The Pittsburgh hip-hop scene may not be the biggest in America, or have the highest profile. Even in the Northeast, the notoriety of the city’ s hip-hop culture has surrounded mostly Girl Talk , Boaz, and Wiz Khalifa, but not many others. Local MC Jack Wilson recently said to me that while Pittsburgh may be a more difficult city to gain exposure than say a Philadelphia or D.C., it still remains a great place to hone one’s skills.
Ayatollah Jaxx is a testament to that philosophy and has absolutely no problem preaching from the pulpit of Steel City Hip-Hop to get his point across. Hello Hip-Hop, A-Jaxx’s latest proper and very anticipated release, is basically a greatest hits reel of his favorite yet studiously curated tastes, breathing new life into classic lyrical tropes and production techniques that would seem stale in a less capable mc’s hands.
First off, any debate about A-Jaxx’s ability begins and ends with “Nothing Like You Ever Heard,” an unabashed party starter bumping with Chim Beats’ classic east coast-summer on the block beats. Jaxx doesn’t take a vacation though, spinning through verse after verse of rep boasting magnanimity while managing to lace in quick comments about his race in relation to his rap persona (“the international asshole/trying to figure out my race like it affects how my rap flow”) that suddenly grounds his larger-than-life claims in self-deprecating insecurity.
Jaxx doesn’t shy away from his immediate influences either, which show up in a succession of tracks that sequence extremely well: a Biggie-style, playboy’s lament in “Bitter Sweet,” the venomous, Nas-like dis track “Wha Gwan!?”, and a Tribe-era nostalgic look back to the early days complete with jazz-lounge guitar sample in “Coming of Age.”
“This is for the Radio Feat. Jasiri X” provides the high point of the homages, exploding onto the mix with aggressive, Bomb Squad beats and a rallying cry for the local scene to take over the dance-heavy radio programming (R.I.P. WAMO) by any means necessary. Jaxx is on fire, doing his best Chuck D impression that’s realized more in spirit than actual execution, but gets the militant call to action down pat (“Roll to every station/murder the DJ”). Jasiri X’s guest spot gradually gains steam before dropping this bomb: “the whole worlds going to flame, and we talkin, about T-pain, Chain or whose Lil’ Wayne tossin’/….in the burgh we lost our only black station in the market/that’s what happens when you don’t support local artists.”
Last but not least, two slightly more experimental tracks slip in to give Hello Hip-Hop a little nudge toward the future. “Shoe Horn” is a 1:25 ecstasy burst that showcases Chin Beats’ unexpected ability to merge disco grooves with Jaxx’s excited flow, burning twice as bright for half as long. “Aint’ it True Feat. Unlearn” has the sonic landscape of a schizophrenic mind, starting off like a distorted psych-out before slipping into classic, Curtis Mayfield soul territory. As Unlearn’s verse begins, the track then makes a hard right into a walloping drum hit of a beat, kissed slightly by the wah-wah guitar and sultry vocals.
All in all, Hello Hip-Hop set’s the bar for Steel City’s hip-hop in 2010. As rambling and excited as my review may have been, the fact remains, ten years into the game and Ayatollah Jaxx still makes a case for Pittsburgh’s most formidable MC.