You know there’s something serious wrong with the world when rappers like Drake are household names in Hip-Hop and the exceptionally talented Johnny 3 Rounds has barely even been heard of. That’s the dividing line between fame and respect I suppose, and while it may bother this passionate Hip-Hop listener at times, it only seems to give incentive to the Jersey emcee to attack the mic for the sake of his own survival.
J3R took to Hip-Hop around the age of fifteen, writing and composing songs that even managed to catch the eye of popular record label Universal Records. After a deal fell through, he began performing locally and developed quite a reputation for himself for his ferocious style of emceeing — most notably on the independent radio Turntableizm Show alongside DJ Brown 13, Dee shot and WrekRoom Muzik.
Following on from last year’s impressive collaboration with Brown comes J3R’s debut album Jersey State Of Grind (a nod to Nas’ ‘NY State Of Mind’ and Illmatic). This is much more than just an ensemble of battle raps, though; Johnny more than proves he’s capable of exercising his ferocity to tap into his own personal experiences, as well as wider socio-political issues.
‘Aim For Da Bleachers’ is a particular standout in that it sees J3R putting forward his self-reliant ambitions with some impressive lyric writing: “Tryin’ to make my dreams a god-damn reality/ If that don’t work/ Fuck it/ I’ll push for Anarchy”. The passion and frustration sensed in J3R’s delivery only serve to make his words all the more convincing; and there’s even a tribute to the Egyptian revolutionaries of 2011 thrown in for good measure: “Shout-out to Egypt/ Maybe we’ll do it one day”.
‘The Antidote’ outlines the oppression of the government and the rich elite, with a fair amount of underlying scepticism expressed towards those in power. ‘The Hold Up’ is a strictly personal number, featuring some dark, snare-heavy production from 3 Rounds himself; the artist shows no remorse for his opponents, confidently stating his purpose as an underground emcee and his hunger for respect in the game.
This is a well-rounded effort from 3 Rounds that I’m pleased to say justifies the hype generated from his Turntableizm Show appearances and collaborations with other artists. The boom-bap production courtesy of Wrekroom and DJ Brown is also a solid accompaniment to the lyricism throughout; as a personal preference, I would’ve liked to have heard more cuts, but the strength of J3R’s hook-writing overcomes the thought of this being a necessity.
Anyone who heard the 3 Rounds/DJ Brown collaborative banger ‘Stick To Da Script’ from the F.A.T. EP earlier this year will be happy to know that track is included here as well. The guest spots on this record are limited, but this only makes them all the more impressive when they are filled: Black Irish features on the tenebrous ‘Hungry Ass Hooligans’; while Tommy Toe Tag and Debut flip rhymes back and forth with 3 Rounds impressively on ‘Hustle Hard’.
Jersey State Of Grind is a strictly underground record, an expression of the hunger and frustration of many Hip-Hop heads going about their business, without the eye of the commercial world upon them. But cats like Johnny 3 Rounds don’t whine about the unjustified recognition of less-talented artists in the mainstream — he just gets on with it, even managing to throw some light-hearted humour into the mix to get his point across: “If I were Ja Rule/ I’d beat your biting ass on purpose.” Nice one.