It is typical of artists in their first studio album appearance to  produce content that may seem lackluster. A possible cause of this could  be the signer trying to find their own sound. Maybe it is simply  inexperience in the industry at that point. Joji on the other hand seems  to have the entire situation solved down to a tee. Through the  evolution of his work on multiple singles and joining the popular rap  group 88rising, Joji has gained the experience of a veteran in his genre  even at such a young age. With the release of Ballads 1, Joji  pushes the boundaries of his sound in a natural and pleasing way, but it  is not free from overly creative errors that lack meaning.

Soulful sound inside unexpected instrumentation

Joji’s sound is based on melodic trap beats molded into influences  from R&B and folk. He expands his reach into a grab bag of genres  crafting highly experimental pieces of music. The album combines many  instruments such as bells, electric guitar and even a genuinely  beautiful piano melody that has roots in each song.

This is the main reason the album sounds so different from others in  the same vein. The backgrounds are so eloquent in the way they blend the  low-fi mix of drum machines and organic instruments that it almost does  not feel possible. Combinations that on paper seem to fail in their  entirety are mixed to perfection and come as a genuine surprise.

The best example of this has to be the already hit single “SLOW  DANCING IN THE DARK”. It’s hard listening to the synths, rhythmic beats  and even the harp featured in the song without becoming completely  engulfed. It goes beyond the lyrics in this fashion by creating an  experience that doesn’t require words to express emotion.

Like most experiments however, not all the outcomes are perfect. “WHY  AM I STILL IN LA” is a song that tries to add in elements that end up  rubbing each other the wrong way. The middle of the song sees a  transition from soft bells to a reverberating metal guitar riff.  Honestly, the vibes given off are confusing to say the least and almost  feel forced. There are a few other tracks in the set that this happens  to, but none are more noticeable than this one.

Overall though, Ballads 1 knows what it is doing when it comes  to this market. Time and effort was spent making every track sound  independent through mixing and experimentation. It shows that trap is  evolving in directions that don’t necessarily always have to be  accompanied by certain lyrics or genre tropes.

Lyrical genius that never sacrifices structure

The major pull of Ballads 1 and most of Joji’s music up to and  including this album has been the lyrics. He doesn’t simply cut and  paste samples, keep up with trends or try to reinvent the wheel by  taking inspiration from older artists. There is no one in the industry  right now that writes from the heart more passionately than Joji, and  that fact is at that forefront of Ballads 1.

Each of Joji’s songs give varying peeks into the heartbreak,  forgiveness and sacrifice that comes with emotional love. He discusses  in-depth feelings about non reciprocating devotion in “TEST DRIVE”,  trying to forget an ex in “CAN’T GET OVER YOU” and losing close friends  in “NO FUN”. The expression is what hits the hardest and when listening  you get the sense that he isn’t sugar-coating any of it. His quotes  often border between delusional and romantic, and even though that is a  difficult line to balance on, Joji does it with flawless expertise.

The clear winner in the category is “TEST DRIVE”, which happens to be  about a guy falling madly in love with a girl that cares more about  ‘living her best life’ than a permanent relationship. The simplicity of  the track adds to its beauty and you don’t have to go far to extrapolate  a meaning and purpose behind the words. As he begs for a change it  becomes apparent to Joji he is fighting a losing battle.

The verses in this song especially put on an impressive display of  just how torn up he is about her. It is the idea of wanting someone so  bad and not being able to achieve their love just because they toss it  aside for less important things. It is a painful yet inspiring,  emotional display of heartbreak that not many people can quantify with  words.

Indecision plays a major part in the majority of the album though and  oftentimes it comes off as frustrating. We as the listener want to find  purpose behind the words but because of the back and forth that occurs  inside the protagonist’s mind, the audience begins to feel distant. It  happens more often than it should in a production filled with these  themes and saturation seems to slither in when we least expect it.

Uniqueness inside and out

Ballads 1 does so much for both Joji, 88rising, trap music in  general, and really just the music industry. It gives a modern  interpretation of love in the real world. There is no flavor of fantasy  or romanticism that detracts from the overall quality. Joji looks to  change the perception of people who may be emotional but don’t flaunt  it. This has the potential to invite people beyond gender, race or other  social norms to truly express their emotions and that passion is  positively amazing.

Because of this the industry can also change in a more positive way.  Acceptance of this soulful writing and placing it on the main stage  speaks volumes. It shows that not every song about love has to be  positive or lacking in deep thoughts. This is exactly what Ballads 1 is all about and Joji does it in a powerful way that sets it apart from the crowd.

The imagination Joji soaks into this project bleeds into music and  lyrics in a way that feels from the heart. When listening the audience  can feel a piece of his soul in each of them. He does not hide anything  behind a wall of fear that people won’t know how to appreciate his years  of work. That commitment creates a unique piece of artwork that only  comes around once every few years.





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Featured Image: The Gateway

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