Review by Justin Peterson
RIYL: Mick Jenkins, Travi$ Scott
Standout Tracks: 100 Roses, Opera, Tales/Psycho ’93 Freestyle, Black and Misguided
In the rap game it’s hard to distinguish yourself. Everybody has to sound like somebody, and whether this is labeling by fans or the artists themselves, very few voices in hip hop are truly unique. Toronto native Jazz Cartier is one such individual striving for his own unique niche in the hip hop community. He succeeds for the most part, cutting himself clean from any ties to Toronto superstar Drake. He and producer Michael Lantz have created a dank, mystifying project in Hotel Paranoia. If Drake is the king of the six, then Cartier is its dark prince.
The album’s title fits, as paranoia seeps from all sixteen tracks. Whether it’s comparisons to his city’s other great artists, familial issues or even thoughts of suicide, Cartier brings it all to the table with refreshing honesty. His swagger and confidence is evident, but it’s his doubt that gives his songwriting empathy.
Lines like this on album standout “Black and Misguided” highlight his family background and concerns: “My daddy’s a gangster, my sister a stripper/ I know that my nephew gon’ grow up a killer/ My mama’s a soldier, got chips on her shoulder/ My cousin a dealer, my uncle a pimp.” All this surrounded by the doubt society casts on him as a black male gives Hotel Paranoia instances of deep clarity in the dark recesses of Cartier’s mind.
Moments like this work because of Cartier’s lyricism, but also because Lantz’s production helps to mold the story as well. The album feels like a walk down the halls of some twisted hotel, deeper and deeper into Cartier’s own paranoia. The tracks meld together, the first half of the album gets most of the hooks and bangers and the second half gets darker as all the seeds of the doubt and fear come together. It’s a producer/rapper relationship that works astonishingly well; if Lantz hadn’t produced each track, it might not have felt so cohesive.
The album is essentially a playground for Cartier to show off his talents. There’s only one guest appearance (River Tiber on “Tell Me”) on the record. Cartier has obvious range; he goes from relentless bangers like “100 Roses” to songs that are pretty much just hooks, all with great success. There isn’t really a low point on the album; the pace works well enough for the sixteen tracks to each have room to breathe.
Overall, Cartier does what he sets out to do: prove that he doesn’t need big-name guests or comparisons to popular artists to succeed. Hotel Paranoia is a great first outing following his popular Marauding in Paradise mixtape. It certainly isn’t perfect, but it doesn’t need to be. It has enough originality and a handful of really special tracks to let it stand on its own in a year that looks like it’s going to be flooded with big name hip hop releases. He might not be there quite yet, but Jazz Cartier has the potential to be the next big thing out of Toronto if he keeps it up.