Bonafide

Bonafide

For the past several years, Nashville-based hip-hop artist Jamal "Bonafide" Graves has been prolific, crafting a series of independent albums full of great beats firmly rooted in the east coast sound. Heavy on the electronics of the Miami and Atlanta scenes, Bonafide shows that you can get some quality hip-hop even in a town best known for its country-western.

If you're looking for the incisive, cutting commentary of acts like Jay-Z and Kanye, look elsewhere. Bonafide has pure old-school gangsta sounds, full of good-natured self-aggrandizement and odes to his favorite toys. Fresh even has a shoutout to the venerable Motorola pager.

Most of Bonafide's music focuses on street life – driving his beloved classic Chevy, playing basketball, and trying to get out of the ghetto without getting shot. He doesn't dwell on the violence, however, or glorify it.

Unsurprisingly for an artist who bills himself as "The Pastor's Child," Bonafide also explores his spiritual side in many of his tracks, seeking to reconcile his belief in God with his adherence to reality, explaining that one should be spiritual rather than religious. His musings on faith and spirituality provide a good counter-balance to his tracks highlighting street life.

Lyrically, Bonefide is mostly middle-of-the-road. He's got a great sound and some head-bobbing beats, but for the most part any hip-hop fan has already heard virtually everything he has to say. None the less, he's still got rhythm and his raps flow well. They just don't stand out.

At times, it appears the real star of Bonafide's tracks is his producer, SykSense, who has worked with a range of hot artists including Kelly Rowland. The production shines throughout, with a huge range of metallic percussion sounds and old-school electronics. Make It Loud is one of the standouts here, with harsh percussive bangs, tom-toms, and string flourishes perfectly accompanying Bonafide's ode to his hoopty.

The production especially shines on I Love You, incorporating a classic jazz tune and brass accompaniment in fine style. The longing analog synths introducing 1 Day similarly shine, lending a sense of pathos to his dreams of making it out and having a #1 album. Ultimately, it's hard to not conclude that Bonafide would be far less compelling without SykSense at his side.

For fans of hip-hop old and new, Bonafide provides a solid, if at times unexceptional, collection of tracks. There's little here you haven't heard before, but it's all well-crafted with great production. It's perfect mixtape material, even if Bonafide isn't yet the talent he hopes to be one day.

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