1. Due Our Time
2. Trouble on My Mind
3. Flexin’ tha Ill Funk
4. Dedication to Bambaataa
5. Summer in the City
7. Ill-River Expedition
8. Justice Funkin’
10. Just Because
12. Take It to the Stage
13. Summer in the City [Sunshine Blend]
14. Jacquelina Outro
Justice System’s 1994 debut «Rooftop Soundcheck» is simply one of the most unappreciated masterpieces in hip hop. This album is beyond hip hop at its best; it’s pure music at its best. This album is unique to the point that I have a hard time comparing it to any other, and it’s genre-defying so that labeling it «hip hop» doesn’t do it justice. Justice System is a seven piece band, including bass, guitar, sax, drums, keyboards, and two rappers. When you hear this description, The Roots probably come to mind, but I wouldn’t really compare the two. Justice System’s sound is rich, focused, and absolutely original, and those familiar with The Roots probably wouldn’t find too many similarities. Justice System’s songs are so well produced. For one thing, the songwriting is great. The songs are free-flowing yet structured, and the instrumentation is incredibly tight. The musicians are so amazingly talented individually, yet play together like a unit. It’s hard to describe the musical sound using comparisons. The music is very funky, but has a soulful vibe and ranges from bobbing and midtempo to swinging and upbeat. The soaring horn lines evoke the finest jazz-rap of the early-90s, and the percussion adds a great feel. The music maintains a very live feeling, but at the same time is quite clean with smooth chord progressions. Anytime I put this in, my head nods immediately and does so until it’s done. The rappers of Justice System are Folex and Jahbaz. These two are fun to listen to, they have versatile flows and artistic inclinations, capable of painting vivid pictures of an urban setting or putting together clever lines and verses. They would be able to hold their own without a great band behind them, but the spotlight usually isn’t taken off the excellent instrumentation. This album is so amazing and unique it’s hard to put in words, but every track is so well done it can really make you feel good. «Rooftop Soundcheck» is also so consistent that there’s not a single track worth skipping, there’s really not any track that’s much better than any other, and that can’t be said about very many albums of any genre. All in all, this album is a true masterpiece and musical triumph, and you must hear it to appreciate it.
The album opens with «Due Our Time,» a driving, upbeat number which shows lyrical artistry and great songwriting. The light guitar strums and drum kicks make for a great start to the album. I love «Trouble on My Mind,» which has great verses, showing deep thought and vocabulary, along with some clever one-liners. The hook is awesome, I really like the sax part and bassline. The simple, twangy funk of «Flexin’ tha Ill Funk» allows the verses from Folex and Jahbaz to take the spotlight. «Dedication to Bambaataa» is happy sounding all around, a track giving props to the hip hop pioneer, it’s a lot of fun. Perhaps the best track is the incredible «Summer in the City,» a song that will have you coming back to play over and over again all summer. This song has a really laidback vibe, mostly influenced by the lyrics, capturing a sunny weekend day. But all the instrumentals here are so well executed, this is really the band at their best and shows what they’re really capable of. This is a song that really can evoke great feelings. The instrumental «Santana» features some guitar and keyboarding reminiscent of the great Carlos himself, and his band during the seventies, musically another highlight. «The Ill-River Expedition» showcases excellent guitar solos, and the ultra-funky «Justice Funkin'» is just great, with a musical chorus that makes this track worth putting on repeat. Both of these songs have the elements that make this album so great: true musical talent, lyrical artistry, and a totally unique vibe. They are impeccably written and produced and sound unlike anything else, yet are executed to perfection. The short musical interlude «Jacquelina» precedes «Just Because,» a really fun song. The muted trumpet that starts the song gives way to a great guitar line, and if your head’s not nodding by the time the sax kicks in then something’s wrong with you. Lyrically, it’s just as fun, centering around a funny conversation with a woman. «Soulstyle» is just short of incredible, with a rolling bassline and understated instrumentals that evoke the imagery of a rainy day. The vocals are delivered in a beautiful manner, the sing-song flow that gives way to the laidback hook is so cool, this song is among the best. «Take It to the Stage» is a swinging, horn-heavy number, quite enjoyable, and it’s followed by another mix of «Summer in the City,» a little simpler and rawer than the other, with some cool female vocals. The tracklist closes with the short «Jacquelina Outro.»
«Rooftop Soundcheck» always has me coming back for more, especially in the summer. I’ll go through phases where I listen to nothing but this album. It’s sad to me that such an incredible product can go so overlooked by the mainstream and be dropped by record labels, but I guess the world just can’t appreciate the true artistic greatness of Justice System. You certainly don’t need to be a hip hop fan to like this album, I’ve passed it to aficionados of all types of music and I’ve yet to find someone who doesn’t like it. You can still find this album around record shops, and it also has become recently available on iTunes (in the iTunes store, the title is «Sounds of the Rooftop,» but the tracklist and cover are identical). I might be getting redundant, but I can’t sing the praises enough. I’ve heard hundreds of hip hop albums, but honestly this is one of a select few that can bring so much joy. Don’t just take my word for it: this album is a piece of musically creative perfection.
-customer review from Amazon.com