(Self-released, digital & physical)
Windsor rapper Jarv got his start with the Maiden Voyage crew and has since built an undeniable and uncompromising solo career. His latest LP, The Amalgam, marks his fifth record and something of a turning point, too. It is his leanest, cleanest and dopest project to date.
True to Jarv’s earlier work, this album has a warm, home-studio demo sound, reminiscent of classic Edan or Del the Funky Homosapien tapes. Yet it’s also highly polished and meticulously recorded and mixed. Thanks to the expert mastering work of Rick Essig, even the grittiest of tracks here shine.
In fact, this is one of the most consistent 802 rap albums I’ve ever heard. From up-tempo bangers to luxuriantly soulful slow jams, Jarv tailors a very specific brand of ’90s throwback listening experience. The Amalgam is packed full of careful details, and all of them work.
That’s impressive, because the album is almost entirely a one-man show. Jarv’s mic skills tend to obscure the fact he’s also one of the very best boom-bap producers Vermont has ever seen, summoning dusty, funky, timeless beats. He’s also his own DJ these days, and his deft scratch work adds some serious flavor to the mix.
There are only two features on tap here: Boston underground legend Mr. Lif joins Jarv for “True Love,” and Los Angeles’ MC Wax assists on the blistering microphone workout “Preschool.” Neither of these artists phones in a token 16 bars; each pours their heart into genuine collaborations, a clear sign of mutual respect.
Although Jarv is an earnest hip-hop purist, his style is admirably diverse, drawing on A Tribe Called Quest and Fu-Schnickens and saturated in both Native Tongues and Heiroglyphics. He truly loves the genre. As he puts it on “Style,” “I’m not a fast rapper, I’m an MC who can rap fast.” His speedball antics are no gimmick. Even his densest bars are packed with brilliant wordplay, smart storytelling and more than a few hard-won life lessons.
That maturity aside, what really separates The Amalgam from Jarv’s previous work are the hooks. He has nailed a formula for crafting catchy refrains without breaking character, and it amplifies the staying power of these songs.
After years of touring, he’s also self-aware of his role in the genre. “I’ll never sell a million records, and I’m fine with it,” he raps on “Eclectic Slide.” Although I have to wonder whether it will never hit a million, considering that this album racked up more than 100,000 Spotify plays in the first three days after it dropped.
Just because the major-label machine is pushing drugged-out emo EDM bullshit, does that somehow mean that straightforward, dope beats and rhymes are a weird niche now? Absolutely not. Great rap music is a formula that has survived passing fads for decades. Anyone who loves it needs to get hold of The Amalgam, immediately.
The Amalgam is available at jarvmakesmusic.bandcamp.com.