Jai Harris doesn’t give a shit what you’re comfortable with, and Disconnected (Volume 1) is not a mixtape for the close-minded. If you’re looking for traditional rap, easy content, or an A-B rhyme scheme, Jai is not your artist and Disconnected is not your album. Hosted by DJ Vudu Spellz, the mixtape is almost exclusively spoken word set to soul sample laden beats.
Some tracks, “Rollin Stone” and “Fresh” in particular, ride entirely on the strength of their samples (“Papa Was a Rolling Stone” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” respectively). It’s essentially the original track with added base and looped vocals. But just when you start to worry that’s all Vudu Spellz has in his wheelhouse, you’re hit with “Messin Me Around” the undisputed banger on the album. It’s yet another soul sample (courtesy of The O’Jays “Your Body’s Here With Me”) but the glittering hook sets you up perfectly for the ensuing bounce on the synth and stank on the bass. Jai raps for the first and only time, while Hustle Man and Ontoneyo both display aggressive rasp that effortlessly compliment the beat.
ChampionSoundKillaBlack offers up the nicest feature, spitting choppy, rapid rhymes on “Rollin Stone” that mirror the track’s background soul clap. Ultimately though these rap features hurt Jai’s cause a little, as the contrast with spoken word is likely to remind most hip-hop heads the type of flow they prefer. Rap fans are a stubborn bunch, and spoken word over relatively contemporary beats is just a hard sell. The problem being that it sounds close enough to rap to be heard and judged as that, rather than as an original (or at least separate) genre.
On content and skill alone no one can deny Jai’s authenticity. Her philosophizing is organic, honest, and challenging; the very embodiment of the phrase “light as a rock.” She’s more monotonous in tone than one would expect from a spoken word artist, but it works for her as she exudes the most power in the form of chill-inducing breathiness on songs like “Fresh.” Jai doesn’t explode, she smolders.
On “Fresh” Jai ruminates on her impending trip to the here-after and uses B.I.G’s authority to illuminate her style; “Biggie would give me one more chance to return to the earth, to reverse the hip-hop curse, remind rappers that they were poets first.” Disconnected (Volume 1) is that reminder, for the rappers who care to listen.