It’s an instantly recognizable two-note sequence. It ascends from the song’s dominant key to the song’s minor third, every time, without variation. It’s less of an announcement and more of an affirmation, pitch shifted and adjusted to tempo but never wavering in its laid-back assurance of ownership and high quality. It’s a siren song that draws wallflowers onto the dance floor within seconds of hearing it, without fail.
The Rich Gang tag is all over J-Soul’s new EP, Jane 2 Miami, and why shouldn’t it be? J-Soul isn’t shy about being Cash Money Records’s most recent signee. After being plucked by Rich Gang/Cash Money ringleader Birdman straight out of Toronto and transplanted into Miami, J-Soul’s official debut takes equal influence from both hotbeds of R&B crossover hitmakers and comes out the better for it.
Cash Money Records is one of the most endlessly fascinating labels of all time. Whether it’s the genius of perennially hand-rubbing Birdman or some other executive, Cash Money makes wild decisions that somehow always work out in its favor. The label signed Lil Wayne in 1995(!!!) and signed Limp Bizkit in 2012(!!!). It has released eternal classics like Juvenile’s “Back that Azz Up” and one-off mega-hits like Kevin Rudolf’s country-EDM-rap embarrassment “Let it Rock”. Despite the ever-present drama surrounding Birdman and his various feuds with his signees, Cash Money manages to somehow keep winning.
Continuing this trend, J-Soul’s new EP partially serves as proof of concept for the label, demonstrating both the potential of their new signee and how smoothly he fits in with the roster and sound of Cash Money in 2016. One of J-Soul’s best assets is his self-awareness. He knows he’s part of the the wave of success that picks up anything within two degrees of Drake, and by framing his struggle-rap within the context of his sudden signing, the EP takes on irresistibly optimistic overtones.
“Last year I was sleeping outside…Birdman hit me on the FaceTime and said J-Soul it’s your time” he sing-raps on the self-titled opening track, a mid-tempo sway that includes a subtle sample of Biggie’s “Big Poppa”. His mix of struggle rap and party rap works to great effect on the EP highlight “Mula”. On a sparse beat built on a wonky synth arpeggio, he shows off his knack for one-liners like “I Uber to my Uber just to show you that I’m flexing.”
Lacking an elastic vocal delivery along the lines of fellow Rich Gang member Young Thug, J-Soul’s melodic verses follow the template of more relatable hit-makers, like Rae Sremmurd’s Swae Lee. His music is refreshingly free of the layers of hazy echo that have become incredibly overused in crossover R&B niche in this post-The Weeknd world.
Non-album single “Toronto Plaza Hotel” is by far J-Soul’s darkest moment, and the most revealing of his personality. Recorded and originally released before his signing, it reveals a range mostly absent from the hook-oriented EP. Lyrics like “Hospital trips after hospital trips / It feels like my brains / Bleeding and overheating” convey a sense of genuine and terrifying hopelessness that provides context for the hard-times stories merely touched upon in Jane 2 Miami. J-Soul’s past that part of his life now, but “Toronto Plaza Hotel” hints that his future projects could take a turn away from Miami’s clubs and back to his less sunny days living on Canadian streets.
Unfortunately, along with the best of the Toronto and Miami waves, J-Soul also takes influence from the worst parts of both (it’d all be best if we pretended the embarrassing fake Jamaican patois of “Miami Interlude” never happened). J-Soul’s second non-album single, “Slow Wine,” borrows from dancehall in a less blatant and much more successful way, serving up a souped-up improvement on the framework of Drake’s hip-rocking summer hit “One Dance”.
It’s been clear since his signing that that J-Soul is next in line for the spotlight. After his promising debut, it’s clear he’s got the chops to thrive in it.