Artists: H.A.R.D. (KXNG Crooked & Joell Ortiz)
Label: Hitmaker Music Group
Release date: February 24, 2023
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐✰ (8.9/10)
My Ears perk up every time I catch wind of KXNG Crooked and Joell Ortiz doing another collaboration album. Ever since they debuted themselves as the duo known simply as “H.A.R.D.” they just haven’t missed. I’m not sure if the term exists, but I’m officially going to refer to these guys as a super-duo for now on. This is what happens when two members of a spitter-heavy supergroup leave but decide to keep their halves of the quartet alive.
H.A.R.D. first started making waves under this new brand alias a couple of years ago with their self-titled debut EP. They would come to release several projects that sparked some conversations within the nitty-gritty communities of hip-hop bar heads, like myself. Most notably, they recently decided to give us one last look inside the Slaughterhouse they helped build before burning it down forever with their “The Rise & Fall Of Slaughterhouse” album. As the 1-year anniversary of their official duo debut album approaches this month, they’re making a significant return with this snack-size “JFKLAX” EP.
- Take Time
Joell starts off with an extremely confident, self-aware verse over a sonically celebratory instrumental. Joell is letting us know that the super-duo is back for a legendary return after a 1-year break. Crooked really knows how to start a verse: “Like Crows Feet Around The Eyes, Them Lines Take Time, When They Come From A Lot Of Smiling, I Won’t Erase Mine”. His whole contribution to this track is one long string of some of the hardest bars on this EP. He delivers his verse with a flow that implies he knows how crazy he went on this track. I love it!
This track is overall a much slower tempo than the opener. It’s more of a retrospective love letter to the Duo’s West Coast home and ties to the Eastside. I like the emotion this groovy, sort of funkadelic production brings to the track. It’s such a skill within itself for Crooked to somehow effortlessly speed his flow up and down without it becoming distracting. It’s as if he just flips a switch on or off.
- Foe Or Friend
I’m a sucker for horns, keys, and drums. This track follows the recipe for a banger because it has all three. It’s easily my favorite beat on the EP. You’ll likely enjoy the production if you’re a Jay-Z fan, especially if you recognize those very familiar hi-hat sounds. There’s also a pretty obvious sample of “Hey, What’s That You Say.” Crooked’s relentless, unstoppable flow that chainsaws through this production is why I’m calling this track the best of the five on the EP.
- Stay Dangerous (Featuring Sly Paper)
A woman opens this track with spoken word dialogue that sets the stage for a track about living through poverty in a dangerous city. You could write this track off as cliche about surviving in a rough city, but you shouldn’t! The intelligent rhymes are reason enough to enjoy the track, but the passion from both artists is what keeps it fresh to the listeners’ ears. Joell, in particular, does a great job painting a clear picture with descriptive lyrical imagery. Sly Paper cleans up shop and ties the track off at the end with a soulful, cinematic bridge/outro that sounds like it belongs in a dramatic crime movie.
- Blue Magic
The EP closes similarly to how it opens. We’re given one more confident duet to close out the project, brought to you by freshly sharpened pens. The main difference between this and the opener is that this track rightfully gives off a sense of winding down. For such a short project, they ran hot while it lasted. There’s a very touching feeling of mutual respect between Joell and Crooked with this EP – two heavyweights seeing eye to eye. You can’t fake the level of sincerity on this track.
I have to salute this duo for how hard they’ve been working over these last few years. It’s incredibly rare to get this many consistently high-quality projects within such a short time span. You have to respect this kind of grind. I know this is just a quick EP, but I feel like I’ve just been through a full-length album. It’s almost unfathomable how dense and deep every inch of technical lyricism gets with these two. I could have taken the time to break down every bar on the project, but the review would end up looking like a damn novel.
Written By CeaTee Reviews