After a two-year-long rollout, Joyner Lucas has finally come through and delivered his ambitious and diverse "ADHD" album.
It’s impossible to discuss ’ studio debut ADHD without mentioning the elephant in the room. The infamous rollout. A rollout that has been ongoing since October 2018 when “I Love” first landed. And while Joyner kept a steady influx new songs in the interim, it became clear that the conceptual nature his staggered release was running the risk derailing ADHD’s cohesion. Given the title and thematic subject matter, it could be argued that the choice held artistic merit. Be that as it may, one might counter that a concept should only be pushed so far.
Now that the album has arrived in full, dwelling on the rollout feels like a moot point. Years down the line people will have forgotten all about it, left to contend with the music as presented. Whether or not Joyner wanted listeners to enjoy his album as a linear body work is difficult to discern, a commentary that in itself incites an interesting discussion on authorial intent. Perhaps that’s a topic best saved for another day.
It was a choice and a brave one to commit to. In honor Joyner’s piecemeal build-an-album approach, perhaps it’s time to try a similar approach in this review. Breaking things down on a song by song basis.
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Given the introductory skit “Screening Process,” a disturbing tone-setter evocative ’s “Dr. West,” it feels as if Joyner did attempt to map out a voyage. Themes ADHD and mental health are well established in what feels like an origin story. In keeping with Joyner’s cinematic flair, the nightmarish qualities are rendered effectively through a creepy script and committed voice acting. A promising start.
In keeping with the “origin story” narrative, “I Lied” certainly signals the darkened state Joyner’s morality meter. Celebrations duplicity are rendered triumphantly over an eerie instrumental, a curious juxtaposition against Lucas’ flex-laden bars. An antihero’s anthem. As the ficial “intro” the project, “I Lied” serves to immediately capture attention, the perfect marriage strong production, effortless technical prowess, and thematic integrity.
“Isis” feels like foot placed firmly on neck. Yet another up-tempo instrumental continues the album’s momentum as both Joyner and Logic seem to engage in an unspoken competition showmanship. An anthem fueled by competitive spirit between two former foes--that and a harpsichord--Joyner’s clever touch for pacing shines thanks to these back-to-back bangers.
On paper, a and Joyner Lucas feels bizarre. “The War” detes from its predecessors with a sharp left turn into new stylistic territory. It’s a risk that pays f thanks to some soothing guitar-driven production, the likes which has become commonplace in today’s landscape. Joyner’s versatility becomes evident for the first time so far, his melodies well-balanced with Thug’s lush cadence.
Words from “Chris” Tucker speak volumes. What a co-sign. “Smoke a little weed, get your mind right,” advises the Rush Hour star. “You been, you been milkin' the fuck out that album cover, man, way too long. So I hope this music's good because if it's not, I'ma be highly upset.” True.
Track six, “I Love,” is the song that started the journey in the first place. A pivot from Joyner’s more conceptual fare, on the surface the song feels like a typical braggadocious cut by insert rapper here. Luckily Joyner is talented enough to get by on the strength his charisma, his prioritization lyricism boding well in his favor. Joyner’s crossover appeal might be subtle, given some his prior (admittedly heavier) material proved slightly alienating, but his ear for contemporary production always helped him fit in.
Speaking Joyner’s heavier tracks, “Devil’s Work” is a callback to the likes “I’m Not Racist” and “Frozen,” designed to evoke emotional responses. Whether songs this nature resonate is a matter personal preference. Given that we’re already seven songs deep and this is the first its kind it does feel like a welcome detion from the banger-heavy onslaught. Lucas’ message hits all the harder thanks to some unapologetic intensity. It’s impactful and one could likely write an entire essay about this track alone. I suppose that speaks to the depth his pen game, brought to life by a willingness to bleed emotion into a performance.
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“It’s my birthday I’m bout to get lit-lit,” warns Joyner, on the opening lines “Lotto.” It didn’t take long before he got back on his BS, hitting cruise control for the first time. Lyrically, Joyner falls short his typical bar and finds himself --not quite lost--but disoriented in the sauce. Luckily, ISM and Mally Mall keep him blessed with an infectious orchestral bop, one that requires little effort on Joyner’s part to keep things rolling.
“Lotto” isn’t enough to sate a “Kevin” Hart scorned, who does his best Fty impression on his titular skit. “You think 'cause I'm five foot two I can't box?” he warns. “I'm 5'4", I'll whoop your ass, swear to God. Get your ass whipped by a munchkin.” Two for two with the comedian co-signs.
Circling back to the melodic sensibilities “The War,” Joyner Lucas channels the dulcet tones Ty Dolla $ign on the delicate “Gold Mine.” Though understated, the track’s strengths are numerous thanks to a confident performance from Joyner, who rides the instrumental with a malleable flow. He’s having fun on this one and we’re all the better for it. The same can’t be said as confidently on the -assisted “Finally,” however, which finds the “Stranger Things” duet aligning for the most unconventional track thus far. Though both parties are too talented to fall flat on their faces, the synth-heavy track feels like an outlier, a leftover from the long-lost Angels & Demons project included for the sake posterity.
“10 Bands” was released back in July 2019, riding the high a post-Scriptures’s creative momentum. Like its predecessor, the track feels a little out place, rocketing along on the strength nostalgia. It works, given that Joyner is clearly thrilled to be connecting with a hip-hop legend, but an interesting conundrum is beginning to unfold. On one hand, the album’s concept gives it carte blanche to venture across the stylistic spectrum however Joyner sees fit. On the other, its lack a greater thematic throughline leads to an influx in aimless, if still aurally enjoyable, tracks. Sometimes it feels as if he’s simply showing f, which can grow tiresome in the context a greater whole.
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There’s a reason many will likely name “Revenge” to be the album’s crowning achievement. For the first time, all Joyner’s most prominent strengths coalesce, from bars to flows to storytelling, leading to a song that’s appealing on a variety different levels. It’s challenging for one, and seems loosely connected to the introductory tandem “Screening Evaluation” and “I Lied,” a trifecta darker ADHD cuts. It’s clear that he isn’t merely flexing over an instrumental, but rather weaving a message great importance. An album highlight and the project’s arguable centerpiece.
It’s no coincidence that Joyner is back in the doctor’s fice immediately after for some “Comprehensive Evaluation,” a powerful segue into the eponymous track. Unlike some the album’s previous singles, “ADHD” thrives in the context the album, imbuing it with the themes it clearly desires to explore. Though some might be put f by Joyner’s emo-tinged vocal delivery, it’s much more interesting to hear him write about the subjects that drive him. It’s strange -- he’s skilled enough to out-rap the majority flex-rappers, but when he spends too much time covering such ground it only winds up to his detriment. In a strangely thematic turn, Joyner is at his most authentic when he’s at his most alienating.
As the & King OSF-assisted “Still Can’t Love” queues up, it feels as if a boat has been missed. “ADHD” would have been a fantastic closer, the natural climax in a strong three-track run. Yet Joyner chooses to meander with a strangely positioned melodic love song, albeit one that certainly has merit on its own. The same can be said “Will,” which works as a wholesome homage to a legend, but ultimately feels aimless in its placement. A case can certainly be made for it being a victory lap, a heaping crow for those that once looked down on him. Yet whatever merit it has in that regard is quickly overshadowed by the Smithiness it all.
Luckily, “Broke & Stupid” course-corrects the thematic trajectory with a welcome dose mature reflection. “I just bought a Lamborghini and painted the ceiling, I ain't bragging, I'm just happy I made me a million,” he marvels, over soulful production evocative the name he goes to namedrop. “ADHD, I was slow, now they label me brilliant, I'm proud n***s like Hov, he made him a billion.”
As the closer rides out, Joyner's ADHD lingers in a peculiar fashion. Never is it unlistenable or unenjoyable, thanks in large part to Joyner's confidence and skillset. As a whole, however, it feels mired down by moments inconsistency. Tracks that actually worked better as standalone singles, instead repurposed as roadblocks on this long-form journey. But in this age instant gratification, it's easy to forget that songs are more than capable growing into their roles -- let's circle back in a year or so and see how ADHD holds up. In the meantime, it's yours to enjoy however you see fit.