Sounds like … a fun-filled, non-nasal version of Eminem, with songs that are rhythmically poppy and lyrics that are right-on for the disc's target audienceAt a glance … serious heads may want to look elsewhere, for KJ-52's third album is primarily focused on fun, ministry, and encouragement for teens
This past year has been a tumultuous one for Jonah Sorrentino, better known as KJ-52. His second album, Collaborations, was the break he needed to catapult him to Christian hip-hop stardom. Collaborations was a byproduct of a newfound, more accessible sound courtesy of Todd "Cleezy" Collins, a bevy of key guests to spice things up, media exposure in the most unexpected places, and a relentless touring schedule that placed him alongside heavy-hitters GRITS and Pillar, among others.
Then there's that one song from Collaborations, the much publicized personal letter to Eminem. "Dear Slim" found favor with Christian Hit Radio programmers and youth groups across the country, but the song's video didn't fare well when a portion of it aired on MTV's insanely popular TRL show. Many viewers mistakenly thought KJ was dissing the renowned rapper, and they burned up the MTV message boards with their flames. When introducing the video, the on-air vee-jay even called him "KJ Fifty-Two."
So Sorrentino decided to set the record straight with the appropriately titled It's Pronounced Five Two, which picks up right where Collaborations left off in its sonic poppiness and lyrical straightforwardness. But there's only limited innovation and poignancy in the mix. In some respects, Pronounced feels like a paint-by-numbers, carbon copy of Collaborations. The sound and production values are fine, but Collins and KJ are up to the same old tricks in an attempt to keep it as familiar as possible—starting with "Dear Slim Pt. 2."
KJ says he wrote this second installment in the "Dear Slim" saga in hopes of silencing those who were hating on him for thinking he recorded the original just to sell records or to diss Slim Shady. In "Pt. 2," many details are reprised almost by-the-book—the same "la-la's" in the hook, the acoustic guitar licks, the soft backing beat. Lyrically, not much is added to the pool of sentiments that were communicated in the original, which begs the question of whether it was even necessary to rehash things.
The pump-yo-fist-in-the-air "Rock On" (featuring Pillar's Rob Beckley) is big, riffy and very programmed, a faux rapcore anthem that feels like it could've been pulled straight out of Peace of Mind—KJ's rapcore rock side project. In the vein of Collaborations' "47 Emcees," "47 Pop Stars" is similarly cute and inventive, but the best part about this song is the beat, which T. Cleezy almost admirably patterns after "Lapdance" by N.E.R.D. (The Neptunes' rock-inflected alter ego side project). The soulful "Pick Yourself Up" features Donnie Lewis (of Raze fame), and it's definitely this album's "Sonshine," with its sultry R&B beat and wah-wah underpinnings. Collins' ability to replicate past works shines once again on "So In Love With You" (Pharrell and Snoop Dogg, anyone?) and the Jay-Z-inspired "Whoop Whoop," which declares repeatedly: "Here we go like whoop whoop."
Several choruses suffer from brevity and simplicity. "Whoop Whoop" is a fine example, as is "Dear Slim Pt. 2," with its repeated "la-la's" and the phrase "To whom it may concern." "Ooh ahh, push 'em up high" is the sole line in the chorus to "Cartoon Network," KJ's ode to Saturday morning programming. Meanwhile, look no further than the song titles to "Check Yourself," "I Feel So Good," and "Pick Yourself Up" to know their choruses.
Other songs ponder more serious issues, like the poignant "#1 Fan" (easily this album's best track), the confessional—if not a bit too melodramatic—"I'm Guilty," and "Don't Go," a song of encouragement for youth coping with the divorce of their parents. These ultimately aren't enough to counterbalance the album's overabundance of silliness, but that doesn't mean Pronounced won't be embraced by its target audience.
I have no doubt that Pronounced's broad appeal will garner KJ-52 lots of recognition and sales, pushing him even farther up the acceptance ladder in mainstream Christian crowds. My only hope is that KJ will be inspired to infuse his hooks with a little more depth in the future. If John Reuben ("Do Not"), tobyMac ("Irene"), and GRITS ("Here We Go") have been able to mix fun with capable lyricism, KJ-52 most certainly can.