and no one to turn to? Perhaps feeling like a shameful fuck up, he uses the little bit of cash to pay for equally meager provisions and devises an absolutely desperate plan for money that will irrevocably change his life.
Certainly, the video suggests several things — the first being something that should be obvious to most of us: in an uncertain economic climate, you can easily find yourself in desperate and untenable circumstances with seemingly no way out. But perhaps more important, it subtly suggests that desperate people will resort to desperate measures and it humanizes that plight by asking the viewer, one key question: “if you had two little ones to feed and no one way to feed them, what would you do?”