JL JUPITER – RESIDENT ALIEN
Review of Camden artist’s debut album
Rap and R&B artist Jeff “JL Jupiter” Lek delivers in his highly anticipated debut album, “Resident Alien,” featuring the singles “Bad Guy,” “AlphaOmega,” and “I’m Still Here.”
While many artists attempt to juggle multiple styles, only a handful can master them well enough to keep loyal fans and new followers entertained–a feat JL Jupiter achieves with his wide vocal range. Balanced with raw, yet honest lyrics and an all-star line-up of emerging producers, Camden’s finest emcee has triumphantly compiled an album that raises a new standard for production by independent artists.
“Resident Alien” is a 15-track album that narrates the life and struggle of the 30-year-old artist. It’s a collection of real stories about family, history, and hope, themes that sometimes get sidelined and under-represented to mainstream music audiences. In this direction, JL Jupiter not only succeeds in painting a colorful portrait of himself as an artist, but also as a refugee who remains conscious of his roots.
Mixed under Life Lab Entertainment, “Resident Alien”is a collaboration of seven producers, six of whom are of Khmer descent. Highlights include R&B artist AP, who produced four tracks, and one by renowned Philly beat master Kornswagger of AZI Fellas. On the vocals side, the album features cameos by eight different artists from places as close as neighboring New York and as far as Washington state.
The album begins with a haunting yet beautiful Khmer language lullaby and the sound of a hovering airplane (or spacecraft). “I’ll be back for you, Cambodia. Hello, world!” proclaims JL Jupiter, as his plight in America begins.
“Our time is short on this planet, so let’s be honest and seize the moment while we got it. This time I’m going all out. This time I’m going all out. No need to blow the roof because I’m going to break them. Exceed the limits. I have been defying gravity since day one.”
The intergalactic, Star Trek-like sound produced by Pryme Mega lays the audio foundation to similar space-themed tracks throughout the album.
Toast to Life
JL shows off his vocal range and diverse flows in perhaps the album’s wittiest part in the second track. “Lyrically, I’m Mo-ha-med A-li. See me on the big screen Hi-ta-chi. Feel the kick bass like ka ka-ra-te.” As the up-tempo beat continues to thump, JL switches and slows down with the soulful chorus. “You have never heard a sound like this before. Oooh. I just want to give you more. I came, I saw, I conquer this game. And life is a test and I got straight A’s. Toast to life. Cheers to death. I promise you that I give you my best.”
Produced by mix master McNub of Washington state, the sound is reminiscent of a marching band and the smell of victory, a fitting touch for toasting life.
Track 10 is one of the two self-produced tracks in the album. A song about redemption and the pursuit of a better life, “The Struggle” helps ground JL’s past as he strives to rebuild his future.
“I’m from the country of the killers, where we kill for a meal. Generation lost from the ‘Killing Fields.’ Try to keep me down–I’m one of a kind. Step into my mind, lyrical landmine. We need a fucking miracle like water into wine.”
He adds, “I’ve been struggling for so long, I haven’t had the time to eat. And I have been hustling for so long my family is dependent on me” and ends with a no-excuses declaration that despite “growing up in the hood fatherless,” life is what you make out of it.
Love is a Game
The last track is all about L-O-V-E, or at least as the chant concludes before JL acknowledge his long list of supporters. Produced by California-based artist Patry “Kinesus” Thach, the song is a story of the misfortunes of love. The West Coast laid back sound blends well with JL’s sincere lyrics.
“Love is a game. Are you playing? Love is a game. Why did you say I change? Love is a game we all play. And if I change you made me this way.”
Overall, “Resident Alien” is one of the strongest albums ever produced by a Cambodian artist since I began following the music scene in 1998. A solid work from start to finish, with wide mainstream potential, I enjoyed a majority of the tracks, especially my top three: “AlphaOmega,” “Toast to Life” and “Get Away,” which I am guilty for putting to death on repeat.
Lyrically, however, JL Jupiter could diversify the album’s content. Many tracks over gloss the refugee experience, namely “I’m Still Here,” “The Struggle,” and “Off Ya Love,” which could create disengaged listeners. And for an album that is a tribute to the struggle, I am mildly disappointed by the lack of female vocals (the Khmer lullaby introduction in the first track does not count). But the shortcomings are minor and do not supersede the overall vibe I felt from listening to the album. For that and above all else, I give the album a 3 out of 4 stars rating.
December 10, 2012Every year, Human Rights Day is observed on December 10th. It is a day to acknowledge and highlight the social justice movement around the world. This year, we would like to introduce five Khmerican activists who are working tirelessly to bring justice and change to their communities...