Opening up with a quick sound bite of “ready when you are” is testament New York City-based rapper, Mean Joe Scheme, has been waiting to share his talents for years, much like a boxer waiting for his first round in the corner of the ring.

Slightly sweating, feet shuffling and replacing any subtle nervousness with outward confidence: that’s Mean Joe Scheme. With the release of his debut You Gotta Watch, he’s introducing and proving himself at the same time to the world of underground, independent Hip Hop.

With ferocious production, the greater part by Optiks, the beats match Mean Joe’s vocal approach; on some tracks one can almost visualize him spitting into the mic with passion and conviction. The album has a life or death feel to it and there’s a lot on the line from Mean Joe’s perspective.

Lyrically, Mean Joe is as fierce as his name suggests. He has a gritty snarl to his rapping, but with pleasant surprises of sensitivity and motivational moments throughout the 12-track LP. The variety in each track showcases his varied taste in music while also rounding out his sound with thematic, jazzy elements sprinkled throughout. The album achieves success in its creativity and ambition, especially for Mean Joe’s first official time up at bat.

Much like the theme of the title “You Gotta Watch,” a name Mean Joe credits to a mantra bestowed upon him by his father, the album features production and guest vocals from a tribe that, like Scheme, have been refining their craft for years and are grinding to give people a reason to keep “watch.” His hometeam is a powerful group of like-minded musicians, and their music reflects their strength in building each other up. With production credits going to Optiks, J57, Mean Joe himself, Noam The Drummer, Brett Cimbalik, and IMAKEMADBEATS, and guest features from Mike Two, Noah Dreiblatt, Rob Murat, Jemyle Jones, Koncept and the PitchBlak Brass Band, the album covers a lot of ground, with each track offering a different dynamism, helping to refine Mean Joe’s sound and show that there’s a multifaceted artistry behind his bars. Simply put, Mean Joe Scheme is as nice as he is mean.

Stand out tracks include “G-Dep,” “Champagne,” “It Was Written,”5120,” “Everybody/Nobody” and “Realize.” It’s interesting how he decided to wrap up the album with the title track, “You Gotta Watch,” which features whispery storytelling-style lyrics over a downtempo beat, acting as an outro to an impressive curation of heavy-hitting tracks.

As the first official release from Brown Bag AllStar’s J57 new label, Five Seven Music, “You Gotta Watch” sets the precedence for being the first of many consistently heartfelt recordings.

Album artwork by Lou Pimental.