I’ve been a strong supporter of Bronx rapper John J the Wolf since I reviewed his “Still Howling” album, followed by “The One You Feed”. And I can truly say that his latest album release “Pain to Power” is his best, most accessible piece of work (album wise) hands down. I’m talking excellent beat selection, excellent radio ready songs, excellent features, and excellent lyrical content. The overall product shows how much John J keeps refining his craft at every turn. This album is exactly what’s missing in this current era, as there are only a select few who can do it and John J the Wolf is without question one of them.
It almost hurt my feelings to see the 8 track listing. I found myself starving for more when I was nearing the end of the album. It’s a crime that this man isn’t mentioned in every rap discussion. I’d put him up against anyone, with his overall package. Singer Breana Marin grabs the lion’s share of the action as she is featured on 3 tracks, while Shauna Cardwell and Emily Coy share one track a piece. All three artists are brilliantly melodic and soulful, bringing superb ear-catching and soul-stirring hooks to John J’s impressive narratives.
John J has dropped another jewel with “Pain to Power”, where he totally speaks his mind, spitting his raw, real and perceptive lyrics with a philosophical and spiritual twist. On his newest album, John J seems to be hungrier than ever and is out to remind hip-hop of his abilities.
While John J has always remained unapologetically himself, on “Pain to Power” he seems more focused and confident with himself than ever before. With the sharp production and sublime female features, John J’s lyrical complexities are given the perfect supporting soundscape, always supplementing him and never detracting from the focal point: John J’s thoughts.
Right from the start, with tracks like “Take me” Ft Breana Marin and “Goodbye world”, John J is in peak lyrical form, displaying the wit and ferocity that he has always shown throughout his entire collection, but as it’s always been with this rapper, that’s only half of the picture.
John J’s emotional honesty and vulnerability have always been a strong suit, and a key point with which his fans can relate, and “Pain to Power” is no different. The suicidal “Goodbye world” is a prime example of that vulnerability.
On “Stronger” Ft Shauna Cardwell and “Weight” Ft Breana Marin, John J manages to compile all of the aspects that makes him a great artist, as he reminds us that he’s an emcee first and foremost, yet perfectly capable of delivering quality music, as well as stirring the pot when needed. “Day will come” Ft Breana Marin is purposeful, poignant, and revelatory. Hip-hop is easily accessible, but often not for the right reasons.
The genre is at times victim of lack of variation, but that doesn’t happen here. The album also has grit and dirt to it, with a tonality that usually defines hip-hop artists from one another. You get a sense of that diversity on “With every step”, before John J slides into the stirring album closer “Fooled again” ft Emily Coy. “Pain to Power” is already looking likely to rank among the best of the year, and a highlight within John J’s own discography. It’s a masterpiece of an album, reminding us that there are some truly amazing underground artists out there.