Joell Ortiz: “Free Agent’’

By Ken Capobianco
March 1, 2011

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“There are so many words running around my brain/ if I don’t put them on tracks I might go insane,’’ this Brooklyn MC spits on this delayed disc (it was retooled after being leaked). Lucky for the hip-hop world, his sanity is fully intact. Joell Ortiz, who is also a member of the gritty indie supergroup Slaughterhouse, which just signed to Eminem’s Shady Records, is a throwback to hip-hop when words mattered and telling stories superseded slick production with silly hooks. The disc is filled with memorable lines and sly rhymes over terse beats. Ortiz is a precise, incisive observer of life in the projects, and while he maintains a stare-down persona, he also demonstrates an empathetic side. “Sing Like Bilal,’’ produced by DJ Premier, combines swagger and wit; but “Call Me (She Said)’’ is a sweet look at young relationships and the kind of song many steel-eyed MCs just can’t pull off. Most of this, though, is filled with muscular couplets about the ways of the street — “One Shot (Killed For Less),’’ “So Hard,’’ — but Ortiz has a sharp sense of narrative and high regard for the meaning and shape of words. The disc is a heady reminder that East Coast hip-hop still has plenty of juice.

ESSENTIAL “Good Man Is Gone’’