Various Artists, Jamla Is the Squad II, Jamla Records,  ★★★

The visionary behind Jamla Records, super producer 9th wonder, has curated a compilation album that features some of hip-hop’s greatest MC’s and a handful of rap rookies. The sequel to the 2014 compilation Jamla Is the Squad, Jamla Is the Squad II is a hip-hop album for purists, with a sprinkle of R&B and neo-soul. 

9th Wonder’s production with the Soul Council, Jamla’s collective of in-house producers, is impeccable—most of the tracks offer a soulful nostalgic vibe. The veteran rappers on Jamla is the Squad II make an impressive showing, while some newcomers, like King Draft and Don Flamingo, are easily overlooked. The exceptions lie with seventeen-year-old Reuben Vincent and twenty-one-year-old Niko Brim, who both bring a familiar but fresh approach to hip-hop that’s heavily influenced by the genre’s golden boom-bap era. The compilation’s R&B cuts, however, are mediocre at best, save for the work of T.D.E. signee Sir. And compared to contemporaries like SZA, Ari Lennox, and H.E.R., Heather Victoria and Amber Navran sound merely ordinary.

The standout tracks are from everyone’s favorite emcees: Black Thought, Busta Rhymes, J Cole, Big Krit, Rapsody and Dreamville’s newest lyricist, J.I.D. Remaining loyal to the sensibilities of hip-hop in its prime, on “Jumpin’” and “Cojiba,” Busta Rhymes and Black Thought rely on storytelling rap to document their experiences with women. Rapsody, Jamla’s leading lady, shines throughout the project, continuing to prove her strength as a lyricist as she acknowledges the braggadocious behaviors and capitalist attitudes embedded in both hip-hop and black culture.

Jamla Is the Squad II leaves behind a question: Where does a compilation for deep hip-hop heads fit in a world dominated by flash-in-the-pan Soundcloud rappers? Rapsody offers one perspective on “Sojourner”: “If you don’t teach the ones that’s comin’ up to multiply their cash/Think for themselves, think beyond sales/Everything with worth don’t come with some whistles and some bells.” It is disheartening that many of the compilation’s tracks (and possibly the album as a whole) may be overlooked because of the hip-hop industry’s current short attention span. But as the heavy-hitters prove on Jamla Is the Squad II, there’s no flashy substitute for commitment to the craft.