The latest Joell Ortiz album doesn't disappoint. He still presents us with the lyricism and transparency we've come to expect from him.
Joell Ortiz changed this album’s title from Yaowa, basically because this is him at his most comfortable. In Hip Hop, getting too comfortable can sometimes lead to a decline in effort due to loss of hunger. Anyone familiar with Joell Ortiz would probably find it hard to imagine him not putting effort into a project, comfortable or not. Joell is always known for remarkable lyricism and authenticity.
Joell starts his album off with the titular first single “House Slippers”, giving listeners the comfortable feel he had while recording the album. Illmind’s production is smooth and Joell’s flow isn’t too overpowering for it. Joell enjoys discussing his past struggles with record labels, and this track is no exception to the rule. Being where he is now is a good enough reason to acknowledge how far he’s come, especially on a song that exemplifies the comfortable state of mind he has recently achieved.
We’re taken out of that comfort zone and dropped on the block with “Cold World”, detailing the consequences of the kind of life Joell used to live. Apparently you end up dead or looking over your shoulder. The song has gritty feeling verses and Heatmakerz production juxtaposed with a smooth sounding hook. It sounds like Joell and Lee Carr took a page out of Joe Budden and Emmany’s book. The song is great, but it sounds like this track should have switched positions with the one that follows it. “Dream On” brings Illmind’s production back and has a much smoother feel which could have made for an easier transition from putting on house slippers to getting robbed and shot. A song about living a dangerous life could also be followed well by a single about how music saved Joell from being stuck in such a lifestyle.
The album’s next single “Music Saved My Life” brings Joell back to describing his past as he often does, this time from childhood. The song doesn’t have any lyrical gems on it, but it’s a reminder that Joell Ortiz can do more than just write bars and is capable of making complete songs. It seems a bit odd to have the southern MC B.o.B. on an album that otherwise seems so New York centered, but Bobby Ray does a nice job.
One of the best songs on the album is “Brother’s Keeper”, although it doesn’t have the feeling we often get from Slaughterhouse tracks, which is that each MC is trying to lyrically best his teammates. This one is more of an acknowledgement of their loyalty to one another. However, the next track “Q&A” gives us the aggressive sounding Joell Ortiz we hear on so many other Slaughterhouse tracks (the same Joell that people seemed to think was gone when they saw the album cover).
Halfway through and the album is great, but “Get Down” doesn’t stand up to the tracks that precede it. There are a couple dope lines, but this song is a weak point on the album. The same goes for “Candy”. It’s catchy, but at this point it’s pretty played out to use a girl as a metaphor. Lines like “Flyest thing on the block, had to bag her up. She look soft but hard body I be cracking up”, “Candy funded all of my early work on the underground”, and “I'm married to a new bitch and shorty know that, but she'll be ready if I go back” point to this being a clear metaphor for his drug dealing. Not only does this glorify drug dealing in a way that completely contradicts his early track “Cold World”, but Joell already has a track on Free Agent called “Cocaine”, on which he personifies cocaine without the corny feel we get here. It’s even more unnecessary when you get “Crack Spot” following it. We don’t need both of these tracks.
Speaking of songs contradicted by “Candy”, another high point of the album is “Say Yes”. This is Joell at his most introspective, but he doesn’t sacrifice a hard flow so he still manages to make a song that is great sonically as well. It helps that it’s one of the better production jobs by The Heatmakerz. Maybe Joell felt the need to lighten things up after this song, because “Better Than” is pretty much him recalling his past again but without the same tone of contrition. Maino comes in with his own account of how his life could have been if he never made it in the rap game. Joell’s verses, paired with Kaydence’s well sung hook, give the song a message that can be summed up by saying “Music saved my life”. Maybe Joell is running out of themes.
Fortunately, when Joell runs out of stories from his own life he still has his fictional story telling ability to fall back on. He shows this talent with his song “Phone”, detailing a bad romance. This song is a great display of storytelling. However, avid Ortiz fans might remember the “he threw his hands around her neck” story element from his song “Stalker” on his mixtape Road Kill. That seems to be an Ortiz motif.
House Slippers is a great album overall. While some themes can get a bit repetitive, Joell Ortiz proves that he hasn’t lost a step when it comes to his ability as an MC. It helps that the production is generally enjoyable as well. No disappointment here.