NjS • Soular Power • NjS Music • US Release Date: October 7, 2014
Finding the freshness in music in 2014 is incredibly difficult, considering the incredible innovations of the past. Regardless of such difficulty, NjS (which stands for Never Just Settle), a Japanese-American hip-hop duo based in San Francisco, California, do their best, keeping the music exciting and fresh.
The duo is made up of members Flow Zen (Robert Myers) and Kuga (Aki Shimo). In regards to their hip-hop lane, NjS combine jazz-rap with the distinct sound of the Bay Area. The results are nothing short of awesome, offering something for everyone. Hence, their resulting ‘debut’ album Soular Power is a superb one.
“Starting Fresh” opens Soular Power energetically, sporting captivating rhymes and excellent production. The flow of the duo of MCs is agile and vocally, both possess great clarity. Most notable about the production is the incorporation of Japanese musical cues, a thoughtful touch considering the duo’s Japanese roots. “Starting Fresh” indeed ‘starts fresh’ and sets the tone. Oh and BTW, what about that Japanese second verse?
“Most Definitely” is anchored by an old school, dusty beat – it’s definitely a good look –rather a good sound. The hook is feel-good and chill: “It’s the good life, most definitely / kick back to a dope, heavenly beat / cause I love life, most definitely…” Ultimately, “Most Definitely” is positive, easy-going, and eschews stress.
“I’m Me” keeps things both funky and real. Here, the MCs discuss their love and passion for music. There’s also some credentials thrown in In the hook, the duo even go so far as to frame the chorus ‘lovingly’: “True love and passion / I’m straight up romancing, the beat…” “Can’t Be” featuring Funky DL is smooth as silk, finding the MCs rapping over a luxurious, jazzy-soul beat. Appropriately, the high-flying hook celebrates this: “Cause life without jazz and hip-hop, it can’t be.”
“Your Smile” keeps things soulful and slows the tempo. Giving Soular Power a loving rap song, the lushness of the production accentuated by a sample of Bill Withers’ “Make A Smile For Me,” and thoughtful, poised rhymes all make the romance a success. After opening with the Withers classic, the recurring lyrics comes by way of “Chase the clouds away with your smile.” “Your Smile” ranks among the best.
“Across The Cables” featuring Timeless & Champlu continues consistency from NjS and their collaborators. That’s great, considering following up the exceptional “Your Smile” is no easy task. On “Got Me Dreaming,” the duo is quick to pay allegiance to their city, San Francisco: “Grew up in the S.F.C / so you know that’s where I gotta be / the one place that keeps me believing / city life’s like dreaming.” Can’t knock ‘em – they “put on for [their] city!” They get a top-rate assist from fellow San Franciscan, rapper/producer Equipto.
“Aww sh*t!” On “Going In,” NjS indeed go in, dropping trash-talk (and f-bombs) like it’s nothing. The energy and attitude definitely suits the song title, not to the mention the rhythmic flow of the music. And NjS make it clear, they’re not keeping it PG. Always great to keep promises!
Coincidentally, or maybe ironically, “Better Days” featuring Maico has a gospel sensibility about it following the bold “Going In.” No it’s not the least bit ‘soft’ (the ‘bombs’ still fly), but you can’t help but nod your head and also feel the urge to say “amen” at the same time. Like everything that has preceded it, “Better Days” is consistent and definitely worthy of spins. “Music,” featuring Adikkal of LHA caps off Soular Power soundly.
All in all, as mentioned previously, Soular Power is a superb album. There are no misses to be found, and the authenticity of the duo is apparent throughout the course of the album. NjS may not be household name, but perhaps it should be following this fine affair. These dudes, well, they do work!
Favorites: “Starting Fresh,” “Most Definitely,” “Can’t Be,” “Your Smile,” “Got Me Dreaming”