Who is John Robinson? If you don’t know the answer to that question, you will by the time you’re done listening to Robinson’s debut solo release: The Leak Edition Vol. 2. In the meantime, here are a few spoilers: You may already know Robinson under the name Lil Sci, half of the group Scienz of Life and emcee for the duo Sol Uprising. Ten years into the hip-hop game, he’s worked with Lyricist Lounge/Fondle
Em’, has collaborated with MF Doom for the forthcoming John Robinson Project and is president of Shaman Work Recordings. But if all that doesn’t convince you that J.R. is a serious guy, listen to his album. He takes his career seriously (“All Behind Me”), his rhymes seriously (“Scriptures”) and, when he’s in one, his relationships seriously (“Makings of U”). In fact, he spends the better part of his debut declaring who he is and what he cares about. It’s hard not to respect him for that.
Here’s the problem: Robinson may be too serious for his own good. There’s nothing inherently wrong with an emcee who takes his shit seriously. But this kind of seriousness is only a virtue when directed at subject matter that’s worthy of serious consideration. J.R.’s lyrics mostly focus on J.R. himself: a smart, level-headed, determined man. Is he the sort of guy I’d want running my record label? Absolutely. Is he a sufficiently compelling character that I want to listen to him talk about himself for nearly an hour? Not so much.
It doesn’t help that the album suffers from forgettable production, forgettable guest appearances, and a batch of hooks/choruses that are best forgotten. Robinson’s attempt at a club anthem, “There U Go,” features a hook so trite it makes me want to spend Friday night parked in front of the television. And there’s a reason to think he should lighten up: On the thoroughly entertaining “Action Flick,” Robinson casts himself as a badass action hero and finally demonstrates a sense of humor and some real charisma on the microphone. This track strongly suggests that John Robinson might produce far better results if he stepped outside of himself once in a while–and didn’t take himself so damn seriously.