by Blake Chapman
It is typical of artists in their first studio album appearance to produce content that may seem lackluster. A possible cause of this could be the signer trying to find their own sound. Maybe it is simply inexperience in the industry at that point. Joji on the other hand seems to have the entire situation solved down to a tee. Through the evolution of his work on multiple singles and joining the popular rap group 88rising, Joji has gained the experience of a veteran in his genre even at such a young age. With the release of Ballads 1, Joji pushes the boundaries of his sound in a natural and pleasing way, but it is not free from overly creative errors that lack meaning.
Soulful sound inside unexpected instrumentation
Joji’s sound is based on melodic trap beats molded into influences from R&B and folk. He expands his reach into a grab bag of genres crafting highly experimental pieces of music. The album combines many instruments such as bells, electric guitar and even a genuinely beautiful piano melody that has roots in each song.
This is the main reason the album sounds so different from others in the same vein. The backgrounds are so eloquent in the way they blend the low-fi mix of drum machines and organic instruments that it almost does not feel possible. Combinations that on paper seem to fail in their entirety are mixed to perfection and come as a genuine surprise.
The best example of this has to be the already hit single “SLOW DANCING IN THE DARK”. It’s hard listening to the synths, rhythmic beats and even the harp featured in the song without becoming completely engulfed. It goes beyond the lyrics in this fashion by creating an experience that doesn’t require words to express emotion.
Like most experiments however, not all the outcomes are perfect. “WHY AM I STILL IN LA” is a song that tries to add in elements that end up rubbing each other the wrong way. The middle of the song sees a transition from soft bells to a reverberating metal guitar riff. Honestly, the vibes given off are confusing to say the least and almost feel forced. There are a few other tracks in the set that this happens to, but none are more noticeable than this one.
Overall though, Ballads 1 knows what it is doing when it comes to this market. Time and effort was spent making every track sound independent through mixing and experimentation. It shows that trap is evolving in directions that don’t necessarily always have to be accompanied by certain lyrics or genre tropes.
Lyrical genius that never sacrifices structure
The major pull of Ballads 1 and most of Joji’s music up to and including this album has been the lyrics. He doesn’t simply cut and paste samples, keep up with trends or try to reinvent the wheel by taking inspiration from older artists. There is no one in the industry right now that writes from the heart more passionately than Joji, and that fact is at that forefront of Ballads 1.
Each of Joji’s songs give varying peeks into the heartbreak, forgiveness and sacrifice that comes with emotional love. He discusses in-depth feelings about non reciprocating devotion in “TEST DRIVE”, trying to forget an ex in “CAN’T GET OVER YOU” and losing close friends in “NO FUN”. The expression is what hits the hardest and when listening you get the sense that he isn’t sugar-coating any of it. His quotes often border between delusional and romantic, and even though that is a difficult line to balance on, Joji does it with flawless expertise.
The clear winner in the category is “TEST DRIVE”, which happens to be about a guy falling madly in love with a girl that cares more about ‘living her best life’ than a permanent relationship. The simplicity of the track adds to its beauty and you don’t have to go far to extrapolate a meaning and purpose behind the words. As he begs for a change it becomes apparent to Joji he is fighting a losing battle.
The verses in this song especially put on an impressive display of just how torn up he is about her. It is the idea of wanting someone so bad and not being able to achieve their love just because they toss it aside for less important things. It is a painful yet inspiring, emotional display of heartbreak that not many people can quantify with words.
Indecision plays a major part in the majority of the album though and oftentimes it comes off as frustrating. We as the listener want to find purpose behind the words but because of the back and forth that occurs inside the protagonist’s mind, the audience begins to feel distant. It happens more often than it should in a production filled with these themes and saturation seems to slither in when we least expect it.
Uniqueness inside and out
Ballads 1 does so much for both Joji, 88rising, trap music in general, and really just the music industry. It gives a modern interpretation of love in the real world. There is no flavor of fantasy or romanticism that detracts from the overall quality. Joji looks to change the perception of people who may be emotional but don’t flaunt it. This has the potential to invite people beyond gender, race or other social norms to truly express their emotions and that passion is positively amazing.
Because of this the industry can also change in a more positive way. Acceptance of this soulful writing and placing it on the main stage speaks volumes. It shows that not every song about love has to be positive or lacking in deep thoughts. This is exactly what Ballads 1 is all about and Joji does it in a powerful way that sets it apart from the crowd.
The imagination Joji soaks into this project bleeds into music and lyrics in a way that feels from the heart. When listening the audience can feel a piece of his soul in each of them. He does not hide anything behind a wall of fear that people won’t know how to appreciate his years of work. That commitment creates a unique piece of artwork that only comes around once every few years.
Featured Image: The Gateway
Even with a few noticeable slip ups, Ballads 1 is solid. Joji does not hold back in his attempt to make the audience feel different about their life just by hearing someone else sing what they have gone through for a long time. It is only surprising that it hadn’t arrived sooner.
Blake is a Journalism major who loves everything Byte covers: video games, music, movies and animation. He hopes to gain real-world experience writing for Byte and all the other news organizations at Ball State. Blake is also an honors student and has a passion for learning new and interesting aspects of the world around him.