Natural Selection: 4th Avenue Jones

This is my first foray into music reviews since back when I was doing it on, so it’s somewhat appropriate that I jump back into it with a review of a crew I’ve got some history with, the fearless crew known as 4th Avenue Jones‘ (pronounced ‘joneses’).

The crew got their start as one of the original hip-hop bands, garnering critical acclaim through a series of live shows. They were signed to a major label (Interscope Records), but their 2002 album No Plan B Pt. II, was shelved after an industry shakeup. Now with Gotee Records, they’ve got the freedom to be who they are, a genre-bending conflagration explained in the title of their latest album Stereo: The Evolution of HipRockSoul.

The strength of Stereo lies not just in its diversity of style, but in its continuity of style. Ever since Run DMC and Aerosmith teamed up with “Walk This Way,” bands have tried to combine rock and rap music, with varying degrees of succees. But with the Joneses, it’s not just a gimmick, it’s a way of life. Their leader, Ahmad, has always dropped rap flows with a mellifluous tenor tone, so as he transitions into actual singing, it’s just an extension of what he’s always done. And the second vocalist/emcee of the group, Tena Jones, complements Ahmad’s laid-back demeanor on wax just as naturally as she does in real life, being of course, his wife and the mother of their child.

As such, the Joneses have a unique lyrical voice. Their mix of raw emotional honesty with deep convictions is undergirded with the requisite headstrong bravado and rhythmic dexterity evident in any hip-hop crew worth its salt. Tracks like, “Stereo” a serenade about a boombox, contrast well with more serious songs like “Overloaded” and “Sorry,” which speak of emotional fatigue and conflict. By the time you hit the Avila Brothers club jam “It’s Over Now,” you’re amazed by the variety apparent.

Of course, appreciating all of the nuances of the 4th Avenue Jones vibe requires several passes. Because upon first listen, you might not really appreciate the sonic stylings of Gailybird, the illest violinist this side of Japan’s Midori. You might not understand the significance of Timmy Shakes, rock guitarist extraordinaire, claiming such a strong voice in production and composition of a band known primarily for hip-hop. You might not necessarily be able to break down how Phat Al and D. Calloway can move with the lockstep precision that such tight grooves require.

But you won’t need to — you can just crank it up and soak it all in.

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