It’s impossible to discuss Joyner Lucas’ studio debut ADHD without mentioning the elephant in the room. The infamous rollout. A rollout that has been ongoing since October 2018 when “I Love” first landed. And while Joyner kept a steady influx of new songs in the interim, it became clear that the conceptual nature of his staggered release was running the risk of derailing ADHD’s cohesion. Given the title and thematic subject matter, it could be argued that the choice held artistic merit. Be that as it may, one might counter that a concept should only be pushed so far.
Now that the album has arrived in full, dwelling on the rollout feels like a moot point. Years down the line people will have forgotten all about it, left to contend with the music as presented. Whether or not Joyner wanted listeners to enjoy his album as a linear body of work is difficult to discern, a commentary that in itself incites an interesting discussion on authorial intent. Perhaps that’s a topic best saved for another day.
It was a choice and a brave one to commit to. In honor of Joyner’s piecemeal build-an-album approach, perhaps it’s time to try a similar approach in this review. Breaking things down on a song by song basis.
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Given the introductory skit “Screening Process,” a disturbing tone-setter evocative of Eminem’s “Dr. West,” it feels as if Joyner did attempt to map out a voyage. Themes of ADHD and mental health are well established in what feels like an origin story. In keeping with Joyner’s cinematic flair, the nightmarish qualities are rendered effectively through a creepy script and committed voice acting. A promising start.
In keeping with the “origin story” narrative, “I Lied” certainly signals the darkened state of Joyner’s morality meter. Celebrations of duplicity are rendered triumphantly over an eerie instrumental, a curious juxtaposition against Lucas’ flex-laden bars. An antihero’s anthem. As the official “intro” of the project, “I Lied” serves to immediately capture attention, the perfect marriage of strong production, effortless technical prowess, and thematic integrity.
“Isis” feels like foot placed firmly on neck. Yet another up-tempo instrumental continues the album’s momentum as both Joyner and Logic seem to engage in an unspoken competition of showmanship. An anthem fueled by competitive spirit between two former foes–that and a harpsichord–Joyner’s clever touch for pacing shines thanks to these back-to-back bangers.
On paper, a Young Thug and Joyner Lucas feels bizarre. “The War” deviates from its predecessors with a sharp left turn into new stylistic territory. It’s a risk that pays off thanks to some soothing guitar-driven production, the likes of which has become commonplace in today’s landscape. Joyner’s versatility becomes evident for the first time so far, his melodies well-balanced with Thug’s lush cadence.
Words from “Chris” Tucker speak volumes. What a co-sign. “Smoke a little weed, get your mind right,” advises the Rush Hour star. “You been, you been milkin’ the fuck out that album cover, man, way too long. So I hope this music’s good because if it’s not, I’ma be highly upset.” True.
Track six, “I Love,” is the song that started the journey in the first place. A pivot from Joyner’s more conceptual fare, on the surface the song feels like a typical braggadocious cut by insert rapper here. Luckily Joyner is talented enough to get by on the strength of his charisma, his prioritization of lyricism boding well in his favor. Joyner’s crossover appeal might be subtle, given some of his prior (admittedly heavier) material proved slightly alienating, but his ear for contemporary production always helped him fit in.
Speaking of Joyner’s heavier tracks, “Devil’s Work” is a callback to the likes of “I’m Not Racist” and “Frozen,” designed to evoke emotional responses. Whether songs of this nature resonate is a matter of personal preference. Given that we’re already seven songs deep and this is the first of its kind it does feel like a welcome deviation from the banger-heavy onslaught. Lucas’ message hits all the harder thanks to some unapologetic intensity. It’s impactful and one could likely write an entire essay about this track alone. I suppose that speaks to the depth of his pen game, brought to life by a willingness to bleed emotion into a performance.
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“It’s my birthday I’m bout to get lit-lit,” warns Joyner, on the opening lines of “Lotto.” It didn’t take long before he got back on his BS, hitting cruise control for the first time. Lyrically, Joyner falls short of his typical bar and finds himself –not quite lost–but disoriented in the sauce. Luckily, ISM and Mally Mall keep him blessed with an infectious orchestral bop, one that requires little effort on Joyner’s part to keep things rolling.
“Lotto” isn’t enough to sate a “Kevin” Hart scorned, who does his best Fofty impression on his titular skit. “You think ’cause I’m five foot two I can’t box?” he warns. “I’m 5’4″, I’ll whoop your ass, swear to God. Get your ass whipped by a munchkin.” Two for two with the comedian co-signs.
Circling back to the melodic sensibilities of “The War,” Joyner Lucas channels the dulcet tones of Ty Dolla $ign on the delicate “Gold Mine.” Though understated, the track’s strengths are numerous thanks to a confident performance from Joyner, who rides the instrumental with a malleable flow. He’s having fun on this one and we’re all the better for it. The same can’t be said as confidently on the Chris Brown-assisted “Finally,” however, which finds the “Stranger Things” duet aligning for the most unconventional track thus far. Though both parties are too talented to fall flat on their faces, the synth-heavy track feels like an outlier, a leftover from the long-lost Angels & Demons project included for the sake of posterity.
“10 Bands” was released back in July of 2019, riding the high of a post-Scriptures Timbaland’s creative momentum. Like its predecessor, the track feels a little out of place, rocketing along on the strength of nostalgia. It works, given that Joyner is clearly thrilled to be connecting with a hip-hop legend, but an interesting conundrum is beginning to unfold. On one hand, the album’s concept gives it carte blanche to venture across the stylistic spectrum however Joyner sees fit. On the other, its lack of a greater thematic throughline leads to an influx in aimless, if still aurally enjoyable, tracks. Sometimes it feels as if he’s simply showing off, which can grow tiresome in the context of a greater whole.
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There’s a reason many will likely name “Revenge” to be the album’s crowning achievement. For the first time, all of Joyner’s most prominent strengths coalesce, from bars to flows to storytelling, leading to a song that’s appealing on a variety of different levels. It’s challenging for one, and seems loosely connected to the introductory tandem of “Screening Evaluation” and “I Lied,” a trifecta of darker ADHD cuts. It’s clear that he isn’t merely flexing over an instrumental, but rather weaving a message of great importance. An album highlight and the project’s arguable centerpiece.
It’s no coincidence that Joyner is back in the doctor’s office immediately after for some “Comprehensive Evaluation,” a powerful segue into the eponymous track. Unlike some of the album’s previous singles, “ADHD” thrives in the context of the album, imbuing it with the themes it clearly desires to explore. Though some might be put off by Joyner’s emo-tinged vocal delivery, it’s much more interesting to hear him write about the subjects that drive him. It’s strange — he’s skilled enough to out-rap the majority of flex-rappers, but when he spends too much time covering such ground it only winds up to his detriment. In a strangely thematic turn, Joyner is at his most authentic when he’s at his most alienating.
As the Fabolous & King OSF-assisted “Still Can’t Love” queues up, it feels as if a boat has been missed. “ADHD” would have been a fantastic closer, the natural climax in a strong three-track run. Yet Joyner chooses to meander with a strangely positioned melodic love song, albeit one that certainly has merit on its own. The same can be said of “Will,” which works as a wholesome homage to a legend, but ultimately feels aimless in its placement. A case can certainly be made for it being a victory lap, a heaping of crow for those that once looked down on him. Yet whatever merit it has in that regard is quickly overshadowed by the Smithiness of it all.
Luckily, “Broke & Stupid” course-corrects the thematic trajectory with a welcome dose of mature reflection. “I just bought a Lamborghini and painted the ceiling, I ain’t bragging, I’m just happy I made me a million,” he marvels, over soulful production evocative of the name he goes to namedrop. “ADHD, I was slow, now they label me brilliant, I’m proud of n***s like Hov, he made him a billion.”
As the closer rides out, Joyner’s ADHD lingers in a peculiar fashion. Never is it unlistenable or unenjoyable, thanks in large part to Joyner’s confidence and skillset. As a whole, however, it feels mired down by moments of inconsistency. Tracks that actually worked better as standalone singles, instead repurposed as roadblocks on this long-form journey. But in this age of instant gratification, it’s easy to forget that songs are more than capable of growing into their roles — let’s circle back in a year or so and see how ADHD holds up. In the meantime, it’s yours to enjoy however you see fit.