Joyner Lucas is back in action with his second release of 2020, an EP titled 'EVOLUTION'. I'm not sure why this is an EP as it's 13 tracks long, but anyway - Joyner's last album critically flopped (although I thought it was alright), and as suggested by the title his style is evolving to a new level - but would this new venture be a success and get the critics back on his side?
The production on this album is good - especially some beats, such as 'Zim Zimma' which has this banging trap beat, menacing bass and eerie atmosphere as Joyner compares his lifestyle now to that in the trap and how he'll hurt his opps and that he's better than the rest. He had a few funny one liners, "I can turn eggs into bacon (Yeah)", "You trapped in the wrong body like Young M.A (Buck, buck)", but the majority of his verses were meh lyrically and this had potential to be a top tier banger but it just went on for too long and Joyner's delivery wasn't up to scratch. The fast verse breathed fresh air into this track when it was needed and it's a good song - it just had more potential. There's some meh beats at times as well, such as on 'Legend' which has another melancholy piano based beat as Joyner reflects on where he came from to where he's at and that he's a current day legend. Joyner provides hard hitting bars as Rick Ross' feature is typical of him - a solid verse, rough delivery and great braggadocios bars - and despite being great, he couldn't save this track from Joyner's uninteresting delivery, hook or instrumentation. There's some upbeat, banger beats on this EP but the majority of the beats are these melancholy, trap infused piano beats, such as 'The Problem' which has this glamorous and victorious piano instrumental with booming trap elements as it's a great beat. Joyner talks about knowing he'll cheat on his girl but he feels bad about hurting her because she cares for him. It's a decent track, but doesn't stand out too much as Joyner's lyrically very mediocre but it has a nice sound to it. The production overall is nice and suits the theme well.
As a lyricist, Joyner is decent to good - he isn't a top tier lyricist and this is where he loses some appeal, as shown on tracks like 'Str8 Like Dat' where he's just decent but not top tier, "Sober minds is my regime, straight like that (Woah, yeah) // I don't do no drugs or sip no lean, straight like that, yeah (Skkrt) // Crack turned my cousin to a fiend, straight like that (Fact) // I just hope that one day he might get clean, straight like that". The emotional piano, saxophone and trap elements is nice as he talks on his hard life he had and his disapproval of the glorification of drugs. His delivery on this track is weak, the hook is too repetitive and I don't care for it - he does have a nice flow and the beat is good and the song isn't awful, just not good either. He does have his moments with some funny lines in there, such as on 'On This Way', as the track focuses on the Black Lives Matter movement and how he's focused on investment rather than flexing as he also reflects on the life he could've lived with the wrong guidance. iyla's hook had really thick sounding vocals but was pretty meh as The Game's verse stole the show with some great punchlines, "Me and my teacher goin' back and forth // Like No Name and J. Cole", a solid verse and smooth flow and about his drug dealing past and treatment of black people in today's society. The stripped back, melancholy beat with a cold, metallic feel isn't the most interesting beat and this is a pretty mediocre track. His flow is great, flexible and adaptable to different speeds and never sounds forced as it comes to him so effortlessly - but his delivery on the other hand is the weakest part. His croaky voice just doesn't work for some tracks and isn't energetic or hard hitting - it's just very underwhelming and too delicate.
There's not many features on here, and to put it statistically 3/4 of them perform - with some giving us a great guest hook, such as Elijah James on 'Like a River' who provides great vocals and a suspense building hook with a misty atmosphere as Joyner talks on the story of his toxic relationship with his dad with powerful, raw and introspective lyrics, "Your father died when you was young, I think that made a scar // I started thinkin' maybe that's why you the way you are (Nah) // End of the day, no excuse for how you played your part // Told myself when I became a father, I'ma raise the bar (Word)". The misty beat with this heavy synth bass and light piano keys swirling around the bass explodes into this pretty good trap beat as this is a really good ending after a poor second half. The content is great as he breaks down his relationship with his dad - it's one of the more honest and emotional cuts off this album and it makes for a gripping and enjoyable listen. We also get a great guest verse on here. The one feature I'm not too keen on is Ashanti on 'Fall Slowly', her hook seems so out of place, unnecessary and just doesn't sound good over this very generic clap and kick trap pattern with cold, melancholy synths. Joyner's lyrics are just very generic and corny like you'd hear from any poppy love song. The hook is bad, the whole thing is bland and it's such an uninteresting, boring song. Overall however, there's a good choice of features and the majority perform well and slide into the track easily.
Content wise it's stronger than his previous album, feeling more focused, as one of the main themes is showing appreciation for black people, whether that be the Black Lives Matter movement or simply his appreciation for black women, as on 'Things I've Seen' as he repeats the phrase black women to a powerful degree, "Black loyalty, black royalty // Black novelty, black odyssey // Black women in a black colony // Black women feelin' black harmony", but this quickly gets tiring over these piano keys which explodes into a trap beat which bangs and keeps the despairing atmosphere. It has a powerful message, the hook is great and most things on this are good except the tiring repetition - it's still a good song however. His come up from his pre-fame lifestyle is explored a lot on here too, such as on the first actual track 'Evolution', which see's Joyner talk on his desire to evolve and how we went from a pretty normal life and forced his way into the rap game. Lyrically he's decent but nothing too great over this very electronic style beat with a warm feel to it and it's a really good opener as Joyner vents on this so effortlessly. The content is great on here, it's not exactly the most cohesive but he takes an idea and runs with it and there's a few links between tracks thematically. 'Snitch' takes an interesting look at two perspectives acting as as a conscience as they try to convince an individual to snitch or not over this piano based trap beat which is pretty decent. Joyner plays the roles great and they bounce off each other so effortlessly, "This your motherfuckin' conscience, n****, don't even do it // Don't start actin' like a bitch 'cause you forgot where you goin' // You made choices that done put you here, and now you just ruined // And I don't care about why you did it or who got you influenced // Nah, don't listen to that n****, that ain't good advice // If you cooperate, then it's your chance to save your life". It's a great track, Joyner plays both roles well and it's a gripping story.
To conclude, this is a decent project from Joyner, as he showcases some good rapping, catchy tracks and a few personal moments. It's definitely a flawed project as the limited features don't all perform well, and his delivery is weak at times as well as his lyrics sometimes - but it's listenable, although nothing exactly stands out yet nothing is noticeably bad either (bar 'Fall Slowly'). The production is good, and Joyner is definitely heading in the right direction as we got some moments on here that suggests his potential is definitely reachable. Overall Joyner is less corny on here than the past bar the skits which while corny and surface level, make an interesting listen and are overall OK. It's more slick and enjoyable than his recent output - but it takes a nose dive in the 2nd half unfortunately, and while there's some highlights it drags on a bit too long and gets tedious.
FAVOURITE TRACKS: Evolution, Things I've Seen, Zim Zimma, Snitch, Like a River LEAST FAVOURITE TRACK: Fall Slowly OVERALL RATING: Light 6.5/10