Jay-Z famously rapped that as long as he was alive his (one-time) protégé Memphis Bleek “could be one hit away his whole career.” The insinuation being that as long as the young rapper was operating under the shadow of his former boss, a gilded rap destiny wasn’t necessarily a sure thing. That’s certainly a less than benevolent proclamation, and one that no longer applies to budding rappers like J. Pinder whose search for fame and fortune in the internet age is not inextricably linked to a greater string-pulling force.
All this to say: Justin Pinder is seeking success on his own terms. Careless is the MC’s first album on new label home Fin Records, a small regional boutique based in Pinder’s native Seattle. It’s the follow-up to the rapper’s last project, Code Red (2011), an independently released album that successfully highlighted Pinder’s natural, easy-going flow and penchant for emotionally cutting, observational lyricism. A series of well-produced videos and brief affiliation with the Justus League followed, events that all helped place J. Pinder on the cusp of hip-hop’s proverbial “next level.”
Careless likewise does many things to help push the man’s rap career forward. Not least of all the album’s lead single, “Never No”, the type of career-making song that Jay-Z might have been talking about. The track features a commanding, horn-laden beat produced by Tha Bizness’ Kuddie Fresh and soulful swagger courtesy of guest vocalist Dice (a Seattle-based singer/MC who invites obvious Lauryn Hill comparisons). “Never No” sets the table for the rest of the album, a brief eight tracks (including interlude) on which J mostly ruminates on the trappings of burgeoning fame. The MC definitely wants a life under the klieg lights, but seems wary of what it might ultimately cost him. Tenuous lines between the pursuit of big dreams and an otherwise healthy lifestyle are walked on “A Learning Game” and “Pilgrimage.” “Some Kinda Star” (featuring singer Zach Bruce) makes a dubious case for treating all of the subsequent emotional fallout with liquor and endless racks.
Production on Careless is handled by J’s usual collaborator suspects. Jake One and Vitamin D, two fellow Seattlelites who have known the rapper since he was distributing his Backpack Wax mixtape out of his Jansport, contribute their usual knocking, emotive boom-bap. Jake’s “Jet Stream” is a first class banger, the second best track to “Never No.” Things get a little circumspect with the aforementioned “Some Kinda Star”, a rock/rap hybrid number produced by Illmind which, depending on your point-of-view, spells either big promises or impending doom for J. Pinder’s future. Likewise, Kuddie Fresh’s “No Fault of Mine” wades into clunky melodrama and drags the album down for a brief spell.
Considering how methodically charted J’s career has been to date, Careless seems like a fairly odd title for the album. That is until you hear him tell it on the title track: Being famous requires some amount of reckless abandon, if only to overcome conflicting mores wrought by burgeoning celebrity. Whether that manifests itself in substance abuse and public meltdowns in front of TMZ cameras, or in a private break-up over the phone with an old girlfriend 2,000 miles away, the turmoil always occurs in the psyche of the provocateur. The main complaint I have about this album is that it often sounds like J. Pinder isn’t having any fun. But then again it’s also clear the man hasn’t sold his soul for the fame he’s so obviously chasing. That purgatory can feel like tedium to those watching from a distance, but it’s very likely J. Pinder knows the lights will burn even brighter if he emerges a healthier human being on the other side.