Joell Ortiz rang in November with the release of his new album, Mona Lisa, produced entirely by Apollo Brown
For those of you who don’t know who Joell Ortiz is, allow me to introduce him. Born in Brooklyn, New York and raised in the Cooper Projects, Ortiz comes at you on Mona Lisa with an old school, east coast flow set to classic boom-bap beats produced by Apollo Brown. A former signee of Aftermath Records with Dr. Dre, Joell Ortiz is now signed to Eminem’s Shady Records and is coming out to show that at 38 years old, he’s still got more fire on deck.
Mona Lisa tells tales of growing up in the Cooper Projects of Brooklyn and what Joell Ortiz had to do to survive, like cooking and selling drugs. He also speaks about the type of people he grew up around and how one had to act in order to survive. The whole album isn’t just about the hood though. Ortiz touches on self-doubt, having to move on from people in your life and how he views the current state of hip-hop. In this article I’ll briefly cover 3 of my favorite tracks from the album but make no mistake, the whole album is great.
Timberlan’d Up (feat. Royce da 5’9″
With his rap group Slaughterhouse (Ortiz, Royce 5’9″, KXNG Crooked, and Joe Budden) breaking up, Ortiz is focusing on his solo career with his first album release since 2016. Despite the group going their separate ways, Royce features on “Timbalan’d Up”, a battle-style duo rap that takes aim at the new generation of rappers and how they both remain unimpressed with the artists they hear on the radio. The song is full of old school references like:
Don’t need a navi to find these people that I address I had Rocawear in my dresser, these niggas rock a dress Let’s rewind to that play button that I would press My walkman never hopped off my hip, I’m hip-hop to death
Ortiz and Royce both flex their insane lyrical ability and create track that is great to get hyped and bossed up to.
The title track, Mona Lisa, lives up to its name as an inspiring and artful track. This is where Ortiz focuses on the self-doubt artists face all the time and overthinking what they create. Ortiz says what we all feel when we are lost in our creative minds, it’s his release from reality. The hook emphasizes this when he says “All I see sound, All I hear is color, All I feel is a numbness like no other”. One string of bars that stood out to me was:
My easel, I flip the sheet and there’s a Brand new canvas waitin’ for me, how convenient Its eyebrow raisin’ how I scrap a Mona Lisa
Ortiz is saying it’s really easy to let your doubt get to you and just scrap something amazing before showing it to anyone and move on to something else. Makes you wonder how many amazing tracks Joell may have thrown away just because of a few bad thoughts.
If you’re looking for a track to inspire you and get over your self doubt as an artist, give this track a listen. You wont be disappointed.
The third track on the album is a cautionary tale of the hood Ortiz grew up in, Cooper in Brooklyn, New York where he lived in the 13th building, 7 stories high. The whole song is about Ortiz before he found music and was having to do anything he could to survive like cooking and selling crack in his neighborhood. He starts off the song hard with:
I ‘member the first time I gave someone a buck fifty And they blood hit me I was drunk, pissy, screamin, “boy, don’t fuck wit’ me” A buck sixty wet, five-seven, but a threat My boo step in Fifty-Four-Elevens through the ‘jects
Those who don’t know, “A buck fifty” is when you get in a fight and cut someones face with a knife or a piece of glass. With Ortiz only being 5’7″ and 160lbs, he had to show his hood he was tough. And the Fifty-Four Elevens is a throwback reference to Reebok Freestyle’s his old girlfriend wore which after tax would cost $54.11. The rest of the song is just as strong as the beginning and has a catchy hook that’s sure to get your head bobbing.
You can listen to the album on all major streaming services or on Rap Genius and check out the lyrics too: