‘Victory Lap’ album review

Image courtesy of KJ-52

album: Victory Lap
artist: KJ-52
genre: hip-hop
release date: January 10, 2020
star rating: four out of five

review by Levi Yager

It’s officially the end of an era as KJ-52 takes one last run around the track with his new release, Victory Lap. This album/book combo is the ultimate experience for any fan; the project does a deep dive into KJ’s life and career with a very personal angle. These songs and stories are too good to pass up.

The album side of things starts at the very beginning with “Day I Was Born.” Right off the bat, we’re cooking at full heat. It’s an excellent opener with fresh bars from KJ, and the guest vocals by Levi Mitchell are the cherry on top. You’ll hear smooth, jazzy elements in this song that represent the overall stylistic direction of the record. Those elements – some of which are present here, and some later on – include chill saxophone, a thumpin’ bass, meandering guitar plucks, piano and a trap kit.

The next couple songs keep the fire going strong, and the third song, in particular, is one of my all-time favorites on this album. Titled “God is Good,” it features soft, harmonizing synths that create a delicate atmosphere, which is bolstered by volatile bass. This instrumentation is one of the main reasons why I like this song so much. It’s such a cool sound for KJ-52 to rap over.

Lyrically speaking, a lot of the content on this record revolves around God, which is no surprise since KJ is outspoken about his Christian faith. But he also mixes in stories from his life, from getting bullied as a kid to raising hell in the summer to falling more in love with his wife. And, of course, we get to hear about KJ-52’s experiences in the rap game, too. In a lot of ways, Victory Lap is really a culmination of what has made KJ who he is.

Taking a more worshipful approach, “Come Alive” is another highlight at fifth in the tracklisting. It has a very intimate feel to it that’s elevated by a minimalistic background of quiet drums, solitary strums and a few electronic shimmers. Madeline Gibbs accompanies KJ’s verses with wonderful singing, and in a bit of a twist, most of the last quarter is totally instrumental with the exception of a reprising line by Gibbs.

The song that competes with “God is Good” for best on the album would have to be “Pay Attention.” Coming in hot at number seven, it’s got fat beats and jammin’ keys to back up some of KJ-52’s best flow. “Pay Attention” is an honest take on struggling for attention as an artist. KJ raps, “And they all had to stop and laugh. I’m working twice as hard, but I seem to go, like, half as fast.” The song covers his history of open mics and grinding in the hip-hop scene as a white, Christian rapper. It’ll definitely hold your attention.

The last two tracks cross the finish line with finesse. “Victory Lap,” the title track, is a look over the shoulder before moving on. It has moody, retrospective vibes – and lyrics about being at a crossroads. “It’s time that I just face the fact. Feel like I’m runnin’ down my victory lap. Hit the lights ’cause I ain’t comin’ back. It’s time to run down my victory lap,” KJ says. It’s a hard song to swallow due to the awareness that Jonah Sorrentino’s time as KJ-52 is coming to an end, but it provides necessary closure as well. Thankfully, though, we don’t have to say goodbye on a sad note, as “My Very Last Song” ramps up the energy one last time. It’s got KJ-52 and Alcott swapping verses, and they flow great together; it’s one of the best pairings on Victory Lap. “My Very Last Song” acts as the final exclamation point on the storied career of KJ-52, and it has the album going out with a bang.

If you’ve ever been a fan of KJ-52, you’ve gotta give this album at least one listen. You can tell KJ put his heart and soul into this project, and it’s a worthwhile farewell from an iconic artist. Also, hardcore fans will want to check out the book of the same name released alongside the album. Quite a few of the album’s tracks correlate with stories and anecdotes in the book, and some tracks are even the featured “soundtrack to this chapter.” All in all, Victory Lap is a great album with solid rhymes, impressive production and palpable passion. And the project as a whole is an awesome way to celebrate KJ-52 and everything his music has meant.

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