Bobby J: “Let Me Breathe” is a Breath of Fresh Air

Bobby J. From Rockaway is one of those artists who have worked with legendary producers and been acclaimed by a handful of respected mainstream rappers, and yet, many people still haven’t heard of him. Even if you have heard of him, it’s still hard to figure out how Bobby J. hasn’t become a household name by now.

A native of Queens, New York (as his name would imply), Bobby J. classifies his style currently as a fusion of Classic Rock and Hip Hop, this is more the kind of Classic Rock fusion you would expect ala Rick Rueben. To be clear, this so called “fusion” is definitely not you’re 1990’s-2000’s era Rap-Rock (mercifully).

When Bobby J. was thirteen, he encountered The Rhythm producer Kwamé, who was returning from a career hiatus at the time. He and Bobby J. hit it off, and the two have been frequent (very, very frequent) collaborators ever since. And the production accolades don’t stop there. It seems like Bobby J. has gotten time in the lab with every big-name producer in the business. Working with DJ Wonder of Shade45, having several tracks produced by Statik Selektah, and being publicly acclaimed by Jay Electronica, there doesn’t seem to be an end to the list of impressive production affiliates. How he got Kwamé, who has worked with some of the biggest names in the business, to basically be his mentor and personal beat-maker — that one has me absolutely stumped.

Bobby J.’s voice is the most notable characteristic of his whole brand. He sounds tangibly familiar, and, at the same time, a little too unlike any one rapper to actually make a solid comparison. With tongue-in-cheek lyricism, wordplay abounds and witty humor is all but lost in the expertly wielded flows that irreverently pass over and around the beats, run over the bar, and rhythmically pulse in perfect accord with the rousing instrumental elements.

Bobby J. has the punchy bars and heady bravado of a battle rapper. Energetic and charismatic, he has you captivated before you can even decide if you like what you’re hearing. I’m not sure I had a choice in the matter. Bobby J. From Rockaway is the literal definition of compelling. He sounds a little like the Beastie Boys — possibly because of his tendency to infuse rock into his beats. But the Beastie Boys, while they have a similar energy level to Bobby J., vocally they’re pretty different. Bobby J. sort of mirrors their flow patterns, but, given his heavy Queens accent, it’s a little different there, too.

Still, if he varied up the cadences in his vocal runs and added some upward inflecting lilts to his otherwise methodically repetitious flow pattern, this might help take his accent out of the borderline-1990’s sound. If 1990’s is what he is going for, personally, I’m all for it. But, with the beat and the vocals dateable to that period, it might be overkill. And, he definitely shouldn’t change the beats. They’re absolutely masterful works of production.

The beat for “Let Me Breathe,” produced by Kwamé, is nothing less than you would expect from a producer with so many years in the field. Structured behind a boom-bap style beat, the classic rock infusion comes into play with the unexpected use of stadium drums. Buzzing licks from squire guitars, and a stereo wide, anthemic sound brings this immense, energetic, and profoundly prodigious instrumental to life. Even if you’re not a fan of the rock-infused style, you can’t fault the ingenious production, here.

All I can say is, Bobby J. is more than good enough, and more than ready, to make it onto the mainstream scene. He may not be that rapper who sounds like every other rapper, but there’s definitely a lane for him. Hopefully we will see Bobby J. gain a little more notoriety in the future. As it stands, when it comes to hip hop’s underground, Bobby J. From Rockaway is the one to beat.

-ERINEM