taking a listen

by Ryan Snyder

Jams F. Kennedy

— A Heartbreaking Work of Swagger & G Ness

It feels much longer than two years since the last full release by either member of the now-defunct hip-hop/breaks duo Brother Reade. Now operating under the name Widows, the Winston-Salem-born, Los Angelesbased pair of Jams F. Kennedy and DJ Bobby Evans have been tantalizing fans of their increasingly experimental taste in hip-hop production with the infrequent morsel; Kennedy with the occasional dubstep remix and Evans throwing in on a David Bowie tribute album. With Widows now signed to the LA label Earnest Endeavours, Kennedy has put out a mixtape showcasing nearly every facet of the duo — past, present and future.

On A Heartbreaking Work of Swagger & G Ness, Kennedy reworks old rhymes and drops some new ones amidst waves of creepy beats, unconventional breaks and lots of head-tripping weirdness. In a lot of ways, Earnest Endeavours is the perfect label for such an outing by Kennedy; its dual focus on both music and art gives him nearly unlimited artistic license to sate his every creative urge. Curated and mixed by British team Patchwork Pirates, the 29-track mix has the grimy fingerprints of Evans, but finds Kennedy himself at the center. Though the LA swag has crept into the transplant Kennedy, his lackadaisical flow hasn’t changed one bit and the mildly restrained Southern accent rears itself fully with every mention of Winston-Salem, usually as he openly pines for the homegrown heinies and fried chicken joints as if that were even an aim. The first track “Drama” might also be considered the first Widows track, with dancehall vocals heavily sedated in post, giving a window into just how much the pair are veering off with the new project. The next Widows track follows suit, as Jams’ rhymes reveal prideful kid who’s rhymes have always been too intelligent to ever make a stab at mainstream, not that was ever his goal. “Just because I’m erudite doesn’t mean I wanna wear Air Nikes and party e’er night,” he says over stuttering synths and sparse beats. Taken in as a complete work, the mixtape is all over the map, with Kennedy indulging in 8-bit, slow house and glitch beats as fellows Los Angelians Nosaj Thing and Free the Robots lending timely wonk to the mix. There’s even a hint that Widows will return to Kennedy and Evans’ breakbeat origins, as “Orchid” turns a filthy metaphor into a dual-kit manifesto. One of the best moments on the mix comes — not sarcastically — in the acknowledgements where he thanks his LA crew of Nosaj, Robots, TokiMonsta, the actual internet, Smithfield’s Chicken & Barbeque and the entire town of Smithfield itself, saying, “If I keep going I’d have to make one of those exhaustive lists where you might get mad if you were left off of it.” If what’s in store for Widows is as satisfying as what’s found on this free offering, there will be plenty of time for that.


A Heartbreaking Work of Swagger & G Ness can be downloaded free at