Album Review: Jadakiss, Ignatius

Jadakiss

Ignatius (released March 6, 2020)

On “Huntin’ Season,” the latest (and one of the greatest) tracks from veteran spitter Jadakiss’ fifth album Ignatius, guest Pusha T proclaims to be “the greatest rapper with the least sold.”

I’ll take it one step further – Jadakiss is the greatest rapper without a classic to his name.

It’s not for a lack of trying. Ever since that raspy flow blessed our ears in the mid-90s, Jada has consistently scorched every track he’s been part of. And while his albums typically range from solid to even great, none have hit the upper echelon that his reputation would expect.

So let’s get the bad news out of the way: Ignatius once again falls short of a classic.

But here’s the good news: I don’t think it was ever trying to be. Ignatius is a passion project with a much deeper meaning.

Ignatius is dedicated to Ruff Ryders Entertainment A&R and record producer Ignatius “Icepick Jay” Jackson, who died in 2017. You can see him on the front of Jada’s shirt on the album’s cover. According to Kiss, Ignatius is a nod to the type of music Icepick enjoyed, as well as a dedication to their friendship.

But this is Al Qaida Jada we’re talking about, so Ignatius isn’t as sappy as you might think.

Jada’s rugged bars always sound magical over soulful production, which is why opener “Pearly Gates” hits so hard. The setting allows his introspective thoughts to soar. That continues with first single “Me.” Bryan-Michael Cox chops up Peabo Bryson’s “Give Me Your Love” to allow Kiss to run amok. It’s my favorite track of 2020 so far.

The aforementioned “Huntin’ Season” is destined to be another fan favorite – the bleak setting and venomous barbs make this a vintage Kiss track. But outside of the lyrical beatdown offered here, Ignatius quickly changes course, giving us a side of Jason Phillips we rarely see on wax.

“Keep it 100” plays two roles – a sincere shout out to his ryde or die chick, as well as a more regretful story about a friendship falling through. “NYB (Need Your Best)” showcases Jada on a night on the town with his lady – without busting any shots or secretly moving bricks.

Yeah, this ain’t the Kiss we grew up with. But the key words there are “grew up.” And clearly Jada has too.

Though the maturity should be applauded, several of the songs here, including the two previously mentioned, as well was “Angels Getting Pedicured,” suffer from pretty mediocre hooks. Jada auto-crooning on “Keep it 100” is quite unnecessary. Things work MUCH better when he tags in professionals like Emanny for “Kisses to the Sky” to handle hook duty.

The album closes out with a pair of tracks that play off each other: “I Know” with John Legend is an emotional shoutout to Icepick Jay and the lessons he bestowed (“I was seein’ money, I wasn’t seein’ the wealth/He seen things in me that I ain’t see in myself”) while “Closure” ends with a roll call to all the fallen soldiers we’ve lost, from Prodigy to Pop Smoke to Kobe Bryant and Biggie.

Ignatius is going to be an extremely divisive record, especially among Jada’s Day One fans because, frankly, this doesn’t sound anything like a Jada album. The street talk and gunplay take a back seat to family ties and reflection. It can be uneven and even a little dated in spots – I swear “Catch and Release” sounds like it time traveled from a 2003 106 & Park countdown – but strong themes and honest reflection give Ignatius the depth that some of Jada’s more beloved releases lack.

Icepick Jay passed away at age 44 – the same age Jadakiss is right now. I’m sure that fact isn’t lost on Kiss. Ignatius probably isn’t the album his fans expected, but it’s the celebration of life Kiss needed.

Best tracks: “Me,” “Huntin Season,” “Kisses to the Sky”

4 stars out of 5

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