Album Review – J Trey: BLUE I SOUL

JTrey have been around since 1999 on the Iowa hip-hop scene, but this new CD represents a big step up. Their sound has been enlarged with the addition of female vocalist Jasmine and a full band. Sure, there have been hip hop bands before–Black Eyed Peas and Bad Fathers come to mind. But the former are pop entertainers and the latter are a hyped up rock/rap hybrid. J Trey is another thing altogether. The vocal front line of JT, JB and Jasmine sing as much they rap and their voices are more soul than rock.

The first song, “Drift Away,” is an acoustic remake of the 1972 Dobie Gray hit and it showcases their tuneful vocal quality. “Can’t Drop The Mic,” next up, is a jaw dropper for me, showcasing Jasmine’s double-tracked vocals on the hook. The smooth, jazzy beat is driven by understated keyboard work and the rhymes are in the pocket. But Jasmine’s verse is so sweet it requires a rewind. There just aren’t that many singers around–especially in Iowa!–who sound so relaxed and in command. Imagine Erykah Badu, but with a purer tone and killer vibrato under perfect control.

“Rhythm & Booze” finds the sweet spot between R&B and hip-hop and, again, Jasmine makes the track with vocal improvisation behind the rhymes on the verses. I don’t want to bang on too much about Jasmine because JT & JB are decent MCs, too, and the vocal interplay of the three is crucial to their sound. And they ride some great beats, half (the slinky, jazzy half) produced by their keyboardist Al Fraser.

BLUE I SOUL is the first Iowa hip-hop CD I’ve heard in a while that is consistently top quality–great songs, great vocals, dope beats. It’s one thing for a hip hop crew to be “good for Iowa,” but J Trey have a sound that would turn heads anywhere.