J the S has been promising The Last Days since he went by Jake the Snake. For years he's foreshadowed a coming-of-age, end-of-times masterpiece, an opus set to showcase the extent of his development since launching as a scrappy teen in a Champion hoodie who courageously smacked shows with veterans. His fans won't regret the wait, even if it's meant enduring interim mixtapes that packed as much mediocrity as they did whip-worthy bangers. Snake's always been a complicated artist, straddling the gritty underground from which he rose and the gilded mainstream in which his plain-spoken flow and smooth image belongs. But finally, after a few years in New York, he's comfortable enough in his snake skin to accept his role as an enlightened street cat who's too smart for radio-rap fans and too much of a ladies' man for backpacker geekboys. Snake never suffered from a lack of charisma. Still, his identity struggle — illustrated on the striking encore "Salvation" — has often yielded projects that clumsily pitched roughneck stabs next to cheesy cat calls. No longer. The Last Days finds Snake proudly flaunting his contradictory nature as a hard-left street-savvy health nut who "spikes smoothies with vodka" in a crib that "looks like the third day of Bonnaroo." Even club-ready tracks like the anthemic "Put My Cape On" are exceptional, and seem to jibe alongside more serious winners like the Goodwill and MGI-produced autobiographic cuts "Falling Rain," "Folks," and "Entertainer." On the latter — a delicate piano jam fit for a lounge decked in red velvet — Snake reminds us that life sometimes imitates art. It's clear that after years of searching for his voice, he's finally let his art imitate life.
J THE S | The Middle East, 472 Mass Ave, Cambridge | February 9 @ 8 pm | $10 | 18+ | 617.864.3278