Cincinnati rapper Jay Hill dropped his self-produced ULTRA ORANGE EP on April 21. The EP has been available on cassettes and Bandcamp for a while, but it’s now being released on CD and all major streaming platforms. Hill calls it his most personal effort to date and the self-produced EP lets him combine his American and Japanese influences into his unique world view. Over the course of five songs, Jay Hill lets us into his world, running around and excitedly pointing out all the stuff that sparks joy, or not.
“Not Sega” sets things off with a dissonant sting and a loop that feels dystopian as Hill optimistically raps, “Today I sing a new song/one day we won’t have to overcome”. The music is off kilter and hard to get a handhold on; undertones buzz nervously as Jay raps, “Do the impossible, see the invisible… touch the untouchable, break the unbreakable…fight the power!”
“A Song Called Sidechain” calms things down and combines Hill’s quick, wordy flow with a smooth groove that echoes Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On”. The open airiness of the music allows the listener to focus on Hill’s lyrics as he ponders working, trying to make it in the rap game and do good in the world: “I do a dance between my left and right brain/I’m looking for the answer to the question ‘What can I change?”
Even when he’s talking about student loans or being strapped for cash, he can’t help but interject some sharp humor and you can hear him break into a chuckle after he faux boasts:
“I’m the illest thing out of ‘95
Yeah… even Windows ‘95”
“Cosplay” is the centerpiece of the EP and Hill calls it his thesis statement. It’s the strongest track and lets Hill stretch out over a chill sample of Mariya Takeuchi’s pop hit “Plastic Love”.
As Hill contemplates gatekeeping and cultural appropriation, he makes a case for being independent and following his own muse:
“Check - ain’t no statisticians pre-approving my rhythms
I’m ADHD/that’s everything a focus group isn’t
I can scatter the plot and reconnect the dots in my vision
I make the beats, make the lyrics, and I make the decisions”
And for anyone questioning his intent, Hill spells it out clearly:
“Whether you think Hill is authentic or all gimmick/when you’re listening, you’re in my world, get lost in it”.
“Jibun“ shimmers with an almost- pastoral sheen with guest Mr. Muthafuckin eXquire opening up the track before Hill joins in. Even in his youth, Jay is looking at the future, realizing time is short and that being present in the moment is a rare gift:
“I’m praying to the ancestors evil never reigns again
There’s tears spilling down my cheeks
As ink spilling out my pen
There’s blood spilling in the streets
There’s good people in the pen”
On the closing track “Trivia”,Jay takes us on a breathless tour of his music and cultural influences. He freely cops to his nerdiness and shamelessly admits that it’s gotten even deeper as he’s gotten older; he’s always had a voracious need for stimulus and it all goes into his art:
“My brain got a tapeworm
I need stimulation
I feed on information and live for the exchange
I gather my takeaways and give them back to the cadence”
Hill charts his pop culture evolution in experiences from listening to Regina Spektor, Janelle Monae, to discovering Vampire Weekend, anime, Hikaru Utada, J-Pop, Das Rascist, Tyler the Creator, Angel Beats! and more obscure (to most) Japanese bands. He even embraces the memory when he found out the protagonist isn’t always a good guy and endings aren’t always cheery:
“If the ending isn’t happy find something else to derive from it
Clearly someone wants me to feel something
And even discomfort serves its own function”
Hill Jay gives much love to his favorite Japanese musician, Mariko Goto [from defunct Japanese jazz-punk band Midori] then nerdily stammers, “I’ve got a shirt…with the cover on it…” as the loops fade and the album ends.
Overall, a solid EP and one to put on repeat as we slide into summer.
Speaking of summer, Jay Hill will be performing on Fountain Square this Friday as part of Indie Fridays Powered by CincyMusic. Jay is always a blast to watch perform live; with his elastic flow, humor, energy and blazing wit, it’s a guaranteed good time and a great way to kick off the Memorial Day weekend and unofficial start of summer.
Jay Hill performs on Fountain Square on Friday, May 26 at 7 p.m.