‘What Happened Was…’ album review

Image courtesy of KJ-52

album: What Happened Was…
artist: KJ-52
genre: hip-hop
release date: May 17, 2019
star rating: three out of five

review by Levi Yager

KJ-52’s new project, What Happened Was…, is a book/album combo involving stories and themes from the rapper’s life. Interestingly, the tracks don’t correlate directly to any specific chapters. Instead, the album acts as a complementary piece that incorporates some of the main ideas presented in the book.

As for the record, it shows that KJ is still pushing himself to explore new artistic directions, which is awesome to hear from a veteran like himself. And producer Poetics does a great job of aiding in that pursuit by providing slick beats as a backdrop for KJ’s rhymes.

The first track starts the album “on ten,” as the lyrics say. “Beastmode” showcases tight verses by KJ-52 and a simple, yet effective, chorus-type section by guest rapper Xay Hill. These are carried by soft keys and dense bass by Poetics, which are heard throughout the album. “Beastmode” checks all the boxes of a great rap song; you can tell KJ’s focusing on the core factors that make a winning track.

The next two songs are alright, but they’re nothing to write home about. The strongest parts of “Go for It” are the guest spots by Jodie Jermaine and Mitch Darrell, and the song is just OK as a whole. “Big Enough” is fine, but it’s pretty standard for what’s already been established at this point in the album.

“Have a Good Day,” however, is perfect. It brings in a funky beat and melody paired with V. Rose’s silky-smooth vocals, and KJ-52 keeps a solid flow going. Honestly, this may be the best song on here; it’s just bumpin’ from start to finish. Lyrically, “Have a Good Day” is about staying positive and focused on God even when shit happens. Everything comes together superbly on this song, and it’s an easy favorite on What Happened Was….

The fifth track is “Flex,” featuring Dre Murray. It’s a fun pump-up jam, but it fails to stand out as anything more than that. As a sidenote, it also includes a Chewbacca-like vocal sound reminiscent of a similar noise in the song “Paisano’s Wylin’” by rapper Andy Mineo. It’s a little weird to hear the sound used once again in another Christian rap song, but that fact is fairly inconsequential to the quality of “Flex” in the big picture. Ultimately, the song is enjoyable – but not as memorable as other cuts from the record.

“Depression Nap,” number six, is the biggest competitor with “Have a Good Day” for best song on the album. It features Dru Bex and really captures the thoughts and emotions involved with going through depression. Backed by a more somber soundscape, KJ-52 draws on his own experiences and encourages listeners to talk to God when in the midst of depression. “Depression Nap” is the heaviest song on What Happened Was… in terms of themes, and KJ handles it well. It’s dark and enlightening at the same time, giving the song layers for listeners to dig into.

The following song is “Gimme That Chicken,” a joke track about craving Chick-fil-A. Nothing incredible, but it’s short, sweet and should please fans of KJ’s comical songs. And “Jim and Pam” is the closing track, referencing the famous couple from The Office. It’s a love song from KJ to his wife that has a mix of lighthearted and sincere tones. This duality can make it a little confusing for listeners to place the song’s intended overall approach, but the general message is successfully conveyed regardless. KJ-52 obviously loves his wife, and “Jim and Pam” is a cool way for him to show that. It’s not an amazing track, but it’s a nice ending to What Happened Was….

Longtime fans will definitely want to check out this record, along with the book. KJ-52 nails what he does right on the album, even if a few songs are just short of what could’ve been home runs. And for those who’ve never listened to KJ-52, What Happened Was… wouldn’t be a bad introduction to his music.

As for the book, it’s loaded with crazy stories from KJ’s life and career as a rapper. It’s an absolute page-turner – especially for readers who are somewhat familiar with KJ-52 and his corner of the music industry – though it does contain more than a few typos. Additionally, the What Happened Was… book has a lot of rare photos in it that add to the stories nicely.

With an engaging album and an entertaining book, KJ-52 has released an innovative project for sure. All things considered, his latest creative endeavor is worth a look from anybody who enjoys good hip-hop or a good read.

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