Album Reviews

Justy Provides the Blueprints for Self-Love in Pain With Benefits

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On July 23rd, 2021 Staten Island based jazz-hop artist Justy finally brought into this world the masterfully crafted collection of songs that is Pain With Benefits. The record features singles, “Cool,” “Expectations,” “Rinse, Repeat, Regress,” “123,” and “The Get Out,” all of which she had teased to her fans leading up to the much anticipated drop of her first full length album. We got a sneak peak of the opening track earlier this summer in Justy’s Quarantine Tapes performance, so to say we were excited to hear the full deal is an absolute understatement. Without further ado, here is the full break-down of Justy’s parable of love, Pain With Benefits.

“I think pain with benefits is just knowing, especially as an artist, you kind of need that pain to feel your art. In the end it’s beneficial, but it’s self-sacrificing too, you know? You constantly find yourself in this loop… in this loop, in this loop, in this loop… just for what, to get a good song?

“I’m learning how to live again” – pain with benefits, justy

Pain With Benefits couldn’t start in a better way than with such a life-giving song as “I’m Learning to Live Again.” As the guitar is absolutely shredding a Spanish flamenco styled solo over jazz-hop deliciousness, the track begins with a quote that’s as Justy as it gets! She really starts off the record making a point to mock the boring, repetitive, miserable cycle of the artist who actively chooses to dwell in their patterns of pain. Perhaps there is another way of living… allow Justy to show you the way!

The way this girl sees the world and views love is truly inspiring and hits home. To introduce the second track, “Hopelessly,” Justy inserts an audio clip of Lana Del Rey admitting, “I’m usually always thinking about the same goddamn person, so I’ll love him forever, but it’s all good…” She continues to describe how she finds love: “I just look for someone who makes me feel like life is an exciting opportunity just to be alive, someone who makes me feel electric.” This quote seques into Justy’s own version of this sentiment of being a hopeless romantic. “Hopelessly” is a soft interlude-type track where Justy’s raspy vocals are complimented by Alizée’s sweet r&b melodies and a beachy guitar sound. The track touches on insecurities in a relationship, feeling hopeless and not knowing if they’re actually loved, and it always seeming so easy to quit but needing that love anyway.

Last Love Letter” seems to be written to the year 2020 as a whole and everything it encapsulated and represented. It speaks to the hypocrisy and polarities of the struggles the black community experienced first-hand throughout that year, and throughout history as a matter of fact. We’re still not past all that. “It’s never been good, never been nice,” as LTR4 puts it so succinctly, “‘Cuz my skin is my skin, and your job is your job. I go home with my color; you can take yours off.” The track is as poignant as it gets. They really drive the point home, for anybody who somehow missed it before listening to this song. The track is super vibey with electric guitar playing around and sprinkled with spaceship sounds. It hosts playful soundscapes and inflections while delivering a powerful message. Once again, Justy makes important commentary tastefully and eloquently. The vivid imagery of circling the drain is painted so perfectly. In a melody that’s very blues inspired, blues coming from the pain of black people which fits thematically, a crying guitar continues the expression of the song, panning in circles back and forth in the headphones as if spinning around your head, like circling the drain. The track’s closing lyrics: “Washing away the blood but the water is still the same.”

To then transition into the sentiment of “Cool,” which goes to say that “this shit has really changed, but we’re all just still the same,” is smooth as hell. Justy’s utilization of Eartha Kitt’s audio sample about compromise deserves a chef’s kiss for how well it thematically fits with the piece, and album as a whole. Her directness to the person who was asking that question about compromise is kind of how Justy seems to approach her own relationships: with forwardness. There’s no sugar coating things when she doesn’t want to. She’s able to demystify the relationship just as well as she can prop up the relationship. When she says, “Choose love like it’s a ladder,” she busts the myth that love is something to be used as an escape from your pain or to fill some void. Justy challenges people to hold themselves to a higher standard and to choose love like it’s something worth working on. This message, along with the underrated horns, makes this one of the coolest songs out there.

The very dark “Sister, Sister” interlude starts off with Justy saying, “Cool down,” threading together the past few moments in the record. The musical instrumentation of “Sister, Sister” is off the charts. The bass grooves so deep in your soul, while trumpet and saxophone take turns improv-wailing, evoking such emotion. Again, the space sound samples make an appearance, offering a sonic theme throughout the record, connecting it from top to bottom. Shrill noises reminiscing cries or screams in the distance echo while she sings, “Never thought it’d end like this.” There’s a lot going on sonically for this quick 2-minute interlude, but it’s jam-packed with emotion. It’s very deep, perhaps deeper than what you can pull from surface value, and very clearly something she put on there for herself. There are a few elements worth noting that are open for interpretation, including the “smoke in the mirror” concept juxtaposed with the title “Sister, Sister”. Something that is described as “smoke and mirrors” is intended to make you believe that something is being done or is true, when it is not, a grand illusion, kind of like how meeting a set of twins could be, perhaps? I wonder what the story is here…

Either way, the last 30 seconds of “Sister, Sister,” which is the perfect interlude for this album, fades out and builds up an anxiety in the listener, so that “The Get Out” offers a sigh of relief. The blending of songs, from chill in “Cool,” very dark in “Sister, Sister,” and then warm in “The Get Out,” is very impressive. In “The Get Out,” Justy says, “The future’s pretty scary, but the past has all my fears.” This alone is such a powerful line, and serves as the perfect way to transition from one segment of the album to the next. “The Get Out” is a straight forward jazzy track talking about getting out of here and seeing the light at the end of the tunnel after a long journey through confusion!

123” with Radcity starts with an audio clip reminding listeners that “in order to be used by God, you have to really be used!” I love all these audio clips that Justy uses to skillfully infuse powerful quotes within her music. Justy’s devil’s advocate comes out in this track saying, “I’m so over getting over you. Save the romantics, save all the tears. Don’t say I love you, ‘cuz I don’t care. Love is for suckers, so them muthafuckas can go insisting trying to love one anotha.” She offers a different approach to teaching the self-love theme of the album, posing the all-important question: How are you going to love someone when you don’t love yourself? I love that this track is titled “123.” I feel like Justy is just putting it all out there in this track, and titling it as such seems to be her saying, “Yo, it is what it is, simple as 123, and that’s the truth!” With more of a trappy bass beat, this song has the strongest energy of the record.

While it sticks out a bit from the rest of the album, sonically that is, “Letting Loose” stays on brand with the idea that this album is Justy providing the blueprints for self-love. Self-love most definitely means you’ve got to let loose and dance it out every once in a while! With the bass going off, a bit of a shuffle, and slight Kaytranada vibes, this track shows that Justy can be dynamic as an artist. It’s almost as if she’s saying, “I don’t just rap. I can do these other things!” She sings, “You got me wound up, so now I’m letting loose,” which parallels the feeling that this whole album has been winding up this whole time, and now finally it’s time to do what the song suggests: let loose and dance! There’s been a lot to digest here, so don’t forget to celebrate all the growth that’s happening.

Now that she’s let loose, she can choose not to “Rinse, Repeat, and Regress.” This track slows it down again, resetting the vibe a bit, and reeling it back in to the constant self-improvement and finding what love is. This song really re-frames the idea of a love song. Her lyrics, “I never thought I’d ask myself for help. When I love myself again, maybe I could love again. I could be my own best friend,” is such a sweet sentiment! The line that really gets me is when she says, “I notice my music bumps harder during cuffing season.” She’s got all the jokes, and we are so here for it, all in the name of self-love!

Expectations” is a wonderful way to close out the album. She even says it’s a classy, smooth Justy record! Smooth jazz-hop piano, bass and horns deliciously support her raspy and raw vocals in this one. It’s rich and decadent like the holidays, and feels like an extension of the celebration that “Letting Loose” is, compared to the more serious notes in the rest of the record. It’s about stepping into new love with no expectations, seeing stars but taking your time falling in love. It’s about learning from all your past lessons and remembering that the real freedom happens once you release yourself from any expectations. The beauty is creating something that doesn’t meet the expectations of others. It’s funny that she says to save it for the fool on “123,” but “Expectations” has her admitting she’s a fool seeing stars when she looks at her lover. Oh, the duality! I love how effortlessly each song loops back to the others and to the title of the record. There’s a little static at the end of “Expectations,” as if to say, “I’m out! ‘Til the next one!” I wonder if she’ll pick the second record up where she left off, with a little bit of static…

Overall, I really love the recurring themes of self-love and healthy love in Pain With Benefits, giving a new edge to “love songs.” I also adore her use of audio clips, skillfully choosing perfectly fitting quotes and commentary to compliment her style and message. It almost creates a multi-media experience, where we’re not just getting music but also a little spoken word and inspiration. The well-known audio clips serve as a tool to make the record more palatable for a larger audience, where people can connect in different ways and go on their own journey just from the audio clips she chooses. There are definitely people out there that need this album. This is an album that more people should hear. Pain With Benefits is essentially the blueprints for self-love. It’s like Justy’s offering to the world, her personal self-love handbook. At any point you can always relate back to that first spoken part. Each of these tracks is a piece of pain that she’s had to endure, looping back to the title, Pain With Benefits. Justy’s soft-spoken nature really forces you to listen intently to what she is saying. Justy’s music is most definitely for people who care, and hopefully it helps set people on the path towards becoming better versions of themselves!

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