August 26, 2013
DOWNLOAD: Jay Wyse, "Wyse Thoughts Wise Journey 2"
RATING: ** 1/2 out of 4
Almost halfway through "Wyse Thoughts Wise Journey 2," 23-year-old East Baltimore rapper Jay Wyse decides it's time to brag a bit. Over a pounding beat by Paul Magnet, Wyse raps, "Don't usually do tracks like this but they asked for it so I flexed a bit." The track is filled with empty, steal-your-girlfriend boasting. It's an ill fit for the MC who was born Javon Shipley, and he seems to know it.
He's much more at home, and interesting, on the following song, "3 A.M." Wyse's problems are relatable: He wants to be a good father to his son, to have money to feed his family and to see success beyond the city limits. Some of these things are in his control and others aren't, which is enough to weigh heavily on him. When he repeats the line, "I need to clear my mind, dog," there's a lonely sense of searching and desperation that cuts through J. Gramm's mournful backdrop. Some rappers sound most comfortable bottle-popping in the club, but Wyse is at home in his own mind.
When Wyse isn't playing his own psychiatrist, "Wise Journey 2" (a follow-up to Wyse's 2012 debut mixtape) works best when he addresses the people closest to him. "Letter to My Man 3" is an affecting tribute to Wyse's best friend, Timothy Gaskins Jr. aka Biscuit, who was shot and killed over Memorial Day weekend in 2010. "Mama," which samples Boyz II Men's hit "A Song for Mama," is a familiar hip-hop trope that proves it still has legs when Wyse raps, "Everything is not perfect, I won't lie / But you gave me some of the greatest things / like three sisters, three queens."
Like many young rappers, Wyse's problem is trying to be everything to everyone. He's a generic motivator on his grind ("Dear World") and less convincing as a ladies' man ("Girl Like You"). But when Wyse tackles real-life events head on, he's a compelling voice. "Five years ago in June my life changed forever / Something more to live for, motivation to be better," Wyse raps about his son on "Outro." Here's hoping he continues to document the process, while sharpening his skills. -- Wesley Case