It would be in their best interest if rappers placed more importance on wide-reaching social issues of the day over their own personality and brand, but the artist that can do both at the same time is truly gifted. The topics of discussion chosen by Los Angeleno Vel The Wonder, formerly Vel 9, for her sophomore studio album, Joyride, pertain almost exclusively to love, career success and feminism yet are issues that affect her directly. Full of energy and ready to show and prove plus represent for those similarly minded, Vel creates an ambitious, modern, womanly discourse that reveals an almost masculine nature in its toughness but with sharp wordplay and beats that are perfectly in sync with her frame of mind and mood, altogether making for several interesting pieces of hip-hop to observe.
After an intro of quiet lullaby-cries in which she yearns to be loved more in her relationship, partly accusatory of her partner and woe-is-me-sy for her, Vel in contrast goes on to make strong confident statements in between and around her biggest concept songs, which are essentially tracks three and six. A changing romantic connection is described with some elements of storytelling by Vel in “Mirrored,” revealing at the end the true face of her lover, and it’s not a person. How’s that for a metaphor? Firm to say the least, Vel’s coming-of-age, young-womanhood anthem “Woman in the Crowd” refuses to back down with harsh words for rape and higher education (community college specifically) plus sympathies for young girls today who are objectified sexually.
A bunch of decent to solid cuts down the ladder and we come to “Backseat” with its steely urban hard-talk and Kendrick Lamar recognition then “Premeditated”’s “You Don’t Own Me” sample and a violent threat to abort or erase a competitor’s unborn son. Obviously Vel doesn’t just posture throughout her album. In fact she’s no less than darkly intimidating at times, but she does have a kind, wise, caring side, imparting gems like lines saying “if this doesn’t kill me then it makes me grow” from “Passenger” and “the world’s a test so let the lessons make it easier than hard” from “Pursuit of…” and last but not least “it’s not encountering evil, it’s how you counter the evil” in “Woman in the Crowd.”
Vel The Wonder’s Joyride might not be very wonderful due to its dim slow production (that won’t be recalled or remembered as hit-making) and the absence of singers but mostly because of its narrowly picked social issues, which are not many and ones that cannot be related to easily by those outside of her own niche-y clique. Vel is a good emcee but she’s not always extremely careful to make every word memorable, sacred or effective, regularly tossing out backpack-type rhymes that are not crispy clear at first instance but pushed through nonetheless. Plus the album tends to get caught up in accepting and advancing the whole bulk of its counterculture ideology with little time left over for independent “cafeteria”-style belief-selection. Even with all that considered, Vel in her sport is a surefire emcee-killer, the good kind, for the most part, with love and loyalty for real hip-hop music and not for archaic regressive thoughts or practices that are likely to devalue her or hold her back. All such traits are exemplified to the fullest extent in Joyride. (3 out of 5 stars)