Have You Really Listened To Mona Lisa?

Joell Ortiz Mona Lisa

It’s been almost a year since Joell Ortiz Released Mona Lisa. I remember hearing the project for the first time on Shade45 and going home immediately to purchase it. I thought it was a solid album at the time, but now I know better.

Have You Really Listened To Mona Lisa?

Mona Lisa is more than solid. It’s one of those hip hop records that age like wine. Everytime I listen I hear something different. Lets start with the production. Pretty much every beat on this album slaps. Apollo Brown made sure of that. The Detroit producer provided tracks that work well with Ortiz’s flow. The production on this album is like the score to a movie. Each track perfectly captures the mood and sentiment of Ortiz’s lyrics.

Whether it’s the strings on Decisions, or the keyboard on Reflection, Apollo Brown delivers. The other thing about the project is the track order. It actually makes sense. The songs and stories flow well into each other. Each track is dope, yet the sum is still greater than it’s parts.

Now let’s get into lyrics. I’ve always known Ortiz was dope, but I got more than I expected on this album. On Reflection he speaks on how the industry isn’t always kind to real MC’s:

Sometimes, I daydream about me sittin’ at the top
I see the clubs goin’ crazy everytime my record drop
I see plaques on the wall and glass cases
For awards that I done got
Performin’ for like a million a pop
The truth is, it’s like one in a million to pop
And the only artists that really get the millions is Pop
Bein’ simple is a yes and bein’ skilled is a not
Havin’ substance is lame, usin’ substance is hot
So here I am still the hottest nigga in my barber shop
To get a number one but not that number one spot
I’m in a weird place, my fans don’t expect me on the charts
Guess when you gifted, sometimes you rap yourself into a box
But still I jot
The way I put words together look complex or whatever
But still I jot
I’m just speakin’ from my heart, my bad if I come off smart
I’m just tryna jot down a couple lines and see
If y’all like a couple of my rhymes as I-as I jot

Listen To Mona Lisa… again.

Decisions is another contemplative track:

Eeny, meeny, miny, moe, now which way I’ma go
Keep moving this fire blow or spit a fire flow
Hit the booth or hit the stoop and watch the sirens glow
Carry a gat or a napsack, my nigga, I don’t know
Decisions, decisions, writtens are sick in the kitchen
Rhyme flex or Pyrex, shit, which is your vision?
Hit the block or book a studio block
Push all the rock or push yourself to rock a number one spot, hmm
Hit ’em with that bounce and find a nice pocket
Or stash another 8-ball in your side pocket
Kill ’em with the talent or kill ’em with talons
Metaphors and similes or meddle with chimneys
Small hallways or songs all day
Carry a sawed off gauge or get hauled off stage, hmm
Hit the plug and get a quarter or write some quotes, boy
Have ’em like, “That boy dope!” or be a dope bo


Decisions, decisions
Honestly, I don’t know what to do
This rap don’t pay the bills but these crills, man they move
But if I go to jail, man I lose

Ortiz carries this album with only a few features. He has Royce on a song called Timbalan’d Up. The remix features King KXNG and Crooked. Other than that it’s just him and his mic.

So What’s The Point?

Mona Lisa is one of those albums you can listen to from beginning to end. There are no pointless skits or interludes, and no filler tracks. Each song eloquently tells a story that makes the listener feel a bit closer to Ortiz. Most importantly, Ortiz gives the listener a glimpse of where he is in his life as an MC and a man.

Other stand out tracks include Cocaine Fingertips and the title track Mona Lisa. If you have never listened to this album do yourself a huge favor and cop.

If you’ve already heard it, give it another listen. You wont be disappointed. I promise.

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