“First Impression” makes impact on Pac Ave Records
As the first Conservatory established in the western United States, Pacific’s Conservatory of Music has always leaned more towards classical training for its students. However, more recently, the Conservatory’s culture has leaned toward more contemporary music. Nowhere is this more evident than in Pac Ave Records’ first hip hop release, the debut release for Jelani Brown ‘20, “First Impression.” Brown is a student in the Conservatory, playing the violin in the University Symphony Orchestra. While Brown’s main instrument makes appearances in the 3 song EP, it’s his vocals taking center stage in his introduction to the Pac Ave Records catalogue.
Brown, recording under his first name, Jelani, opens “First Impression” flexing his muscles in “No Smoke”, filled with standard hip-hop braggadocio mixed with his own sense of flavor. Brown introduces himself and his skillset, coming in hard with clever lyricism, a recollection of his background, and a declaration of his ambition. The song features an eastern-influenced, Wu-Tang tinged instrumental combined with Brown’s own violin plucks preceding the chorus, showing the multitudes of Brown’s talent.
The second track is the more introspective “How Could I Forget”, a jazzy song more reminiscent of west coast hip hop acts like Kendrick Lamar. Brown, also featuring Pacific alum Malavika Raj ‘18, recounts his struggles in his artistic journey. He recounts finding his own truth in his artistry as opposed to fulfilling a stereotype more common in hip hop, evident in lyrics such as, “They’d rather see me struggle struggle for a buck and bust a nine”. He instead chooses to show vulnerability and personality, making the art that he creates reflect who he is as a person. He recounts the lessons learned through hardship and, contrasted to the more standard hip-hop track in “No Smoke”, “How Could I Forget” strays from the beaten path with melodies being driven by a jazzy piano and Raj’s soulful backing vocals. This is the standout song off of “First Impression”, being a hip hop song that works as well in the studio as it does live, as evident by Brown’s entry for the NPR Tiny Desk contest where he performed the song with a live band.
The EP finishes with “Good Vibes”, a sleepier, more relaxed way to finish Brown’s debut on Pac Ave Records. A track mirroring the relaxed personality of the man himself, “Good Vibes” features dreamy background vocals and a saxophone floating above the instrumental. While the heat of “No Smoke” introduces Jelani Brown’s mission to introduce himself as an artist and the introspection of “How Could I Forget” reflects his path on that mission, the final song on the EP leaves the audience with the attitude that Brown brings to himself and those around him. In spite of his ambition and his struggle, Jelani Brown does what he does because it brings him and those around him one thing above all else: good vibes.
While the short length of the EP and the songs themselves is a drawback in comparison to previous releases from Pac Ave Records, “First Impression” is simply that: an introduction to Jelani Brown as a musician, as a rapper, and as an artist. Brown is a man on a mission, when asked about his goals, he explained that, “I want to give people a reason to listen to hip hop…I need to speak my truth.”
With “First Impression”, Jelani Brown gives listeners just a small preview of his truth, and hopefully soon Brown’s truth will be heard on a grander scale, as it deserves to be.
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