Review: Jake Miller, 'Us Against Them'
Miller eschews the trap in favor for the pop-side of rap: doesn’t get the same respect that edgier, more ‘trill’ rap receives. Why? Because generally, pop-rap loses the “rap” label at all regardless if the artists actually raps. Pop-rappers are thought to be the biggest sellouts of a genre that seems more focused about the ‘trap’, not commercial crossover. However, some folk fit the mold to be a pop-rapper and what’s wrong with that? More pop-oriented rap artist Jake Miller pretty much lays out exactly where he stands artistically on full-length debut Us Against Them - somewhere between pop and rap, duh! After listening to the overall enjoyable, well produced effort, I don’t think Miller is too concerned about popping bottles or “bands making her dance” like gangsta rappers. Spring break on the beach with his boo may be more up his alley… or even on his couch. LOL.
“Collide” opens Us Against Them with more ‘pop’ than ‘rap’. Sure, there some pop-rapping going down, but “Collide” is that big pop crossover record meant to ideally give the independently signed artist commercial aspirations. “Me and you stoppin’ time / all of the stars align / this is what it feels like… when we collide”, he sings on the big-time chorus. It’s a shame that more people don’t know about Jake Miller yet as “Collide” isn’t a bad record – particularly if you’re into that crossover pop/rap scene. Follow-up cut “Hollywood” certainly doesn’t paint Miller as an OG or a nu-gangsta, but there is a bit more rap-sensibility compared to “Collide”. Miller gets some bragging in: “Said sayonara to my old life / cause that sh*t started borin’ me / got Caviar on my plate now / feelin’ like the man / I don’t even think that it tastes good / I’m just eatin’ it cause I can, b*tch!” The concept is nothing new, evidenced by the ‘I came up’ hook (“We livin’ the dream (we goin’ Hollywood)..”), but everyone likes a good success story I suppose. Doesn’t hurt to have that pop-urban Drake-like Bridge going on either.
“Me and You” opens with pop-driven piano, signaling a return to more of a pop flavor. Miller pulls it off without a hitch. Don’t let Miller’s bright and optimistic performance make you think he’s too soft, he gets an f-bomb in there (“‘Cause I’ve been up for days / thinkin‘ ‘bout escaping now / we can have it made / f*ck this place, we’re breaking out / so peace out ‘cause we gone / girl I know you’re nervous / but we can take ‘em on / us against them, the whole world versus…”). How would I describe the vibe of this cut? Pleasant and enjoyable. Sure, he’s not rapping about popping bottles in the club or how his “drop is sick”, but does he really need to? Seems like he’s found his niche. Follow-up “High Life” featuring Jeremy Thurber keeps Miller’s joyful, sunny pop-rapping afloat. Yes, that means there’s definitely guitar involved. My favorite lyric? “Yeah I need some, ‘cause my pockets lookin’ fat now…” #Swag
On the frat-rap delight “My Couch”, Miller certainly insinuates sexual endeavors, but does so playfully, if cornily. Sure, the hook is innocent enough (“She don’t wanna go out / she’d rather chill in my house… her friends are in the VIP but she don’t need an ID to come and kick it on my couch”), but you know a three letter word is insinuated through lines like “‘Cause you ain’t got nothing on but my tank and yo undies / so get on the floor and just tackle me, rugby…” or “High heels, black dress, you could say goodbye to that…” There it is.
Miller’s tone contrasts on the excellent “Homeless”, which sports some of the album’s most respectable sung vocals. Vocally, Miller sounds particularly nice, even if he sings in a more plaintive tone on the chorus: “Here I stand in the cold / I try to knock as you change the locks / now I’m all alone / where am I supposed to go / if you are where my home is, I guess that makes me homeless.” The serious vibe of the sung vocals is matched by Miller’s more agile, rhythmic rapped vocals, particularly moments like “I need some help, I’m feelin’ stranded, losin’ my damn mind / I’m blindfolded by you, girl you took everything that I own / I keep callin’ your phone but all I get is the tone…” It’s a ‘bummer’ you might say, but at least its a standout bummer.
“Carry On” finds Miller calling his girl “the bomb” basically. It reminds me of a quicker-paced “See You Soon” from The Road Less Traveled EP. “Heaven” should definitely please the less pop-rap oriented crowd who likes something that goes a bit ‘harder’. Additionally, “Heaven” sounds like the contemporary, more commercialized rap-sound epitomized… well without sounding like say. Yes, the hook is still sung, but Miller aims for an edgier sound on the verses. Sure the celestial is not exactly what you expect to sport more profanities, but that exactly what Miller does. A reprisal of “A Million Lives” feels right at home from The Road Less Traveled EP. For those who haven’t heard the inspiring fan ode about the effect of Miller’s music, it is definitely the ‘Jake Miller brand’ at its best. “You help me find my inner strength deep inside me / through all the bad times, you helped me find the light / believe or not, you saved my life…” Well written and performed for sure.
On “Puppet”, Miller is “…feelin’ like a puppet / a god damn puppet / being pulled in a million different ways…” Why? Apparently the cost of fame, the affect on family and relationships, and the psychological effect of putting out the perfect album. Why does it work? Because Miller is candid, something so many artists aren’t. I mean, the dude “… don’t even have time to take a sh*t…” that’s deep right there. “Number One Rule” ends the album with a nice, relatively quick pace. Optimistic and positive, “Number One Rule” closes much like “Collide” opened. What’s the rule? “…Never be number two!”
Overall, Jake Miller assembles an enjoyable rap album in which he is true to himself and specifically the artist he wishes to be. This is not your hardcore rap album with bangers championing irresponsibilities such as using drugs, casual sex, and guns. It is what it is – a sunny, pop-rap album by a youthful college dude with big dreams. Ultimately, from my perspective, that is enough to capture my attention and receive my approval.
“Hollywood”; “Homeless”; “Heaven”; “A Million Lives”; “Puppet”
Jake Miller | Us Against Them | eOne | US Release Date: November 5, 2013