"I grew up on the chill side, the no-big-deal side, where staying alive was no problem," self-professed "purveyor of fine lines" J-Live raps on The Hear After's "The Sidewalks," cleverly riffing on and subverting the urban-jungle mythologizing of early Wu-Tang Clan and hip-hop's fetishization of poverty and despair. A rapper so wholesome even Bill Cosby would consider him worthy of a pudding pop, J-Live raps about an everyday struggle that has little to do with guns or gangs, and everything to do with going to school, raising kids, and trying to be a stellar citizen of both hip-hop and the community. To paraphrase Blood Of Abraham, he's an ordinary guy with an extraordinary mind and skills to match, but his career has been one long battle upstream against industry politics and the prevailing currents of mainstream hip-hop.
J-Live continues the good fight on The Hear After, delivering the genre he loves another bracing reality check while attempting to make hip-hop safe for parents, teachers, and concerned citizens the world over. On "Brooklyn Public Pt. 1," he wearily offers a black-comic character study of a public school with too few textbooks, teachers, and classrooms, and too many used condoms and puddles of piss. J-Live's gift for incisive sociopolitical analysis gets another workout on "Weather The Storm," where he cleverly flips A Tribe Called Quest's "Award Tour" and raps "We on a war tour against Mohammed, my man, with a Constitution, Bible, and a gat in his hands" before bitterly denouncing a war where "poor man's hands fire rich man's triggers." The Hear After could use more of that song's political urgency, though considering J-Live's luck getting albums released promptly, it's easy to see why he'd want his music to be timeless. The Hear After doesn't boast as many sublime highlights as J-Live's first two albums (The Best Part and All Of The Above), but it does have a low-key, ingratiating, conversational charm. Gangsta rappers might like to think of their songs as dispatches from war zones, but The Hear After is more like a nice conversation with an old friend following a long separation. On the album-closing track, J-Live raps about the difficulties of juggling parenthood and touring, and he looks at the bigger picture, providing a serviceable (though self-serving) way of putting Hear After into context as another solid effort in what promises to be a long and rewarding career.