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This former Bushwick, Brooklyn 7th and 8th grade English teacher is reenergizing the East Coast underground hip hop scene with a fresh and lively approach that emphasizes craftsmanship above faddishness. Hardcore hip hop heads have known about J-Live since '95, when as a freshman English major at SUNY Albany, he was listed in the "Unsigned Hype" section of The Source magazine. Soon after, his first single, "Braggin' Writes," created a serious buzz, selling 13,000 vinyl copies, a figure that was doubled by his follow-up track, "Can I Get It." J-Live's early success quickly earned him a major label deal and he hit the studio to record The Best Part. But because of endless label shuffling, the record, originally slated to drop in '96, didn't see the light of day for five years (though a number of bootlegs did, several of which were of such high quality it was rumored that J-Live himself was behind them).

The Best Part finally saw its official release in late 2001, having achieved near-mythical status, but J-Live had evolved over the previous half-decade, both lyrically and musically. So he recruited like-minded artists DJ Spinna, Usef Dinero, and DJ Jazzy Jeff's Touch of Jazz to lend their production skills to what J calls his "first second album," All of the Above. Over the course of the dense 80-minute opus, J-Live visits a wide range of lyrical topics ranging from his own record company ordeal to the blindness of post-September 11 cultural orthodoxy to druggie amateur MCs fronting in their rhymes about urban violence. Meanwhile the production is simply outstanding, thanks in part to the DJ Spinna's magic, returning to the warm craftsmanship of the old school, with welcome inflections of funk, soul, and jazz. All of the Above is undoubtedly one of the top hip hop records of 2002.

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