White Van Music Review

White Van Music
Jake One
, 2008
Rhymesayers Records
Running Time: 66:25
4 out of 5 stars

 “Are you on dope?”
“What kind?”
“Musical dope.”
“You get high?”
“Offa what?”

This is the exchange that opens hip-hop producer Jake One’s debut solo album (all while jazz pianos, soul singers and drum machines clash and swirl in the background), and after listening, it’s clear he’s not exaggerating. The veteran producer (who’s worked with everyone from mainstream artists like 50 Cent to hipster acts like MF Doom) has finally released his own album, and an exuberant love for music is all over it. In the first twenty seconds, he mixes no less than four different musical traditions, and he builds from there throughout the rest of the album. His instruments of choice may be turntables and samplers, but Jake One is clearly an artist who simply loves music—loves the idea of music—and wants to share that love with the world.

This is love makes itself known throughout the album, even if Jake One is working within a distinctly hip-hop idiom. He’s not afraid to include pianos, guitars and even horns in the mix, even if they’re generally digitized and share the stage with his samples. (Then again, a lot of the samples he employs are some distance from what’s generally considered “urban”—for instance, the sped-up quote from Larry the Cable Guy that functions as the hook for “Get ‘Er Done,” which features emceeing by MF Doom.) At times, he even employs string orchestras, like on “The Truth,” which features Freeway and Brother Ali.
In terms of subject matter, the album is all over the map, as you might expect for an opus that features a different emcee on nearly every track (with the exception of MF Doom, who actually shows up on two cuts). We have everything from deep meditations on God, man, and death (“God Like,” which features D. Black) and unintentionally silly gangsta aggression (Kissin’ the Curb,” featuring Bishop Lamont and Busta Rhymes). We even have a number from Casual entitled “Feelin’ My Sh—,” which, bizarrely, mostly lists a number of hip-hop artists can, um, feel his sh—. (I assume it’s just an expression, but I’m not going be bothered to look it up.)
There are really only two small criticisms that can be leveled against an album as good as this. One is that it just has too many tracks (a problem that has always plagued the genre). It’s not that any of the cuts are bad (although “Soil Raps” featuring Keak Da Sneak comes close—mainly due to the Sneak’s divisively raspy voice)—quite the opposite, actually—but the fact is, that after fifteen tracks of it (the album has twenty-two), it all starts to sound the same, even if it’s not. (This is likely not a problem for most, since most copies of the album that are sold will end up ripped into iTunes and shuffled along with everything else.)
The second issue is slightly weightier, and that’s that Jake insists on having a collaborator on every single song. There are eighteen actual songs on the album, and each one features at least one emcee (some have as many as three). Few of them deliver embarrassing performances, but you have to wonder: if this is Jake’s album, why doesn’t he perform solo on at least one or two songs? His production is indisputably excellent, but when every song features pervasive rapping, it necessarily takes a backseat. It would have been nice to see what Jake can do on his own. The four skits show off a bit of this (in addition to poking a little fun at hip-hop braggadocio), but it would have been nice to see it in a full song.
Those two issues aside, Jake One has put together a solid set of songs here, and I’m definitely on board for whatever he does next. With its catchy raps and early fall release date, White Van Music feels tailor-made for play at frat parties. That’s not exactly high praise, but the good news is that it’s one of the smartest things you’re likely to hear at one this year.