John Forte - I, John

When you're faced with the prospect of several years in jail it certainly makes you put things in perspective. "I, John" was recorded in the months preceding a trial for drug possession of which he is currently serving a sentence for 14 years. Currently in the process of appealing against the sentence, its a twist that in a life that has seen more twists and turns than Neil and Christine Hamilton experienced in 12 months. Raised with his sibling by a single mother in Brooklyn he was accepted by the prestigious Exeter Academy, trained himself up in production and went onto become a part of the Refugees Camp after working on the Fugees critically acclaimed album the Score and then on Wyclef's debut solo album.

Far from being just another hip-hop album about finding your inner-self, Forte has chosen to really explore each and every single aspect of his life and in doing so delivers an album so complex that a single listen can only scrape the surface. While each song is immediate, the full realization of the experience can only really be gained by studying the text and gospel prophesies intrinsically steeped in the lyrics of a desperate man. While a weaker person could have gone and released an album beaten up with hate and anger, "I, John" is an album that's filled with an almost instant karma and strangely at times it feels like these experienced have really freed him from a sense of struggle and send him on a passionate journey of self-discovery.

Forte's dissatisfaction with the hip-hop scene is displayed evidently on "Harmonize" with a lyric of "Never long talk, just a snippet I do such. That's the problem with y'all rappers, y'all talk too much" and its this dissatisfaction with the scene that has produced and album of exquisite beauty. And album which mixes up introspective acoustic reggae reminiscent of Marley on "What You're Used To" or the funky rap-rock crossover on "Trouble Again" which still manages to avoid the usual clichés and features a guest vocals from Tricky. Talking about the fickleness of fame on "Been There, Done That" with the insightful and telling line "I had a bunch of friends who used to love to party. When the dark days hit, I suddenly lost everybody" for those who believe the hype machine surrounding them.

With former Fugee Lauryn Hill releasing an ego-trip of self-indulgence with the Unplugged album, its good to see an artist than can offer more insight into real life and the daily struggles of living with prison sentence hanging over your head. This album is too important for me to waste clichés like the "most important album this year" or "best album so far of 2002". Simply buy it yourself and be transfixed by the story of John Forte.

Alex McCann

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