Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.
In this edition of the Independent Spotlight, we’re going to be checking out the sophomore endeavor of Eric James, ‘Never Give Up.’ The six-track collection could be classified as inspirational hip hop with ‘inspiring lyrics you will immediately relate to.’ I could spend the length of a full review twice over talking about James’ background, but we have an album to dig into. So here are the highlights.
James is a motivational speaker with a dark past. He’s had an incredibly heartbreaking and difficult life chock-full of violence, death, tragedy, and gang affiliation. After years of turmoil, however, James turned his life around, got involved in the Army, and eventually the educational system. He makes a massive impact in the lives of countless youth each year now, both in the classroom and via his speech outings. He poignantly describes himself as a ‘product of choice,’ a stark contrast to some youth who become a product ‘of their environment.’ Needless to say, James has quite a bit to draw on for his music.
Immediately, I fell in love with James’ music. I have to be honest: I was really worried delving into his content. I was worried that it would be stereotypical and cheesy, and I was even more worried about having to (respectfully) tear down someone’s music who is so clearly on the high path in life. (If you’re a frequent reader of the Spotlight you know I’m not afraid to swing the critique-hammer.) Fortunately, James’ music is genuinely wonderful.
‘My Moment,’ the opening ‘Never Give Up,’ is one of, if not the, most superbly produced indie hip hop songs I’ve heard thus far this year. Elegantly autotuned female vocals, a brass section, and James’ seamless delivery offer an impactful performance of epic proportions. His lyrics are meaningful and very introspective, but not stereotypically inspirational. There’s a fine line there, and James walks it well.
‘I Don’t Know’ continues the exceptional showcase of James’ talent. Again, a horn section, thick layering of percussion, and back-up vocals accent his rhymes beautifully. ‘Things I Never Had,’ a synthesizer-heavy, piano-driven number, marks the halfway point with the most infectious chorus of the album.
On the latter half of the record, ‘Long Way To Go’ is the clear highlight. (Though I do love the title track, too. That track hits on his personal life in the hardest way possible.) This track in particular, though, is so, so good. The performances on ‘Long Way To Go’ are the pinnacle of the album - from the acoustic opening to the faint whistles in the backdrop.
‘Never Give Up’ receives my imaginary ‘Best Hip Hop Record Of The Fifty I’ve Reviewed So Far This Year’ award. (Speaking of which, should I do awards at the end of the year? This would certainly be a contender.) In any case, go listen to ‘Never Give Up.’ It’s damn near the best indie rap I’ve ever heard. I’m serious. Go. Now.