Living in Edmonton, it’s easy to know there’s no shortage of talent roaming the city. But there often also comes art that shines bright and rarely dims. Upon first listen, Just Moe’s debut album “Smile” is a clear example of this. Witty, talented, serious and yet playful, “Smile” reminds us of what we often forget with hip-hop: that it’s good to have fun without compromising quality.
From the get-go, Smile gets it right. Its first song “Welcome!” introduces us to the album just as much as it does to Just Moe. Not only is it full of intelligent references to other artists — from Michael Jackson to Chance the Rapper — it also shows us how full of personality this album is.
One of Smile’s immediate strengths is its production and structure. It ebbs with Just Moe’s flow, complimenting a word-heavy lyrical style. Sitting mainly with trap-laden tendencies, Smile’s music still finds instances of soulfulness, something Just Moe matches incredibly well.
“Energy” feels like Just Moe’s high point. The song is entertaining, carefree, yet pointed and harmlessly braggadocious — a versatility many lyricists cannot achieve. You can’t help but listen to “Energy” and feel like you’re engaging in friendly banter with the artist. And it’s through the last minute of the song — where it switches up in what feels like a top 10 anime plot twist of all time — that Just Moe goes in, leaving “Energy” to feel like a showcase of his brilliant ranges: be it lyrically, thematically, or vocally.
A specific vulnerability runs throughout the album — made peculiar perhaps because of our proximity to Just Moe as a fellow Edmontonian. More like honest conversations than striking confessionals, songs like “The Internet” or “Black Boys” help deliver a specific intimacy between Just Moe and his audience, one incredibly poignant not only to our context but also our generation, in a relatability vital to his messages.
That said, Smile isn’t entirely perfect — although this doesn’t feel like a bad thing. In fact, perfection would mean that Just Moe has fully realized his musical potential. While his talent is evident throughout the album, Just Moe hasn’t finished shining just yet, which even he seems to know. In “Montreal,” a song about insecurities and the sometimes overwhelming weight of opportunities, Just Moe centres on one of these flaws: that he has too many things he wants to say. Indeed, he adds that he “wrote this track two times but the message [wouldn’t] send.” Two songs show this best: “Energy” and “The Internet” — the latter also feeling like a millennial anthem for those raised in the age of technology. Although the songs are amazing, they can’t help but give the impression that Just Moe attempted to fit all versions of these songs on their respective tracks. Let’s not write this off as a sin though: a strength arises in Smile’s ability to bridge the gaps in these songs well.
Not one to lose momentum, Just Moe keeps us on until the end. His work unearths a few revelations as he closes out the album with the spoken word track “Smile.” First, it’s possible for an artist’s versatility to continuously surprise — not only is his music great, I’ve also seen Moe kill it in a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Second, the album’s title was more than just a title: it was also an objective. Smile feels like a nod of a personality that shines through the music, and an ode to the impact Just Moe wants to have on his friends and listeners. Because indeed, if you didn’t smile throughout this album, then it means you need to listen to it again.