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One Man's Trash
Artist: JustMe
Label: Illect Recordings
Length: 15 Tracks / 54:10

I'm the antithesis of those who want they bling
And flaunt they things, but I ain't impressed
By ya transportation and your augmented breast.
I'm in a vest, like Safir in Iraq 
Packin' a MAC-10 while under attack.
But I ain't all that, I'm a snivellin' brat 
A white male in America that likes to rap.
Slap me with your stereotype, I can take it 
I'm like a bad actor, man, I can't fake it.
(from "The Song")

I thought I had no idea who JustMe was, but a quick spot of research online revealed that not only do I know who he is, I'm also a big fan of his previous work. Allow me to explain. Back in the early days of this decade, when was the hotspot for all internet music goodness and everyone was still using WinAmp, a Christian hip-hop crew called The SolSeekers took their song "Audience of One" to the top of the site's rap charts. Their song beat out mainstream acts like Slikk the Shocker, Master P, Snoop Dogg, and Q-Tip from A Tribe Called Quest for cumulative listens and downloads for a duration of multiple weeks. The group went on to release a string of great tracks on, an album entitled People Watching in 2000, and appear on Sackcloth Fashion's somewhat infamous double-compilation record Fashion Expo in 2001. One of the emcees in SolSeekers went by the name Sage. 

Sometime around the release of their 2003 EP Halfway There, Sage and The SolSeekers combined forces with another well-known and respected group, Future Shock (who released The Art of Xenos shortly thereafter). For a short time, Sage was even a member of West Coast supercrew the Tunnel Rats. During the mid-2000's, Sage and his crews were all over the place on compilations and mixtapes, appearing on the records of friends and fellow artists, and just generally making a lot of good noise. 

It turns out, sometime in the last few years, Sage changed his name to JustMe, went solo, and helped to start up a new supercrew, Scribbling Idiots. So, confusing as it may be, I've shared this brief history lesson for a reason - JustMe isn't a new face in hip-hop, he's just a cat with a new name and a new crew, still churning out the rhymes we all recall so fondly from his days as Sage. If you're skeptical, check out that decade-old SolSeekers track "Audience of One" for a real good time.

Fast forward. I last heard Justme on his combo EP with Sintax.the.Terrific, Merciless, and if you've read the review you'll recall that I was duly impressed with where he's at in his craft now. His interaction with Sintax on that EP gelled nicely and really helped to make it one of the more memorable rap EP's in recent memory, both in terms of sound and content. As you can imagine, I was intrigued as to what his solo record One Man's Trash would offer, as it was released by Illect around the same time in 2006 as Merciless and Sintax's Curb Appeal.

I just realized that it doesn't do me any good 
to be a mad rapper, you can find those in any hood.
Besides, man, if it were to happen to me, 
They could be laughing at me, 
I just happen to be 
The one that's rapping for free, 
Gettin' a bachelor's degree, 
I got a family to feed and I'll be damned if I be
The dad that got selfish and ran with his dream
But man, I'm not helpless; the Lamb's on my team
And I'm glad that I've seen all the madness it brings
When these cats do they thing and the crowds all scream
I can only pray that we planted a seed
Your dreams are only shallow if you quit 'cuz of greed.
(from "Shallow Dreams")

With that as background, here are my thoughts on One Man's Trash. Musically, the whole record has a really jazzy, bluesy, 70's feel to it. The beats are noteworthy for their generous use of lush horns, strings, keys, and some old synths that sound like they were pulled straight out of an old cop-show theme. There's also a good, restrained feel to the beats - they haven't pumped the sound so full of sound that it gets in the way of the raps, and it's seldom that samples comes off annoying or over-used in their songs. One exception would be the gritty, off-tune warble of the guitar in "Just Playin'" - which is one of the weaker tracks on the album, a brief ditty where JustMe sarcastically beats up on deadbeat gamers that choose their Playstations and Xboxes over family or... well... life. There's nothing wrong with the concept, or the need to lampoon such folk, but the execution comes off a little weak and the game  references waver between too cliche (GTA2, Madden), too old (Pacman), and too obscure (Crash Bandicoot) to really qualify as 'hardcore deadbeat gamer trash', even if this record is from 2006.

I wouldn't cite "Just Playin'" as a stereotypical track from the record, though. There's actually a lot of meaningful content to be found - some touching, some heavy. The record starts with "The Song," a great manifesto track that sums JustMe's approach to rap nicely - something that is, in many ways, also summed up in his assumed name. He's "just me," just who he was created to be. This attitude of humility pervades the record, particularly "Latenight Lullaby," which really brings the Family Man vibe, as JustMe raps to his newborn son - musing on the hard work of his wife, the mysteries of growing up, the value of relying on God for strength amidst the long sleepless nights. His aforementioned son is sampled for the track, crying during the first verse and progressively calming and happy by the end of the track. Initially this is grating (crying babies tend to be), but once you understand the progression that takes place during the track, it actually adds to the emotional impact of the song considerably to hear the son "responding" to the father's words and singing. Speaking of singing, One Man's Trash has great, smooth choruses, usually sung by JustMe himself. If there's one thing to say about the choruses, it's that he has a great ear for them - I've caught myself with them stuck in my head numerous time. If there's a dud, it's "Shallow Dreams" - an otherwise great, chill kind of song that is really only held back by the chorus, which comes across a bit too languid and, perhaps, just below JustMe's ideal singing range. 

Another standout track is "Louder Days," marked by some beautiful saxophone sampling that really takes it over the top. The second verse really stuck to me:

Life is a series of obstacles, so many resources as your follicles
It's a jungle out there, but not tropical
And I feel it's my duty to stop the bull.
There's no topical solution for these optical illusions
Some packin' chips, stackin' grips, losin'
'Cuz of the lifestyle that they're choosin'.
Yet they, still swing to knock while I deliver
And while they missing, I stand here and shiver -
Exercising my gift from the Giver,
Instead of despising my ship up the river.
(from "Louder Days")

JustMe is a talented cat, no doubt. His Southern California pedigree in breaking, producing, and particularly emceeing over the last decade-plus really comes through on One Man's Trash. The guests he chose to accompany him on the record (fellow Scribbling Idiots like Cas Metah, Mouth Warren, and Theory Hazit, as well as underground mainstays like Pigeon John and newcomer MotionPlus) all come on point and add nicely to the tracks they are featured on. Nowhere is this more clear than on "Just Raps," which features the entirety of the Future Shock and Scribbling Idiots crews, in all their rap monstrosity - absolutely one of the record's highlights.

Overall, this is a great hip-hop record - there's plenty of memorable beats, noteworthy rhymes, and enough cerebral content to keep you ponderin' long after the record stops. The production is tight, as is arguably the case on all of the records that Illect Recordings has ever pounded out of their camp. If One Man's Trash has a weakness, it's that the qualities it possesses don't always synchronize - as in the earlier example of "Shallow Dreams," where the otherwise great song is held back by its weak chorus. Of course, this is the area where subjectivity reigns - where I find a beat weak, others really dig. Where I find a chorus to be excellent and praiseworthy, others may find it to be a dud, and so on. 

I think the principle remains though - it's difficult to get your verses, your choruses, and your beats to all come together in a "symphony of awesome." Sometimes, JustMe succeeds on One Man's Trash, and that makes it worth the price of admission. For some, they'll find more trash than treasure, but some of what you'll find here is undeniably fresh. The record has been out for a couple years now so there's no way you'd pay more than 10 bucks for it, so my recommendation is to check it.

Trivia: "Low Budget," which features RUSH, Cas Metah, and MotionPlus, has a great guitar sample that is immediately recognizable from Phonetic Composition's song "PC Tools" from the classic record of the same name.

Standout Tracks: Favorite Rapper, Low Budget, To The Toppers, Let Go (Dream Sequence), Louder Days, Just Raps.

Jerry Bolton
April 7th, 2009


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