Critic’s Corner: Johnnyphlo – The Notebook

Johnnyphlo is someone who has come a long way in a very short amount of time. Just a couple years ago he was known more as someone who spent his time behind the scenes as a manager and engineer for many Asian-American artists. However now he has decided to step out on his own and show what he has to offer. With his official debut single “White Lie”  released just about a month ago, JP has shown signs that he has the drive and talent to make some great music and caught a lot of people’s attention.  So the question is how does his first mini-album release hold up to the hype?

Let’s find out after the break.

*Disclaimer: I know Johnnyphlo personally and am also on one of the tracks. Despite this I do what I can to stay objective and fair in my reviews. There aint no Benzino and The Source drama here.

Turn Around ft Decipher – An album really can’t start much better than this. The song aint quite perfect but its real close. This is one of those tracks by MC’s for MC’s. The beat really gets you hyped up as Johnnyphlo and Decipher both kill it on their respective verses. The singer on the hook is just a tad generic but I really can’t complain much. The only part about this song that I wasn’t fully feeling was the third verse where the two MC’s switch off. It feels almost like an after thought, like it was rushed or something. It just isnt quite as polished as the rest of the song. The chemistry and transitions between the two just seemed a bit on the dry side.  Regardless, it’s a really small detail for me to pick at. The track is still bangin’.

Eraser (Erase Her) Pt I – About a year ago, this was the first single that really started to build some buzz for Johnnyphlo. Since then, JP has re-recorded the track with slight tweaks but the bulk of it remains the same, and deservedly so. Set to a beautifully orchestrated MC Sniper instrumental JP spits with emotion on a lost love and leaves his heart in the booth. Extremely well done. This track is def one of my favorites.

U+Me = 1, Me Without U = 0, U Must Be the 1 ft Amy Lee – First off, the title of this song is so ridiculous and long but yet it’s almost clever. Opinion of the title aside, I can best describe this song as a “sleeper hit”. When I first heard this track I thought it was extremely average, but before I knew it I found myself singing along and really enjoying it. It really kind of snuck up on me. Amy Lee has a sweet, solid (but not amazingly special) voice that’s very well suited for the song. It’s a light, fun pop song about puppy love and once I was able to accept that I liked it a lot more. JP makes great delivery choices here, keeping everything dynamic and smooth. The only thing I could do without is the long phone intro that takes over 30 seconds.

White Lie (Baby Please) ft Ailee – Sonically, this song is excellent. Johnnyphlo and Ailee sound great together and put together a fantastic sounding R&B track. It has a slight late 90’s throwback feel that I really dig. This was released as the main single off the album and has generated a lot of buzz and I can see why. The tone and feel of the song match the lyrics perfectly plus Ailee sounded fantastic. Yet oddly enough it’s the lyrics themselves that I’m not completely crazy about. The song spins a typical K-Drama tale of love lost through sickness and death and isn’t exactly completely original. Despite the all-too-familiar story the song is still very enjoyable. I’m just curious to see what JP & Ailee could have done with a more personal tale… which actually leads me to the next song.

It Will Be Alright ft Juno – As JP discusses growing up away from his father in the first verse I was really drawn in by the honesty and candidness. The second verse is about a love lost and is also heartfelt though not as much as the first. The song has an overall smooth vibe to it that I’m not sure quite matches. The chorus by Juno is well done but the tone of the verses is actually a bit too polished. So this track actually succeeds and falls short in the opposite ways that “White Lie” did, being a great personal track but not completely sonically on point.

S.T.A.Y. (Still Thinkin’ About You) Pt. II – This is a followup to one from a previous album by Decipher. If you heard the original and compared it to this you can see just how far Johnnyphlo has come. JP spits double time almost perfectly throughout the entire track (it’s just one verse) over a great J*Star beat. I just wish the song were longer. JP does a good job singing on the chorus too rounding out a very strong track. Even though it’s yet another love song on album full of them it’s so well done it’s hard not to like.

Eraser (Erase Her) Pt II – At this point in the album, the relationship songs start to get a bit tiring. Perhaps as a stand alone single this track would be more enjoyable but as another love track on a mini-album full of them, it doesnt really stand out. Up until this point I have just about always favored JP’s beat choices. This would be a time where I didn’t. Using a sappy Noblesse instrumental, JP churns out more of the same. The song ain’t bad… it’s just average.

Keep Your Head Up (To The Sky) ft DJ Dutta – The album takes a pleasantly surprising turn and switches everything up with a trance influenced upbeat song. This song has a ton of mass appeal and I can see how this could be a potential crowd favorite. Everything from the electronica-tinged beat to the infectious hook is extremely catchy. Plus JP keeps things fresh switching up his flow and sounds often. Lastly, the scratching by DJ Dutta is icing on the cake.

Life Against Time ft Gifted Thought & RoK – Just as Johnny sped things up for the previous track he immediately slows it back down for the album closer. Thankfully it’s not for another love song. Instead he chooses to get contemplative and mellow and takes time to reflect on life. I’m not going to comment on GT’s verse (since it’s me). RoK closes out the track and does so strongly. It’s good to hear he’s still doin his thing and hasn’t lost a step. This track isn’t likely to be a favorite but it’s a welcome addition to the album, offering some variety in topic and sound by keeping things chill and thought provoking.

In the past Johnnyphlo has always shown a great ear for music including mixdowns, delivery, and beat selection and that hasn’t changed. Just about every single sounds fantastic and is very well done. Individually, I felt nearly every song and was really able to appreciate what he brought to the table. What I didn’t like was the fact that over half of the songs on a already short collection had to do with love and relationships in one way or another. Had the pool of songs been bigger this probably wouldn’t have been an issue but since the album is a mini one, it makes topic selection all the more important. Despite this, I still very much enjoyed the album and only look forward to what he will deliver in the future. Just as I said about the first track, one really can’t start off much better than this.

Must Listen: Turn Around, Eraser (Erase Her) Pt. 1, White Lie (Baby Please), S.T.A.Y. (Still Thinkin’ About You) Pt. II, Keep Your Head Up (To The Sky)

aTunes score: 9/10

6 thoughts on “Critic’s Corner: Johnnyphlo – The Notebook

  1. Well, since you’re not allowed to critique yourself on “Life Against Time,” allow me.

    Solely focusing on GT within the track, one his trademarks is his baritone delivery a la Barry White. Within the final mix, it seems that portion was factored out and made him very faint in contrast to his collaborators.

    That aside, GT doesn’t let his 16 lines go to waste as he spills his heart out in terms of his faith and the meaning of his life. The latter he chalks up to being an ordinary man (job, kids, etc.), but fears getting caught in the redundancy.

    As a listener, I’ve given GT a lot of feedback in terms of his craft. Aside from his before mentioned tone, often rapping beyond “the pocket” is another trait of his. There’s no telling how far back the song goes, but there are moments were he is showing comfort spitting in “the pocket,” bringing great vibe to his verse. Another good point of this instance is his use of rhythmic patterns. GT has a flow where the snare usually dictates his direction and the previous point proves that he is able to be rhythmically versatile within the beat.

    Job well done, fam. Since I read your review on “10 Pounds,” it felt right to reciprocate the honest feedback.

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