J.R. Writer is one of those emcees who seem to be on standby, always in the thick of it, like he’s just going about things and someone happens to stick a mike in front of his face to capture the transaction. This is sadly refreshing — mixtapes have become preoccupied with a lot of other stuff that isn’t rapping. Also, rappers are like athletes now: thrilling in their element, borderline-retarded out of it.
In J.R.’s case, such an analogy makes his grind easy to respect. On Writer’s Block Vol. 3, all else is cleared to make room for his manhandling delivery. “Welcome to Greatness” starts with an audio clip of Mike Tyson in the ring, talking about his defense being impregnable and wanting to eat his opponent’s kids. Hunger becomes a skill unto itself and javelin lines are thrown out effortlessly, with J.R. reaching back into an endless inventory of Dipset punch lines and street-war boasts.
Which would all be fine if J.R. cared as much about song structure and beats as he did about trying to personify “Eye of the Tiger.” What holds back Writer’s Block is its low-budget vibes. Most of the beats — some borrowed; some that sound like Purple City discards — feel merely like test drives for cadence and positioning. That and the fact that J.R. tears through tracks like a pit bull whose owner is nowhere in sight — vocals way over the top, music fighting to be heard. At its worst, it devolves into a sort of mixtape karaoke.
The back-and-forth “Grill ‘Em,” already a fixture on New York mixtapes, is most promising, made inescapable by tinny siren loops and a restrained, often comical performance. Other moments are equally inviting, but a full-length is going to be tough to pull off without better direction. J.R. seems far more concerned with showing how much he wants it than with what he’ll do once he gets it.