'BALLADS 1' is a sonic improvement on all fronts. Serving as Joji's debut LP, this 12-track LP captures a new and enticing sound that is paramount to any young artists gradual progression. Over the course of thirty-five well organized minutes, Joji enlists the help of Clams Casino, Trippie Redd, D33J & Shlomo - effectively playing to his strengths.
Music is in an interesting place, and I can't say I dislike it.
For decades, artists were painted into a corner, leaving little room for musical and artistic creativity. Until a few years ago, a musicians sole job was to make music, nothing more, nothing less.
Today, we have actors making rap music, fashion designers producing EDM bangers, and YouTubers culminating R&B/Soul projects.
The latter of those three examples is today's topic. Known by many as Joji, Australian-Japanese entertainer George Miller made a name for himself as YouTube personality Filthy Frank, as well as "the pink guy doing the Harlem Shake." Generally, YouTube creators pursue music as a joke (see Logan Paul), but Joji took this stereotype and drove it into the ground, release a handful of formidable 2017 singles under the label/talent agency 88 Rising.
In November of 2018, Joji put out his debut EP, In Tongues. Literally jam-packed with music, In Tongues was a respectable initial release, but lacked the singularity and unique nature that most R&B artists need to work themselves into the big leagues. In essence, In Tongues was Joji's way of testing the waters in every shape and form, using it as an opportunity to see what listeners enjoyed.
I think it's safe to say he found it.
On BALLADS 1, Joji takes his most highly requested sounds on In Tongues, stretching it into 12 airtight tracks.
Joji is really, really smart.
Much like his time as a YouTube creator, he was wisely able to take what people liked the most and turned it up to 10, maximizing on his popularity. Instead of blindly-grabbing at new and bold sonic methods, Joji plays to his strengths on BALLADS 1, enlisting the help of artists and producers like Trippie Redd and Clams Casino, curators that compliment his style rather than shadow it altogether.
My personal highlight is "CAN'T GET OVER YOU", a clangy, synth-driven collaboration with legendary rap-producer Clams Casino. Like much of the album, Joji keeps his lyrics simple and easy to grab on to, creating what is sure to be one of my favorite songs by the years-end.
In addition to Joji's emphasis on simplicity, the mixture of "slow dancing" songs with upbeat, drowned singles is perfectly formatted. On one hand, you have "SLOW DANCING IN THE DARK" and "WHY AM I STILL IN LA", a group of melancholy odes to loneliness, forcing the listener into an empty ballroom, overcome with uncertainty. On the other hand, you have "TEST DRIVE" and "COME THRU", two wavy tracks that drop the listener into downtown Tokyo, cruising the streets in a souped-up beamer.
On "R.I.P.", Joji collaborates with Trippie Redd, using Trippie's vocal-strength to the beats advantage. On the third verse, Joji sings:
There's no more time Just lay it on me If I lost my life You can blame it on me Are you ready or not? We can start right here Take you on them rocks So crystal clear
Basic as it may seem, Joji realizes that by keeping his message short and sweet, he's allowing for the feature from Trippie and the mellow instrumental run its course fluidly.
From front to back, BALLADS 1 is a quiet groundbreaking moment in the crossing over of a YouTube personality to an R&B artist.
Would Filthy Frank like this album? I doubt it.
Could you do the Harlem Shake to this project? Not a chance.
Is this LP for everyone? Not really.
But this is Joji. At its core, BALLADS 1 is a coming-of-age album for the young and talented artist, as he mixes multiple sounds and styles into a cohesive debut LP that successfully occupies one lane. While there are moments when the project feels a little lazy, the overall vibe of BALLADS 1 makes up for these shortcomings, as Joji makes it feel as though these lackluster moments are intentional.
One second it's slow, another second it's fast, but in the end Joji makes sure that his personal touches are all over it, making for an impressive debut LP from the budding young talent.