Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Label- Cross Movement Records
We all know him (ok most of us do), father, producer, rapper and very importantly Christian. K-Drama ladies and gentlemen, the dude from Ohio who literally changed Christian Rap with his song “Air Jordan” the official “I want to remix it” song of last year (in case you didn’t know, that song has more remixes than Phil Jackson has trophies!!!).He’s got the love and respect of many and rightly so, his previous albums are good examples of consistency and he’s been rewarded so to speak with a recent record deal on the Cross Movement label!! Now he’s given us a “workout plan” to help us “get fit”.
How many of us remember the John Wells (Tonic) jam “The Body” from his “the Dash” album??? Now imagine a whole album with many more analogies on “body building” and “Godly exercise”, some beats that’ll make any of the vintage Jane Fonda fitness tapes go green with envy and then some amazing lyricism and you are ready to experience this album. Clocking in at 17 tracks K-drama doesn’t hesitate to show us he’s really got his weight up since 2008’s Boombaptism. This is quite the album considering it’s an easy contender for one of the top five albums of the year in a year that was extremely explosive for Christian Rap. Some of the tracks are literally workout tracks, perfect for playing while you jog or go through some regimens in the gym, take “holistic” or “This Waste” as examples, high tempo songs that talk about pushing one’s self to go above and beyond... this album is a “DIY” manual by rap that generally shows a Christian how to grow in The Faith. Nothing short of the best we hear a whole new level of maturity and even diversity exhibited on this project as opposed to Boombaptism (which can hold its own by the way). The beats range from heavy drum synths to techno sounding tracks with a few mellow tones present.
The intro as is always the case with K-Drama is on point, “Bodybuilders” gives us an overview of what the whole album’s about, then the fast paced “Holistic” tackles the ‘work out your salvation with fear and trembling’ tip and from there on out it’s blast off mode. A bunch of different themes are touched on and done justice to. “Don’t look down on me” with AD3 and Sean Slaughter kicks against judgemental stereotypes, “Stronger on My knees” emphasises how essential prayer is and “Spot Me” addresses the importance of building with other members of the Faith. Other strong tracks include “Get Your Weight Up”, “You doing too Much” (funny song), “DIE-IT” which features Humble TIP and a pretty neat D-MAUB sample and one of my favourites alongside “ This Waste”, “Hope They Aint Lying” a pretty good social commentary on the state of things right now(listen to the first verse on this one).
I’ve been all praises right? Any weaknesses? Well for starters some of the featured artists didn’t come hard enough. Although I understand discipleship and encouraging upcoming emcees, there’s often no need to throw a rookie on to the pitch if more “consistent”, “star” players are available for selection. Secondly(and finally), at 17 tracks the concept of “Building the Body” seems almost akin to flogging a dead horse, it’s almost as if the best songs are at the beginning of the album.
This project overall is a contender for the top 5 albums of the year. The balance between basic yet pretty much overlooked solid concepts, memorable beats and K-drama’s lyrical ability and wit make for an album that easily rubs shoulders with Rhema Soul’s Fingerprints or Json’s City Lights. Hopefully listening to the latest from the recently signed Cross Movement Records rapper will help you prayerfully get your “Weight Up” and get you as “ABnormal” as possible(pun intended). Just remember, “be like the cricket, hear from your knees, with Faith as eyes and knees as ears” (how deep is that?) actual words from K-Drama himself. I’ll give this a 4 star rating without flinching. Yeah it’s that good....
P.S. a Nigerian actually produced one of the jams on this project!!! Yup, a Nigerian.
Label- Lampmode Recordings
Json’s third studio release is the latest installment in what is for me a great story on the benefits of God’s Mercy and Grace. His story is one that I would love to tell but time and space will not permit me. When I was told that Lampmode had signed him and re-released his sophomore album “Life on Life” I was elated because I felt he deserved it. His addition to the Lampmode roster is a testament to the God given ability in him as a rapper and is also amazing seeing how different (in style) he is from his label mates say Hazakim and Stephen the Levite.
City Lights is a project that calls on all believers to get their Matthew 5:16 on in whatever part of the world they find themselves in and this call is made using a bunch of great jams, Json’s sick flow, storytelling ability and some awesome production. Some top notch guest artists contribute too.
As for standout songs there are quite a few, something we’ll have to get used to as far as the St Louis native is concerned so we’ll just explore a few of them especially the ones that caught my ear the most. “Crank it Up” with the very much on the rise PRo is simply ill, a song that will get you amped up on the idea of letting Christ shine through your life. “Peephole” and “Hustle City” give us an account of grimy St Louis, Tennessee ripe for some Salvation. There are awesome Jesus pointers like “Love like This” with Thi’sl and Jai, “Hope You See” asks us if God’s transforming power is at work in Json’s life, my answer? An emphatic yes, then there’s “Goon” featuring Thi’sl and AD3 and “City Lights” the title track with Flame and Trubble. Two radio friendly and yet evangelical songs which I expect to be remembered a long time from now. Of course, Json doesn’t let us down from the storytelling aspect (obviously a Lampmode thing) with “Unexpected Happenings” and “What I Am” alongside R-Swift are compelling stories. The best story and probably the best song on the album “Parent Me” with the beautiful production and hook by J.R. is a song that touches on the issue of parental neglect whether as a result of work or church. A simple beat and poignant Json lyrics make for a goose pimple inducing listen.
The theme of the album is not lost once on the album and there’s even a skit or interlude that just sums everything up, “I am a City Light” that features people from across the world, from Uganda to Canada to Russia!! I should add that Flame’s singing skills shouldn’t go unnoticed as he seems to know how to take hooks very effortlessly. Top notch production from guys like Big Juice makes this album a definite keeper, one of the top albums of the year. 4 solid stars…
Saturday, September 25, 2010
Those of us that love Christian rap won’t mind it if you call us addicts. After all we yearn for the next single or album to drop like a crack head yearning for a fix. I daresay in this hunger we’ve somehow learnt to take anything that comes our way under the tag of “Christian rap” and we accept it substandard (void of Word) or not. This can be put down partly to the fact the emergence of “crunk” which I’m sure every “hip-hop head” sees as a headache and an adulteration of the original genre. Well, I consider my self one of such “hip-hop heads” and I still love crunk. Have I sold out? A discourse for another day, today’s discourse however, revolves round an emcee that without a doubt deserves the title “hip-hop head”, his name? shai linne aka “the lower case emcee”
I’m specifically talking about his third studio album Storiez. This is one cd I barely knew was out and didn’t even listen to for a whole year! Why? Let’s just say made it to the top of my hit list first… that aside we all know shai line has a signature that includes lyrical ability and spiritual depth (his previous projects attest to that fact) but even I have to admit that this time he hit us hard with quality stuff. This is an album that is very much what it sounds like, a compilation of stories complete with a narrator (Pastor Rick Warren of The Purpose Driven Life fame) and these stories like every other good ones have profound lessons to teach. In an era where the average song is 4 minutes long, our guy decides to do songs that average 5 minutes, some even go up to 8 minutes! The guest list consists of people you may know and some you may not, from Flame to Json, Evangel to Ant it seems both the “underground” and the mainstream of rap are represented on the project. Might I add there are kids on a couple of songs (I mean we’re talking about stories right?)
I believe I’ve painted a pretty good picture as regards structure, now let’s get to essence (and I don’t mean the Dj). Shai linne has always hit on the message of salvation from eternal damnation and the songs on this album more than subtly make that fact known. From songs like “As the hour draws near”, “letters from the grave”, “wake up you’re alive” to all the other songs on the album there’s always something on each song that you can relate to regardless of your viewpoint. There’s a song about the Passover in Egypt, one about the great Charles Spurgeon, one about love but I think the greatest story (song) is Martyrs. With a cast of Json, Evangel, Techniq, Ant and God’s Servant this song tells of different martyrs in different times that were cut down for The Faith and their refusal to renounce Christ. My verdict, craftily profound and it even borders on disturbing as it makes you ask yourself “what have I been doing all this while?” (Although I doubt you’re being asked to looking for trouble or an easy death in the name of martyrdom). One thing that grips you on each song is the vivid representation of each story that you often feel like you were present at the time of each of the narrated events (except you are for some reason “imaginationally challenged”).
Storiez is a keeper, that’s for sure. Probably won’t get 5 stars from everybody but it’s amongst the best albums ever made. As I am rounding up I guess it’ worthwhile to mention that this album debuted at no 14 on the iTunes rap/hip-hop chart when it came out, obviously an indicator of the power within.
Label-Cross Movement Records
C.S. Lewis (The great man who gave us Chronicles of Narnia, Mere Christianity and much more)once wrote “if we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we are made for another world”. True? I guess so, my neighbour says that’s just hedonism and all I asked was “are we not all hedonists?” hence our dire need for Jesus. That C.S. Lewis quote is the first thing you hear in this robotic/futuristic voice on the freshest Everyday Process album Outtadisworld. And just in case you’re wondering neither the Cross Movement rappers nor my humble self have forgotten how to spell.
This album came out in late 2009 two years after their debut album and I must say it is more than awesome!! These two hard hitting cats from Philadelphia have given us an expository account of living an alien concept as far as the world is concerned, Christianity. Much like their first effort this album is just a grand slam! Refusing to be put in a box, they’ve given us a versatile/futuristic sounding album. Each song is the type that get’s you asking yourself if you are behaving like the “alien” you are or you’re just blending in with popular culture. With a style you can’t exactly brand apart from calling it the “Everyday Process sound” this is an album that has everything from techno beats to r n’ b beats, witty punchlines, scriptural admonitions and most of all the type of thing that David did and got God head over heels for him… Praise!
Right after the C.S. Lewis quote the first song “Invasion” has EP saying “I’m so left that I aint right” and that’s pretty much the concept throughout the album, they basically present the same message in different lights. It’s either the poignant “Against the Grain” or the nostalgic “Freak” (a sort of hip hop rendition of the dc talk Jesusfreak concept). From the techno inspired “I Don’t Belong” to the laid back, soothing and R n’ B influenced “Make You Smile” it’s just a case of beautiful rendition after beautiful rendition. Iz-real and Mac the Doulos do more than hold it down on the project and make an offering that will be loved by the average music fan and the hip hop head alike.
Of course like most albums there are lead tracks and to mention a couple the adoration drenched “Jesus Pride” is one, an anthem of sorts, this joint just outlines a bunch of attributes our Lord has without a hook or pause for air leaving you in a state of goose pimples and smiles as you attempt to visualize all that’s being said. I mean Mac the Doulos starts off by saying “Jesus is preeminent that means He’s supreme…” and ends with “…He killed death and shook it off/brushed His shoulders off and said look I’m Boss!” get the picture? Another one is “Fire” an ode to Jeremiah and not being able to hold back God’s message because the fire’s just too much (like third degree heat to the bones to be exact) and you could easily get consumed. Take note of the effortless delivery on this song along with witty metaphors for example “I’m powered by The Son like solar/… you can’t find the depth of His Love using sonar…” or “I tried to keep silent like mute man/but that was fire to the bone marrow like fusion…” how about “No longer like the X man but still they call me mutant…”? Classic stuff I tell you.
Are there any drawbacks? Believe it or not the only one I can think off is just as you’re getting amped on the message they are spitting you hear “Bye Bye” and “The Saga Continues” songs signalling the end and you’re probably thinking it’s a joke, but it’s true, the album’s too short! Such is the quality within this project. It’s been quite a while since I heard an album and wished it was a little longer (you’d probably have to go as far back as 116 Clique’s Amped!!!) but I guess the brevity is deliberate, so you don’t bite much more than you can/should chew.
This is truly a keeper, primarily for the message and then because it’s different from what is obtainable in Christian hip hop today, and not just different but unique!! To sum it all up all I can just tell you is this album is what they say it is… Outtadisworld!
I wish this was a news script and the above was rolling across the bottom of my screen and my headline would go “NEWSBOYS: In The Hands of God”. I would then begin to elaborate on the Newsboys album of the same name. I must first mention my knowledge of Christian rock was limited to just acts like Switchfoot, Jars of Clay and DC Talk but over the past few years I’ve become hooked on the likes of Red, Building 429, Skillet and even Relient K. relatively young bands huh? This in turn caused me to neglect guys like MercyMe and today’s focus, Newsboys.
Alas this is but just a music review, but trust me when I say it’s about an album that’s as about as hot as a breaking news story. Newsboys have been in the news recently with Michael Tait of that group (you know, that one with two other white dudes), joining them on tour and eventually as a band member with frontman Peter Furler opting for a less dominant, behind the scenes role. Has this reduced the content of the news(boys)? Nope!!In The Hand of God is a project for everybody and it has something a little rare in rock music; lyrics that are simple, straight to the point and without any need for deciphering. The message in each song is as direct as a sermon of the pulpit and yet the album is diverse in style, from the Resurrection inspired “No Grave” to the pop rendition “This Your Life”. This album is a perfect actualization of the saying “once a soldier always a soldier” (true because Newsboys have been at this for at least two decades)
Of course Tait is not on this album but he’s lead vocalist on tour and I can’t help but just look forward to the next album even though I haven’t even finished “ingesting” this album. It would be interesting to see how this plays out though.
Overall this is an album you won’t skip through (except for a couple of tracks) plus it’ll poke your conscience over certain issues (uh huh, your character, habits…). I think it’s safe to say the Newsboys have given us the news verbatim : We are in the Hands of God!
Friday, September 24, 2010
There’s a culture that’s been alive for thirty something years, a culture that refuses to be defined geographically, a culture that is probably more influential on a lot of societies than their collective governments, a culture you can either love or hate but it will grow and survive regardless of your feelings. This culture I’m referring to is what we know as and call Hip hop. As with every other culture hip hop has its signature elements, take for instance it’s aka emcees or rappers, it’s language or hip hop slang/lingo, it’s traditional dance or b-boying (yes, all ye jabbawockees and soulQuest fans and the like, hip hop was here first), it’s art or graffiti (which nowadays is deemed illegal in most places). Hip hop even has its own dress code, its own rules for behaviour, but unlike every other culture there is one important element that I haven’t yet mentioned, an element that was there at the beginning and despite its importance seems to be ignored, it’s the element known as deejaying!! Yes! The deejay, he/she who is responsible for the music, he/she that dictates the pace, he/she whom all others in hip hop pay respect to.
The hip hop culture was lost for a long time in a fallen state, it was in turmoil, chaos, shapeless and void (reminds one of Genesis 1). Well Christ came and redeemed it and today we have the gift of Christian hip hop and by extension Christian rap music. We have a culture that has been evangelized to and is saved even though certain brothers and sisters of this culture choose to be stubborn…
Before I get carried away, this is a review on a veteran (and saved) DJ’s project; Dj Official’s Entermission. One of the most anticipated albums in Christian music ever!! We first heard about this album when Dj Official gave an interview on the Reach Records website shortly after the DWYL (Don’t Waste Your Life) tour. He told us he was working on his debut album and that the concept was basically Missions, something we all agree hip hop music needs. What is Missions? The intro gives us a clue “Enter the Mission” with Dr Eric Mason, pastor/co-founder of Epiphany Fellowship tells us “the Christian by identity is a missionary we don’t just do missions. Missions are not just trips to certain destinations, it’s who we are, and its God’s call on our lives to go into the world based on the Great Commission…” (Matthew 28:19). Now carry that and spread it across 18 tracks and what you have is a banger sizzling with God’s mandate and over 20 passionate cats spitting lines to put across the point.
This album was released on Boxing Day 2009, ending the year 2009 and kicking off 2010 with old and new rappers respectively. It has everybody worth noticing as far as Christian rap is concerned on it and of course they are all spitting one message, the call to missions. After the excellent hard hitting R-swift intro we have the first single off the album which I’m scared to say was not the best1 it’s Lecrae and Flame on the song “Show Off” meant to urge the listener “show off” God’s glory in every nook and cranny of the globe. From here on out we have a diverse mix of songs from the hardcore/streetwise “Streets of New York” and “Streets of Philadelphia” to the “different” sounding “Love Fallen” that had Brits Jahaziel and Gems and the reggae “specialist” Benjah. Of course there are the mandatory 116 Clique jams with Trip Lee’s southern delivery dripping all over “Get Busy”, Sho Baraka narrating a few stories on “Chaos” and Tedashii holding his own on “Use Me” and later on alongside newcomers H.G.A. on one of the standout songs on the album, “Go” a jam that’ll blow you away thanks to the staccato like delivery (reminiscent of T-Bone or Dwayne Tryumf on the 777 intro). Other cool collaborations include Thisl, K-Drama, Json and Tedashii (again) on “Chisel Me”, an earnest prayer to God to hone us into fitting instruments for His mission and of course a remix from Trip Lee’s 20/20 album, “Eyes Open Remix” with Sho Baraka.
Now for me the best songs on the album were not from the “usual suspects” (Lecrae et al) they were from the cats that’ve made “Lyrical Theology” the awesome phenomenon it is today. Enter Christian rap pioneer and stalwart Phanatik alongside Lampmode Records emcees Evangel and Stephen the Levite on the very deep “Not My Own”. If Entermission had a title track this would be it! With each emcee on point with their lyrical prowess, they take things a notch higher by laying on us some serious theology telling us about the ‘Proto Evangelion’ or the first evangelic mission all the way back in the garden of Eden and how that has been replicated over and over till present times. Phanatik aptly sums it up with his bars saying “let’s slay a man to save a man…/then send the lamb down through the man’s family line...” this song is a classic, reminiscent of the early Cross Movement days (biblical truths conveyed and Christ glorified). The other outstanding jam is the song “Missio Dei” (or God’s Mission) with the relatively unknown God’s Servant spitting a DIY manual for missions; it just effectively sums the concept of the whole album. Like I said earlier on, this is just top notch Lyrical Theology.
Now are there any minuses on this project? Well for me it is the problem of adequately balancing both style and /or content. A lot of the songs (especially from the 116 guys) had an excessive ration of style which just kept distracting you from the message they were trying to pass across as opposed to some others which were just plain by way of the message embedded within. Of course people must be able to like what is being said on these songs but we need to be careful to ensure we are not just bumping heads and not convicting hearts with our music. Plus the r n’ b songs on the album “Nothing Without You” by J.R and Cam’s “Forward Me” felt a little out of place and much too conventional, nothing you would remember in three or six months time. That being said Entermission is a more than decent album overall, reminding us how important the deejay is to the hip hop culture and how important Missions is to the Christian culture. By the way, watch out for the delightful instrumental outros after a few of the songs are over and even the one instrumental track “For My Breakers” which is a wonderful tribute to the hip hop culture… in 2010 we expect a lot of things but one thing that has come and must stay mandatory for every one of us Christians is our “entering the mission”……