There’s no real reason to mince words here but I do feel some type of introduction is warranted here. Mello Music Group has been killing the hip-hop game since its inception back in 2007. They’ve been releasing top notch quality hip-hop for over a decade now, while somehow still advancing and evolutionizing the game. Now, onto the stars of the show Joell Ortiz & Apollo Brown. I can’t front, I didn’t see this collaboration coming (how it should be) and though I was sold on the duo after hearing their first single “Decisions” I had no idea what their LP “Mona Lisa” would be like.
Fam this is easily a Top 5 record (I currently have it at #2). Apollo Brown is one of the most consistent and potent producers in the game and teaming up with Joell Ortiz is a combination I didn’t know I needed. On “Mona Lisa” we get a more mature Ortiz. After the usual and proper Apollo Brown intro, “Reflections” is the first track we get from Ortiz. He puts any Slaughterhouse talk and rumors to bed immediately. “’Im feelin’ better on my own/Took a sec for me to accept that next time I’m on the road/Won’t be no Crook, won’t be no Royce, won’t be no Joe”. You can feel the acceptance from Ortiz but also feel that he misses his team and the times had.
I believe “Reflections” sets the foundation for the rest of the record. If you’re expecting Slaughterhouse type raps over Apollo Brown production, you’re going to be disappointed. But that era is essentially over now and Joell Ortiz has adjusted and is creating for Joell Ortiz fans. Now don’t trip Ortiz is still the clever, honest, s*it talker that we’ve grown to love. Tracks like “Cocaine Fingertips” (which oh my goodness I fell out of my seat when this joint came on) and “Timberlan’d Up” (featuring Royce Da 5’9’’) bring the braggadocio that we need.
However to me where Joell Ortiz shines most is where he’s painting pictures with the stories he tells. “My Block” is the first example on the album, the vividness of the pictures Ortiz is painting of his home and things experienced is refreshing yet haunting. “That Place” though is yet another moment that still catches me off guard in my listens. Ortiz speaks about the hospital and brings the listener with him into the ER. What makes it clever though is the first verse speaks on the process and impact of losing a close friend and then in the second verse he talks about bringing a life into the world. Joell Ortiz further puts into perspective how difficult it is and how much risk is involved just to be born in this life.
Joell Ortiz & Apollo Brown like I said earlier are a combination I didn’t know I needed in my headphones. Apollo Brown’s classic mix of triumphant yet reflective instrumentals is the perfect soundscape for Joell Ortiz to rip mics but also take some time to reflect on where he’s been and where he’s going. “Mona Lisa” showcases the maturity of Joell Ortiz while making sure cats keep in mind that he’s one of the best to do it. Mello Music Group does it yet again.