Ricky Canady aka Born Free and Lanz Johnson aka JMeance are childhood friends that have been into hip hop from the age of 12. The two always knew that they would become rappers, even though the environment that they lived in was filled with drugs and guns and they were influenced by gangs which eventually landed them in jail. Now, many years later, after having given up the street life, their childhood dreams are coming true. Born Free and JMeance have formed the group War Zone – in which the name reflects their difficult past. The two are busy pushing their single, “Tru & Livin”.
In the days of Auto tune, and singing hip hop. Today’s artists have forgotten about what hip hop is really is. Today the genre is dumbed down, too simple, and single minded, except in a minor number of releases that still bring flavors of authentic old school spitting.
There is little here for anyone to dislike here. “Tru & Livin” is a gem – focused, sharp, lyrically bedazzling, musically rich yet easy-on-the-ear, clever but never indulgently showboating. The emcees’ effortless, effervescent flows ring with a joie de vivre all but absent in today’s lazy, formulaic mainstream hip hop.
The production is handled with a similarly creative touch, the deep knowledge of colors in the beat-maker’s palette is carried subtly, and nothing is deployed in a way that suggests we are supposed to be impressed by the scholarship rather than wowed by the tune.
In the current musical climate of mumble rap, Born Free and JMeance sound like a magical and powerfully emotive combination of vocal dexterity and musical inspiration. In fact, the emotional investment is clear and unmistakable, and it’s the secret sauce that fuels this masterpiece.
War Zone upends modern convention and subverts the clichés with an approach that still delights with its euphoria-inducing embrace of the joy of doing something different. The track floats, an ethereal drift of mood expressed as rhyme, texture and rhythm.
What makes the song so powerful, the aspect of it that gives it that sense of other-worldliness and of meaning, is the way it intuitively understands and respects the many different contexts in which it exists.
“Tru & Livin” is a case-study in how technique can, when carried out by artists working at the height of their powers, add substantially to the work. This is writing and performance that goes beyond poetics.
War Zone have the beat and the microphone skills to carve out their own niche; all they need is the promotion and marketing muscle of a well-placed crew, ready to feed their music into the system.