According to Real J. Wallace’s description for a project on Bandcamp:
“The Jahfather of Soul Cal is ment [sic] to be listened to on the MLK Highway (94 West) So i intend to make the tape the length of the MLK Highway. The Jahfather of Soul is a modern day dream, with a soulful scheme. Umixed [sic] Masterpiece. The tape is recorded over beatbreaks.”
It was an interesting proposition, so I took him up on it over the weekend -- 94 Highway and all -- to get the full experience. Of course, I misread and actually ended up starting from the 5 south to connect to the 94 east instead of getting on the 94 west. But, either way, I found that his estimate was pretty far off. I got to the end of the 94 east in Spring Valley with plenty of mix tape to spare. Just for kicks, I then veered south on the non-freeway segment of 94, which is Campo Road. The Jah Father of Soul Cal finally ended in the middle of Rancho Jamul. I was surrounded by fields, barns, cows, horses and mountains.
All of which is just to confirm that his claim that this mix tape is the length of Martin Luther King Highway is false. So if you had any hankering for testing it, I beat you to the punch.
However, this is recorded over “beatbreaks” like he says. Much of hip-hop relies on sampling from other music, breaking that music down into fragments and recomposing it into something new. Beat breaks -- or just “breaks” even -- refer to the original samples used to construct a hip-hop beat.
What Real J. does on Jah Father of Soul Cal is pretty interesting. He rhymes over old soul that was later sampled in popular hip-hop songs by the likes of De la Soul, J Dilla, Nas and. It’s a clever twist on the traditional hip-hop mixtape format, in which rappers simply steal instrumentals from popular songs of the moment and rap over them. There’s also a hint of Ghostface Killah in this, as Ghostface has been known to rhyme over untouched soul songs. More important, Jah Father of Soul serves as a double homage, both to the soul artists of the original songs and the hip-hop artists who sampled them. Hip-hop heads get the added fun of guessing which hip-hop song used which sample.
The music is, of course, soulful and funky. There’s a reason these breaks were sampled in the first place, and that’s because they were great songs to begin with. Real J’s rhymes feature a familiar mix of technical prowess, spirituality, black-culture references (notably, “the big piece of chicken” from a Chris Rock bit), everyman resolve and crass sexuality, just in case you thought he was getting too serious (to wit, there’s a song with several puns on different terms for oral sex). It’s lyrically satisfying, though there’s a jarring disconnect between his soft-spoken voice and his occasional vulgarity. Clearly, one of those has to go, and hopefully, it’s not the vulgarity.
Real J. Wallace has found another way to stretch the traditional mix-tape format by using soul samples from classic songs. Still, there’s only so far you can go with rapping over borrowed instrumentals, and, with no shortage of local producers wanting to work with him, hopefully he’ll take that next step soon.
Real J. Wallace's The Jah Father of Soul Cal is available for free download on Bandcamp.
Quan Vu Quan Vu is the founder and editor of local music blog SD Raps.com. He has also written about local and national hip-hop acts for San Diego CityBeat and the San Diego Reader. You can nerd out on rap trivia by becoming BFF's on Facebook or e-mailing him directly.