n another life, James Joliff and Erin Garcia would be music critics. They’d relish the classics and praise the newcomers. They’d sit around their overpriced, undersized apartment, drinking Bombay Sapphire, searching message boards for rare Dylan recordings, and arguing the merits of Illmatic vs. It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. They’d have highbrow musical aspirations that wouldn’t ever come to fruition. In reality, though? They’re something much cooler: this musical odd-couple is the L.A. hip-hop duo Brother Reade.
Riding a combination of educated, referential flows and smooth, old-school beats, Brother Reade’s debut Rap Music succeeds where so many similar albums have failed: they openly cop the music of old, without sounding recycled or unoriginal, concurrently creating an homage while adding something new to the hip-hop discussion.
All too often, emcees will bank on iconic artists for fifteen of their sixteen bars, and call it their own. Jimmy Jamz, the lyrical half of Brother Reade, walks this line frequently on Rap Music but understands its boundaries. When he spits, “Jamz and Bobby, we like to party / We don’t cause trouble, we don’t bother nobody” on the dance-floor jam “About That Rock,” he makes it his own by speeding up Snoop’s weed-ridden flow and quickly moving on, rather than harping on the line and hoping you’ll get the reference.
Jamz’s often campy but always tight rhymes make the album instantly enjoyable. On “Life Ain’t Easy for Y’all,” he skirts the stereotypical life’s-hard-in-the-streets model and opts for a more relatable approach, “This is for the strippers and the fans of the Clippers / ‘Cause life ain’t easy for y’all.” Jamz knows he’s not just a gimmick rapper though. On “Man of Steel” he flows, “I am the first cell, the beginning of life / The urge that told Adam he should sin with his wife”—a healthy dose of cocky swagger that if absent would make Jamz’s lines dismissible, not to mention a lyrically proficient and referential masterpiece (note the sonic resemblance of Adam to atom in relation to being the “first cell”).
Even given the excellent lyricism throughout Rap Music, Jamz’s counterpart Bobby Evans makes the album with his production flourishes. He has seemingly limitless range, spanning from the funk keyboards of “Like Duh” to the aforementioned, epic and cinematic “Man of Steel.” (If ever there is a song to be played standing in front of a fire-blazed battlefield, bloodied and facing imminent death, it’s “Man of Steel.”) He even ventures into more electronic, minimal beats with the eerie bells of “Stop, Drop” and bubbling hum of “The Marcie Song.”
Without any immediately explosive singles, Rap Music won’t be much of a commercial success. Even so, Brother Reade might just be the great group indie-rap has been unable to produce for nearly a decade. Lucky for us, they’re not just sitting around, drinking cheap gin in a cramped apartment, writing about rap music, eh?