The fictional character John Connor led an army in a revolutionary war against a regime of soulless machines. The Flint, Michigan rapper, Jon Connor, is attempting to spark a similar war, where the enemy machines are a handful of record labels manned by artificial intelligence in tailored suits instead of harsh, cold metal. On his debut, Salvation, Connor is armed with hard beats and straight-forward, well-crafted lyrics, but lacks that intangible quality that makes a project truly memorable.
In many ways, Salvation’s complete lack of pretense is simultaneously familiar and refreshing. This is hard hat, lunch pail rap. No cutesy ad-libs. No pauses and giggles following each punchline. On “We All In” Connor antes up over a neo-blaxploitation, big score scene, of a beat provided by Rob “Reef” Tewlow, who produced the entire album. The Bad Meets Evil and 50 Cent producer provides soundscape that ranges from the Trap Musik-era New South thump of “F.L.I. 69,” to the vocal sample driven standout “Broken Mirrors,” to flips of familiar samples on “Nice 2 Meet U.”
The problem is, while lyrically solid, and well-produced, there are no game changers here. The balls out vigor Connor brought to the freestyles that made the whole industry take notice, seems to be replaced by a more calculated approach that’s not nearly as exciting. There’s no L’s taken by producer or emcee on the album, but a collection of good songs, does not a revolution make. Factor in the many thematic retreads found throughout (e.g. The “don’t turn a ho’ into a housewife” anthem, “Nice 2 Meet U,” and the forgettable track introducing his less talented crew. “Blue City Club.”) and you have a body of work that won’t stick with you very long.
Jon Connor is a no-nonsense, between the tackles spitter, but he needs to separate himself from his peers with his subject matter. He also needs to capture that elusive thing that the great ones have, but no one can seem to describe, if he wants to be the one to make the first chip in currents current Hip-Hop’s shiny veneer. If Salvation is step one towards an uprising against style over substance we’re in good hands. If this represents the best Connor has to offer, then he may find himself playing the role of a soldier, and not a general.