Cory Jreamz – Invictus [Review]
“Alive/NYC” begins with a familiar James Brown sample from “Get Up (I Feel Like Being A Sex Machine)”, where the Godfather of soul announces to his band that he is ready to “get up” and do his thing. If you have spent anytime listening to hip hop, you would more than likely recognize this soundbite, as it has been used in a variety of ways on a number of classic tracks; in the same vein as almost every Brown song has been, during the genres forty year existence. However, besides for the fact that Cory Jreamz is rhythmically rhyming words over intricate percussion led backing music, this is about the only similarity that Invictus shares with the lion share of rap.
Normally, a teenager’s debut release is filled with imitations of their favorite artists or poorly executed ideas that have a lot potential, just not yet fully realized. While he isn’t immune to these mishaps, for the most part Jreamz delivers something that is wholly unique and ambitious in its goal. It is mind-boggling to think that this nineteen year old emcee hails from the same city as Kirko Bangz, Bun B, Trae Da Truth, and Maxo Kream, Houston, Texas, the land of the trill, a sound he consciously rejects at almost every turn. Apparent right from the beginning, Jreamz is attempting to do his own thing, whether fans are receptive or not.
Invictus plays like an unfiltered, unabashed, and unadulterated version of Yeezus; the anger, angst, and confusion find their way into each song, refusing to be confined to only three or four minutes, these themes and emotions ooze from one track to the next, until the project is completely contaminated . Jreamz presents himself as the “lonely painter”, stressing the artistic side of his music over its passing enjoyment. With his metaphoric paintbrush in hand, using the booth as his canvass, he illustrates the world’s ills that influence his view and appreciation of life. That description can be misinterpreted to place him inside the “conscious” rapper paradigm, however, he refuses to accept this moniker; instead, he wants his art to be viewed for art’s sake. Even though you may find some deeper meaning in there, admittedly there is a considerable amount to decipher and learn from, it feels like he is more concerned with getting you to understand the way he thinks and what causes him do so.
Towards this end, he is forced to wear a number of different hats at various times, often seemingly contradicting himself. On “Alive” he is comparing himself to the famed poet, activist, and feminist Maya Angelou, then on “Nina” he is explicitly objectifying a woman in the hook. “Howl” is a song all about being an individual or a lone wolf, “badder than Hemingway”, yet the previous song, “Will You Be Here”, is an appeal to someone to continue providing Jreamz company and support. At certain times he is an activist, a feminist, and a philosopher, while at others he decides to be a victim, a misogynist, and as ignorant as possible. Sometimes, figuring out which character he is at the moment can be difficult, but it does keep his music engaging; it opens him up to a variety of topics he wouldn’t be able to cover as just one of these alone.
There are only six tracks, but so much gets covered and explored that it feels like a longer experience. Coming halfway through the tape, “Howl” is perhaps Invictus’ brightest moment. It perfectly represents everything that he is attempting to do, as he speeds through topics at a dizzying rate, almost as if his rapping persona has ADHD. “They’re gone to put this Black Man in the MoMA/ R.I.P. to Sarai, yeah they stoned her/ In Iran fucking means to adultery/ In America we cheat like daily/ Could go conscious, but what would I accomplish.” He somehow moves from gaining recognition for his artistic expression, to commentary on a disturbing trend in another part of the world, then showcases our own hypocrisy, all highlighting how insignificant his accomplishments may be when compared to the larger forces influencing the world. While these topics are so vastly different from one another, Jreamz manages to make sense of them together, finding connections that are not easily noticed. His understated and indifferent delivery adds power to his lyrics; his forceful “howl” is tinged with apathy and barely heard over the commotion of the other factors driving everyday life, he is disheartened but not necessarily unmotivated. It makes you question the purpose of art in a way, and his futile obsession with it.
“Howl” sounds like it would fit perfectly on a 1970’s grind-house karate flick’s soundtrack, which is simultaneously awesome and haunting. If you are looking for typical hip hop production, you should probably look elsewhere, as none of the tracks feature any. They aren’t as abrasive as Kanye West’s recent work, but they do have industrial like qualities to them, which can be polarizing. This song is cut from the same cloth, although it is easiest to instantly get into. It sounds as if Dirty Beaches’ dark guitar chords and samples were put through an intense distortion system, with a sadder, less Elvis like vocalist singing in the background, who is also filtered and warped. Bass line driven, the drums lazily play catch-up the entire time, which gives his lackadaisical flow enough space to make a significant impact. Strangely put together and beautifully done; you come away not fully understanding everything that happened, but knowing you enjoyed it and want more, which can be said for majority of this EP.
“Alive/NYC” is one of the most bipolar songs around this year. “Alive”, the first half, features beautifully chopped vocal, piano, and string samples that give the song an orthodox hip hop sound, which gains more weight when his braggadocio rap begins. On the other hand, “NYC” is a dark excursion through the underbelly of the metropolis, filled with heavy bass lines and thunderous, booming kick drums that complement his twisted lyricism. An odd pairing, but Jreamz makes them work to fit his arch, bringing forth images of death in a song titled after “the city that doesn’t sleep (also known as death’s cousin).” The first half is the better of the two parts, but the way he plays on emotions makes both enjoyable.
As already noted, Jreamz fuses a lot of prog-rock sensibilities into his music, which can work extremely well or can fall flat on its face. “Swim” is an example of the fusion paying off for him; it is fast paced, grating, and frantic, where he seems to function best. The distorted guitar layered on top of the woman wailing is slightly creepy, the opposite of the pathetic situation the hook describes—he never learned how to swim or ride a bike, sad. His verses are filled with self-assured rhymes about how he is the best and kind of goes at his competition, promising to buy Da Vinci’s art and enthusiastically announcing that music his father. However, “Pressure” doesn’t fair to well. There is way too much going on in this track and his hook doesn’t help at all. It isn’t necessarily a bad song, but it doesn’t have much replay potential and the production doesn’t have the same engaging factor as those that follow it do.
Cory Jreamz was able to capture his thoughts and his current perspective onto wax, an amazing feat for such a young artist. Perhaps, some of the songs do run on for far too long, but that can probably be due to his compulsive need to get all of the information out there. At time his music is so loud and in your face that its hard to imagine coming back to it for a prolong period of time, although, that’s precisely his point. He wants his listeners to follow him on his journey through life, while he creates and explores new soundscapes. It might be rough around the edges, but so is the transition he is going through in real life and society itself. It is a good first step into the world of music for the young musician, and he already shows immense potential. Who knows, this EP might have the same effect as the poem it was titled after.