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“Institutionalized” by J-Will

It’s known to everyone in the rap community that you can’t copy someone else’s formula and expect good results in the modern hip-hop lexicon; hence, when he sat down to make his new single “Institutionalized,” J-Will spent time getting in touch with what kind of an artist he is rather than who he wants to be like. This is evident in even the most cursory of listening sessions spent with “Institutionalized,” and although there’s nothing unoriginal about the previous releases populating this artist’s discography, I think J-Will is turning a corner in this single and foundationally establishing who he is for the next chapter of his career.  

The enthusiasm that my boy is putting into these verses is essentially what breathes so much vitality into the lyrics, and I would have to assume that if a different rapper were trying to deliver these same words to us, they likely wouldn’t have the weight they do in this instance at all. There’s something to be said about a musician who can put this kind of signature on their sound so early on in their campaign, and it’s not startling to see other critics and hip-hop aficionados around the planet beginning to take notice.  

J-Will is lashing us with the bassline in the first half of “Institutionalized,” but I think the aggression is necessary to push the hook into the second portion of the song, further drawing catharsis from the vocal and instrumentation in equal measure. There are other ways to make this accessible to the radio marketplace, but I like that this player isn’t sacrificing quality in the name of mass appeal. That gives him integrity I can only hope to hear more of in and outside of his scene as the 2020s continue to press forward, as I haven’t heard nearly enough of it in 2023 thus far.  

This vocal track is exceptionally crisp and presents us with a J-Will who isn’t hiding from anything in this mix – he’s both the tone-setter and the leading man, and he wants to remind us of both as much as he can in “Institutionalized.” There’s a lot of panache on his part, but I don’t fault him for putting as much intensity into his words as he can muster from within the four walls of a recording studio; if even a taste of what this is made of can be found in his stage show, I’ll be dying to see him on tour soon.

I didn’t know much about this artist’s career ahead of his last few singles, but I can tell from this performance that he’s starting to find his stride and demand a little more attention from the media than he initially did with his debut release. He’s one of the more charming rappers to have come to my attention in the last couple of years, and this most recent studio offering solidifies him as one of the more important players coming out of his scene to keep a close eye on this year.

Mindy McCall    



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