Joe James – BRUCE

The UK rap scene is currently bustling with a slew of fresh and exciting talent — and in the midst of it all? Essex-native and rapper Joe James. Already boasting a strong cult following, the Londoner has swiftly amassed widespread acclaim from both underground and mainstream plaudits surrounding his past projects, of which include last year’s stunning nine-track solo outing, Jöetry. Even though the record contained no named features, James was able to successfully produce a series of intricately interwoven soundtracks touching on an array of important topics including legacy, greatness and gratitude. Now, much to his fans delight, the talented rapper continues his ever-good form into the new year serving up another nine-track full length piece entitled BRUCE, displaying his raw, yet matured sound, that he has become so notorious for.

Always calm, understated and underpinned by his absorbing flow, James plays on the mic with an assertive nature, helping to lay down stellar bars throughout this project. Listening to the mixtape on a surface level, BRUCE clocks in at 26 minutes yet the stories told within span a lifetime. The record is introduced by soft piano keys and mellow xylophone notes, until James enters the room in a reflective state — serving up his trademark, nonchalant bars touching upon vivid dreams, before a trademark woozy bass kick launches the tape into life. Trailing off into a beautiful instrumental ensemble towards the final quarter, second showing “boogz” swiftly enters the fray, transitioning into plucky guitar strings and down-tempo kickdrums allowing some space for James to reminisce on his years as a teenager. Continuing to nurture the hazy mood is mellow follow-up “page me”, another song demonstrating James’ unique rapping versatility alongside the dreamy adlibs of singer-songwriter GAV. Even when James quickens the mood towards the latter stages of the track, it is clear his lyricism remains clear and composed throughout. 

Smooth outing “bluedo” ties the album together nicely with an array of acoustic goodness, swiftly followed by fan-favourite, KwolleM-produced “lot29”. Dubbed as the literal king of ‘Mellow Grime’, close friend KwolleM delivers a nostalgic hitter, reminiscent of his distinguished c2c project in 2020. This project in particular has since been bestowed as one of the most refreshing releases to have come out of London in recent times, and it comes as little surprise that the pair serve up another straight hit for their growing catalogue. Also flying the flag for London’s bubbling rap scene is fast-emerging talent BXKS who joins James for track number six. The pair provide a neat dialogue touching on James’ early experience of relationships before entering the final stretch of the project. A Tobi Aitch sample guides the listener down the home-straight before James flexes an emotive feeler in “cant be done” featuring past collaborator and artist, KB. The project is rounded off with another expressive flyer entitled “what you did”, effortlessly tapping into a string of memories during his student years. It provides the ninth and final example of why James is touted as one of the best young rappers in the game right now.

A record with very few faults, BRUCE reinforces the hype surrounding Joe James, as the Essex-born youngstar continues to carve out a space all of his own and reach for the very upper echelons of the international rap scene and beyond. Since BRUCE, Joe James has dropped another tape entitled Pure Connery, as well as the more recent joint venture Get money, go missing alongside producer AirBorn Gav. What a start to 2022.

Track on rotation: “what you did”

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