Jneiro Jarel

Three Piece Puzzle

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Smack in the middle of Jneiro Jarel's debut Three Piece Puzzle, the Brooklyn-born Philly resident and producer-MC opens "Breathin'" crooning full-fledged over a dimly-lit lounge kind of groove with rim-shots and vibe-synthesizer. It could've been a track on D'Angelo's Brown Sugar. In his mid-song monologue, Jarel sums up this genre-hopping album: "To me, in this modern-day music, everybody's doing the same thing. It's like, claustrophobic... I need some space to breathe, man." Leading up to "Breathin'" are hip-hop odes to jazz, like the hard-bop horn-riffed "Big Bounce Theory," the drum'n'bass/electronica of "Crashing Comets" (where every instrument, especially the slow-motion bass, seems to be on barbiturates), the Slum Village-ish "It's Like Fire Yo!!," and "N.A.S.A." -- songs with simple lyrics served as a condiment for the Jarel-produced head-nodders. With few guest appearances and all production credits his, this album's credit lies in the fact that Jarel doesn't request this "space to breathe" and then makes a self-indulgent album created in a vacuum. The first segment of "Lock Down" features Jarel recalling his teen years engulfed in hip-hop, soul, and jazz, and how they influenced him as an artist. Still, there's no mistaking Jarel for a lemming, though there are discernible likenesses to some of his hip-hop brethren, such as J Dilla and Count Bass D. Many of his songs are quite foreign territory for most hip-hoppers. Which, ultimately, is the point: confining Jarel to the normal hip-hop box is unfair. "Sun Walkers" is an Afro-Cuban groove with a vibraphone solo and chorus-refrain reminiscent of a Roy Ayers tune, and "Black Cinderella" is about as close as hip-hop has gotten to David Bowie. And while his lyrics can wander toward empty and sound closer to pedestrian freestyles than the kind of well-crafted rhymes that his impeccable production really deserves, it's the musical diversity and genre-bending/reinventing that makes Three Piece Puzzle fresh and one of the best hip-hop-based debuts of its time.

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