Ottawa, Canada has a vibrant hip-hop community that has already spawned Aboriginal rappers A Tribe Called Red and Philly Moves. What sets Just Poets – a trio consisting of producer Jeepz and MCs Just Peace and Street Scholar – apart from those other highly respected crews is that they LOVE crate digging, and wear their samples quite proudly. Their sophomore LP, Painting Pictures in the Darkness, which is being released for free (or pay what you want) is full of stuff lifted from old soul records. But there’s a twist! Some of the records have been sped up to the point where, when vocals kick in, a helium-voiced effect is created. It’s certainly a different take on sampling, for sure. What’s more, Just Poets, on this release, has a case of attention deficit disorder, in a good way. Most of these 14 songs clock in below the three minute mark, so, if you don’t like one song (which I doubt will happen as this is pretty top flight stuff), another one is just around the corner. For that reason, Just Poets just might be the Guided by Voices of hip-hop, sans bizarro lyrics.
This album is quite commendable in a number of ways. While profanity has and always will be a part of hip-hop, Just Poets show remarkable restraint: just one f-bomb on the entire record is dropped. Just one, and in a non-sexual context. This is PG-13 rap. Also, this trio tend to have a handle on extraordinary positivity: “Make the Best” boasts the refrain, “Things ain’t always going to go your way / Gotta make the best out of every day.” That alone, my friends, puts this heads and shoulders above much urban music. (Not dissing the negativity of the genre necessarily, as I can understand the socio-economic place that it comes from, but it’s good to hear a bunch of guys looking on the bright side of life.) I’d say that you’d better find this disc, because if these dudes can rap as fluidly as they do, with shades of really interesting choices – one song called “Keep Holding On”, about a deceased friend, audaciously samples Simply Red’s “Holding Back the Years” – they’re not going to be one of Ottawa’s best kept rap secrets for very long. This is stupendous, not just lyrically and stylistically in the vocal delivery, but in terms of what Just Poets do with their sampled material. Forget genre: this is simply good music, and is one of the best underground Canadian albums of the year.