Joe Ness Ellipsis
Ellipsis, the debut album from Spectra recording artist and New York City native Joe Ness, heralds the arrival of a potentially major new voice in the hip-hop genre. Ness is working squarely within the traditions of an established mode, namely East Coast hip-hop with all of its predilections, but doesn’t limit himself to narrow explorations. Instead, the most notable aspect of this debut is his lyrically content and delivery. The gritty, organic production keeps the strong musical content in the listener’s ear throughout and helps present the album as a well-rounded, cohesive work.
A brief opener with minimalist musical content, “Intro (The Definition of Ellipsis)” is a strong delineation of the album’s lyrical themes and, with its brief running time, never overstays its welcome. An introduction like this signals some ambition. A cynic’s take might be Ness felt it necessary to explain what ellipsis means in this context to those otherwise unaware. However, the thoughtful lyrical content is a hint that Ness’ vision is clearer. This is autobiographical with, perhaps, a thin veneer of fiction imposed over the top and intends nothing less than to give a full accounting of his life.
As well, it provides a theatrical experience. The album’s next track, “The Reign”, points in that direction with its lush musical orchestration. It is hard not noticing the slightly ominous air surrounding the song and careful listening to the lyrics will only strength that opinion. While I am rarely a fan of songs hinging on clever puns, “The Reign” is methodical, well written, and flawlessly performed.
Heavy electronic music supports “Cinderella”, but Ness’ verbal skills highlight another track. He can veer effortlessly from smirking, loose-shouldered confidence into startling moments of insight and his sensitivity to enunciation peppers his delivery with surprising turns. A similar aesthetic informs “I Got To Work”, produced by Dez Beats, but the electronics are even thicker this time around. Ness’ cawing swagger never loses its way in the dense backing and, in the best example of traditional rock ensembles; his voice is another instrument in the sonic tapestry.
The lush orchestrations return to superb effect in the blustery “Got Damn”. Like the best examples in this genre, Ness’ formal musical backing creates a strong counterpoint to the customary, if cleverly stated, bravado filling the track. This is smart, savvy stuff with attitude to burn and a sturdy sense of what hip-hop fans have traditionally appreciated. Few tracks illustrate this point better than “Snakes On A Plane”, produced by Duck Dodger, a wide-ranging screed against society, Ness’ perceived inferiors and enemies, along with a healthy sampling of an assortment of poseurs and thieves. The music and beats have a relentless, accumulating quality that, by the end, feels like you haven’t heard this song as much as buried under it. This is perhaps the intense, tough-minded highlight of the album.
When you come out of the gate like this, swinging for the fences and intending to leave behind a statement of your arrival, the only concern is if you can maintain that focus. There’s evidence of Ness’ ability to do so in every track. There isn’t a minute of this album not stamped with a distinctive voice and personality. Ellipsis is an accomplished debut and well worth any serious hip-hop fan’s time and cash.