Reviews – # to B (29 reviews, February 2019)
Please note that the reviews are ordered by Artist first name..
Please note if you see any of these reviews elsewhere, it is because I have done the reviews for others (Cross Rhythms). The reviews on these pages are my full reviews.
116 Clique – ‘Man Up’
With the 116 Clique in charge of an album, you know it’s going to be heavy-hitting. This doesn’t disappoint. “Man Up” combines a 7-track album, plus a 50 minute movie, all about being a man in light of the (bad) decisions made by Bryan (played by Anthony ‘One’ Moonie), also starring Lecrae, J’Son and a number of other actors. The movie ends, leaving the viewer to consider themselves and their own lives. Back to the album which takes seven issues relevant to manhood… The anthemic “Man Up Anthem” starts things with all the artists behind the project supporting, in verses and production as we’re encouraged to man up and follow Jesus. We’re called to follow authority and as men, to stand up and be a man (not leave it to the women) in the southern “Authority”. A similar theme of responsibility is taken up in the following track. “Envy” samples the ‘Annie Get Your Gun’ classic, ‘Anything you can do, I can do better than you’… Loving the beats across the project and this doesn’t disappoint with a grimey bass dropping in over Tedashii, Andy Mineo and KB. “Courage” over pulsing synths and bass, lets us know we’re courageous because our faith is in Him, where “our value is eternal”. The issue of temptation, especially sexual temptation is confronted and overcome through the resurrected Saviour in “Temptation” over rolling snares. We come to “Repentance” in the slower but powerful final track. Time to Man Up.
29th Chapter – ‘Supernova. The End Of The Beginning’
If you haven’t come across 29th Chapter then you’ve missed out. Over 10 years they rocked the mic, giving God glory at shows across the UK and beyond. (I personally remember catching them early days at a gig in Harlesden, alongside the pastor of Crossover church in Tampa Florida, Urban D). In early 2012, 29th Chapter announced they were finishing and did their final show in May 2012. But the legacy they left behind won’t be lost. Their final album, “Supernova” over synths and instantly engaging hooks (like on “Let It Go”) keeps the vibe alive. “Supernova” immediately lifts us heaven-bound as we groove over 4/4 beat and autotuned vocals, with catchy hooks and a pulsating party vibe. A similar spacey uplifting vibe is found in “Move With Me” and in the incredibly bouncy “Invincible”. In “Make It” we hear the testimony of the crew as they made their musical way. 29th Chapter manage to bring inspiring messages aplenty (“Lights, Camera, Action” and “Through Time”), while spreading life lessons, relating Christ practically to life and producing some pop-infused tracks like “Movement”. The western way of greed is brilliantly called out in “These Dreams”. “Times Up” brings us to the end of the album and 29th Chapter. This isn’t a full-on ‘gospel’ project as such, but is a brilliant final album that would equally relate to those who know God and those who don’t. The lesson from this album is this: make your time on earth count for God.
3D Remedy – ‘The Great I Am’
Rolando Remedios aka 3D Remedy was born in Brooklyn, NY. He now lives in Staten Island, NY and has a wide-ranging ministry, as a pastor, working with youth, in rap, in the community, with the poor, in digital design and speaking God’s truth relevantly. “The Great I Am” kicks things into motion with a powerful musical score as 3D brings some smooth and spot-on vocals with soulful hooks lifting the song even further. Standout moments include the excellent “Rejoice Always” with a dance beat as 3d Remedy gives praise to God with a soulful hook and uplifting vibe. Also featuring is the epic soundscape that 3D flows over in “Let Them Go” as he asks, “Lord set my people free, let them go” in a Moses-style modern-day pleading for God’s deliverance. There are some times where the project almost veers into synthy style (almost LZ7 moments) as in the English-Spanish combo “Supernatural.” A couple of times, the album rides on a West-coast tip (“In My Hood” and “Way Out”). Other songs have a party vibe like “Shut It Down” as we’re encouraged to shut sin down in our lives, and the rolling “Feel Alive”. Through the project, 3D brings and uses some arpeggiated synth backings as in the uplifting “I Am Yours.” 3D calls out the music industry and sinful motivation as evidenced by tracks like “Tired Of This Music.” We move towards the end with the beautiful and Spirit-filled slow jam, “Here Is My Heart.”
4th Avenue Jones – Stereo: The Evolution of Hiprocksoul
Been meaning to get some 4th Ave material since I watched them deliver a crazily good set on the FlavorFest DVD from 2003. This performance showcased the varied and quality musicality of 4th Ave Jones, as guitar (Timmy Shakes) ‘battled’ violin (Gailybird) and Ahmad Jones ‘battled’ wife, Tena Jones in a song about men and women. The show ended with the audience going mad to a rendition of that ‘wahoo’ song by Blur! The album of course, doesn’t disappoint in any way. As ever there are elements from so many genres it’s hard to know where there aren’t influences from (well, no country & western thankfully..) But we have hip-hop, soul, rock, jazz, funk, r&b and more! We mix fun and deeper intent. Linking the tracks together are the team on a ‘stereo’. First up, “Stereo” sees a heavy guitar riff about erm, a stereo been taken everywhere! “Fabulous Dramatics” sees a beautiful riff kick into a heavy chorus about an ex bringing drama. “Unhappy Birthday” sees Ahmad trying to make up with Tena. Another powerful track is “Overloaded”. Next up, “Take It Away” is a cry out to God to take them away from the haters resenting their lifestyle, Ahmad and Tena on passionate vocals. “Sorry” is about saying ‘sorry’ mixing singing and MC-ing from Ahmad. “Monumental Continental” mixes things up with Grits. “Who’s Watching Me” sees beautiful rhymes and singing from Tena Jones fusing hiprocksoul and rap under r&b vocals. “Caesar” sees Ahmad more on a regular rap tip, a serious track looking at the state of the nation and need for Jesus. In “Why” we have a determination to be ready in life. “Rush” sees a more downtempo sound kick in about people rushing to push themselves, 4th Ave will stay true to their faith. We end up with “It’s Over Now” (a more percussive / old skool track) about hip-hop no longer being what it was. Run Time – 43.32.
A Star – ‘Letting It Go’
Astar, out of Nairobi, Kenya brings an 18 track hip-hop project. The lead track reveals a bouncy and uplifting four-to-the-floor beat as Astar gives up control of his life, giving God the wheels of his life. This Kenyan gospel hip-hop album is consistently Christ-focused and is wide and varied in musicality and rapping styles – from hip-hop breaks like “Broken Pieces” (God putting us back together) to the kick beats of “His Name”. There’s a strong hint of r&b and some beautiful vocal harmonies on a number of tracks. There are hints of the African background throughout in snippets but perhaps most audibly on “Public Apology” ft Allan Aaron. The album is highly musical and harmonic but in places, the rapping and the production don’t quite reflect the talents and sound slightly dated. But the heart behind the project is clear as the album was put online for free. It ends on the beautiful and almost picturesque “MWAPI Freestyle” accompanied by native language, drums and guitar.
Alex Faith – ‘Bloodlines’
On this second release, Alex again demonstrates his skills as an honest and forthright writer, MC and vocalist. Mixing hip-hop with a live, country and Southern influence, the album again shows his roots and history. Despite this clear southern influence, Faith manages to produce an album that transcends any pigeonholing – compare the personally powerful “Conversations”, to the head nodding strains of “Never Let Me Down” to the southern energies of “95 Atlanta”. Many debate what a Christian hip-hop album is with some wanting a very narrow definition. What Alex Faith brings in this project is what I’d consider to be a true hip-hop project that testifies, story tells, confronts personal, life (“Stillborn” after the loss of a child) and social issues (such as the powerful “Dark Matters” confronting racism). He speaks about Christ in the fullest and widest sense, from the lead track “Lost” through to the final and near anthemic track “Sins Of My Youth.” Alex brings a clear message (“freedom is found in God and he’s the source of what life really is” from “Freedom”) that infuses every track and what feels like a natural ability that has without doubt been mixed with hard work and great production.
(The) Ambassador – The Thesis
I bought this on the strength of mp3 clips and because this came up out of the hip-hop academy that is the Cross Movement. I was not disappointed. Without doubt one of my favourite albums of 2005. This truly is a thesis, an exegesis of hip-hop, Christ and the relationship between the two. At the centre of his thesis is his relationship with Christ and the truth that Christ came to redeem a fallen world. How then can the church reject hip-hop. Hip-hop needs Christ. Period. Truth. Up first is “Thesis Pieces” where a melodic child-sung hook is that ‘Jesus makes everything right’ over beats, and old-skool synth sounds. ‘We need this.. Hip-hop properly submitted to the glorious Lord.’ Next up is “Amba-Ss-Ador” which forms the basis for the hook over deep rumbling toms and a east coast beat. “Song for You” mixes up samples and a rolling beat – cutting in slow samples before bringing back the beat and smooth delivery fire. “Feels Good” does to the listener what it says on the tin. A lighter beat and vibe with female harmonies on the hook. This is about the freedom that is found in Christ, as opposed to the lies of the world and a life away from hate, thugs and hopelessness. “Get You Open” is Ambassador’s alternative to Snoop Dogg’s ‘Drop It Like It’s Hot’ – with a similar roller of a beat / little other instrumentation. ‘We’re gonna get you open..’ A challenging track, full of dope truths and delivery. Love this. “The Explanation” lets us know about ‘The Thesis’ project – examination of hip-hop culture. This is as much an album for the pastors and parents who dis hip-hop. ‘Hip-hop properly submitted to the glorious Lord.’ A big beat with swirling horns sees Ambassador take a look at the “Elements” of hip-hop. “Crown Him” starts up with a rolling bass and delivery- ‘Crown him Lord of all..’ An awesome look at Jesus, this is hot. “Oh Wretched Man” slows up to take a look at Romans 7.23-25 about how we all fail and do things we do not want to do, falling short of God’s glory – ‘the problem is that we’ve got sins.. we need to be free, we need a new heart.’ In “My Clothes, My Hair” we have a nice break over guitar and old church hammond organ – about how God sees beyond our appearance. “Back Home” – streets and the church need each other. Church being salt and light, the streets being the mission field. Interesting production with a light kick drum. “We Worship You” – we need hip-hop to know who they should be worshipping, God, and his awesome-ness. Nice track with the hook proclaiming, ‘We worship you.. Oh Lord, our God.’ Another hot track. “The Testimony” Ambassador lets us know that the culture of hip-hop isn’t evil, it’s the people who need to be redeemed and transformed by the Spirit of God. “The Anthem” brings a lively sound, break and delivery. On point with outstanding monotonal-sounding and fast delivery. Boom! “Body Talk” is a gentle smoothie with a challenge about women’s dress-code means their ‘body talks.’ Finally, “The Fall” ends in an epic way with timpani and synth pads – a look at the fall in Genesis and its consequences. We hear the call from God, ‘I’m the living God and I made you.. I’m the only God that can save you.’ Ambassador points people to Christ. So does this album. Run Time – 70.48.
AMP – ‘Glory Songs’
Popular hip-hop in the mainstream has often become generic without creativity except in production techniques. But scratch away from the centre and there is musicianship, life, imagination and freshness. AMP, comprised of CL, J. Han, and Sam Ock bring such a worshipful project and one that deserves a wider audience. “No Other Place” is almost impossibly funky, worshipful, anthemic and uplifting with a message of unity, freedom, truth and calling out falseness. “In gratitude to you, Lord, we let the church bells ring, unified in one voice, hear all the saints sing…” Mixing hip-hop beats, dance beats, piano backing, instrumentation, melody, harmony, contemporary worship vibes (“No Turning Back”). Musically the album reaches beyond most hip-hop projects and while AMP are uniquely strong in almost every area, they really shine over their melodic hip-hop such as “Worthy Is The Lamb”. Lyrically Amp bring a clear, smooth, mainly east coast flow, often underground, at times double-timing and other times just bringing great harmonies. This Christ-centric and clearly joy-filled thirteen track project with an extra four bonus tracks gives the album extra value.
Andrew “TRUE” Brennan – ‘Triumphant’
Andrew “TRUE” Brennan’s call from God is to speak truth through hip-hop, living by Revelation 12.11 – ‘And they overcame him (Satan) by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.’ Hailing from Toledo, Ohio, True’s message is defiant, proclaiming, “The enemy once had me, til he (Christ) took the nails for me. I’m a victor in this walk, I will not be a casualty.” (“Triumphant”) True’s style is clear and simple over mainly dirty south leaning beats (“Battle Tested”). He has a determination not to water down his lyrics about Jesus, from his first to 50th album! In “Mission Minded”, TRUE expresses his desire for “souls to inherit his kingdom of love and grace, so my mind’s on his mission homie, no time to waste.” There are a number of well constructed beats and tracks on the album with some heavy minimal beats fused with synths (“Fortress” in Christ, and “United Kingdom” about church unity, with its near eerie piano and synths). Favourite track is “Gospel” drops a tight beat as TRUE sums up his desire through his album and life – his heart is burning to speak the Gospel and all its truth without holding back, to see people freed in Christ. We close out the project with the energetic and strong track “Triumphant” as TRUE throws in some double-timing rhythms as he points to Christ as the only truth.
Ant Coughlin – ‘Light Rooms Dark Halls’
With an east coast, boom bap vibe comes the lyrical energies and flexing of Ant Coughlin (evidenced within seconds of “Technicolor” dropping), backed by the masterful booming bapping production of Wes Pendleton (and Kritikul). Tuning in to this six track EP are like hitting a vinyl treasury in a basement record store, cutting up some breaks on the 1210s and packing some scratching and MC skills. This is an album that takes you and your backpack to underground clubs, to MC cyphers. The tracks aren’t over-long and yet there seems to be so much bang-for-buck within each song. This is underground without being introspective; accessible without selling out; thought-provoking and humble. “The Love That Finds Me” closes out proceedings with an emotional testimony of God’s grace through it all, leaving you hungry for more.
Anthony DeMore – ‘Yahweh’s People’
Anthony DeMore comes out of the Bronx and his mission is to call Christians to stand firm on the foundation of truth which is Christ, in a time when the world is upside down, where ‘bad’ is good and ‘good’ is bad. The album contains the depth of Anthony’s love for God, evidenced in tracks like “Lord I Love You” with an old skool and simple flow focusing on the Lord. We are encouraged to read the Word and “check through these verses, like you’re looking for jewels, cos in these Scriptures are life..” in “These Words Are Life”. In “Dark Terrain”, probably my favourite track, the flow matches the subject as we are reminded this world is a dark terrain and Jesus is the light. The album also fixes our eyes on God and his ultimate victory – with DeMore challenging us that although it’s a war, God is going to win. As he says in “Brethren”, “God is calling you to life”. Overall, an experimental and encouraging project that shows the heart of Yahweh’s People, while leaving room for a future step-up.
Antony Neal – ‘Bible Megamix. Proverbs Vol 1’
Antony Neal uses a number of beats and backing tracks on this project and reads out the Bible from Proverbs (and Genesis Chapter 4), starting at Chapter 1 and ending up (in this Volume 1 CD) at Chapter 14. Rather than rapping the verses (as this would be quite tricky), Antony chooses to read them over the top of the beats as if reading them aloud to a group or church. There are a range of beats, melodies and vibes through the project, all pretty laid back as you’d expect so they enhance, rather than distract, from the Bible. A standout beat for me is on ‘P10’. On occasions there is an r&b vibe going on with some tasty singing (end track, ‘Genesis 4’). On most tracks there is an instrumental lead-in and lead-out, giving time to reflect on the Bible verse you’ve heard.
Arrested Development – ‘Since The Last Time’
US spiritual hip-hop collective, Arrested Development stand out as a band of pure quality – instrumentally, poetically and lyrically. Since their first album, they have consistently produced albums with socially and spiritually challenging messages, loaded with live instrumentation and catchy hooks. Their depth in ‘Since The Last Time’ is a far cry from the superficial hip-hop that unfairly gets the radio play. In the words of the funky title track, “..we never sold out for the high chart position.” Stand-out tracks lace the album from start to end, with tracks such as the uplifting, ‘Miracles’ bringing a breezy old skool vibe, along with the beautiful ‘Sao Paulo’ and ‘Heaven’. The crunk infused but highly infectious ‘Down & Dirty’ deftly proves the versatility of Arrested Development. Messages of hope, character and positivity flow throughout the album such as the lyrical message from Speech that, “the things that I stand for tell who I am” in ‘Stand’ to the cry for hope on the streets in ‘It’s Time’. Love fills the airwaves, from the inter-racial love story of ‘Sunshine’ and the insights in ‘Nobody Believes Me Anyway’ that everyone should have “someone to love above themselves to help (them) grasp the depths of love.” If you dig Arrested Development and if you’d like to learn, get this album.
Baliva – ‘Imperfect’
Baliva is an intelligent artist keen to be creative and speak into topics in life as an artist who is a Christian – something worthy of respect. The lead track, “Not Afraid” seems like an anthem of our day, with a world of uncertainty, Baliva desires to do God’s will and not be afraid. Contrasting sounds fill the album like a painting of many colours with production from a varied team (including Tony Stone) befits the best modern art, especially at the start of the album – “Love Again” being one of many cases in point. While Baliva has a steady lyrical style, he is much more than this with delivery interesting, occasionally intentionally off-beat and with varied timings (“Nothing To Prove”). Then tracks like “Indifference” and the deeply felt “Approval Addict” drop with amazingly soulful rolling vibes as Baliva wants to “break free and see who he was meant to be…” The album continues to paint powerful musical and lyrical pictures throughout (“Broken Home” and the powerful worship experience of “Worthy”). Jazz and soulful vibes fill the project (“I’m Okay”) but really it’s the soul and the vibe of Baliva that comes across alongside the love for the God of love. This forward-thinking album ends looking forward, this time to the “Perfect City” found in Revelation.
Baliva – ‘Resurection’
Mark “Baliva” Johnes originally hails from Harare in Zimbabwe and became a Christian in 2003 before throwing himself into serving God and continuing his passion for rap and recording, as evidenced from the first track where Baliva expresses his purpose of living for Jesus Christ, in the effervescent and crunk “Living For”. The album is a fresh and raw exposition of Baliva’s faith and journey, challenging the listener too. Uniquely his albums are available to download for free on ilike.com. The album is laced with Scripture and Biblical principles, for example in “Real”, a caring and yet challenging tune. Production is really very good, with different beats – if individually repetitive musically at times. Occasionally the flow doesn’t always match the beat (There is a clear step up with his second album, ‘Sunrise’). Lyrically, Baliva is Godly and on point with a raw edge, although again his flow improves as he progresses on his album, ‘Sunrise’. A standout track is “Hope”, where Baliva talks to us about hope and how hope is found in Jesus. “Trust In God” takes us through a real-life type scenario where a girl goes from hopelessness to Christ. We end with a Scriptural based account of “The Resurrection” and the Beatitudes read out over music. Good stuff, I can certainly see Baliva becoming a great producer of hip-hop.
Beacon Light – ‘Lights On’
Beacon Light brings his own passionate southern heavy style beats and flow in an eight track project that reflects his own life as a picture of God’s redemption from a life of brokenness and sexual abuse. The album takes the listener through various highs and lows that reflect the nature of life. The message is one of hope through Christ who alone can heal our anger, pain and bring comfort, love and peace. The album is about Beacon Light writing music over any beat that he was feeling. Production is raucous and tracks like the explosive “Haters”, responding to hate with love “when they come with their right hook, you know I’ve got a verse for ‘em… move in reverse on them, hit ‘em with 316s…” (as in John 3.16). Lyrically, Beacon Light lands many killer blows, knocking out Godly lyrcis and catchy rhymes as he acts like the “moon, reflecting the sun” (meaning Son). Variation is evident throughout despite the mainly southern style – shown by the strong “O Lord”, an impassioned cry to and about God. He shows his abilities as he crafts words throughout “Be That Way” before the brilliant minimalist spoken “Falling” .
Beatmart Presents – ‘Best Of The Submissions Vol 2. With DJ Morphizz’
Volume 2 of Beatmart’s (compilation) submissions series features DJ Morphiziz brings a hot mix of 23 tracks (plus intro / outro), bringing a flava of independent recording artists who’ve submitted and had their songs voted onto the album. Kicking off the mix is the inimitable distinct voice of Soul Plasma with the pulsating intense, “5 Fingers”, stripping down to other street sounds like “Something Wonderful” (Shabach & Pee Wee Collins), hearkening back to better days of hip-hop and “Come On” with Christ centred hip-hop. We have a mid-section infused with a measure of tasty crunk filled hip-hop (CZ, Ziklag Boys, Frontlynaz, Same Old Jake), before the talented R-Swift kicks in with a different, east-coast soulful flava in “So Amazing”, with all tracks pointing firmly heavenward to God. A similar street vibe is found in Rob Hodge’s, “You Gotta Love It”. Bobby Bishop lets us know that Beatmart are hungry and that they are keen to keep raising the bar and encouraging gospel artists to keep on. A vibe change comes with the “Volumen” and a carnival latino feel. There are a number of underground sounding tracks, with artists such as the excellent Urban D featuring among many other talented artists. Zion throws the female perspective into the mix with “Breathe Thru Mic’s” before we close out with DJ Morphiziz turntable deftness.
Beat Rabbi – ‘Mazel Tov Cocktail’
Not a true hip-hop album but a collection of beats of varied lengths, Beat Rabbi (of Deepspace 5) returns via the funky mastering skills of DJ Sean P with thirty-one beats that mysteriously haven’t been used by producers and rappers. The project showcases an array of beat artillery and firepower that would be enough to send hip-hop doubters scurrying away and then back again to marvel at the sounds they were hearing. There’s a focus on boom bap old skool mixed with the craft of sampling and digging across the beats that should be a magnet to any artist with skills. “Evol” is like a spaghetti western where you half expect Clint “Funky Fresh” Eastwood to draw his vocal holster and fire off some vocal shots. There’s a 70s vibe at times (“70s”, “Gero”, “Suite”). At other times you’re transported back to the early days of hip-hop and the streets of the Bronx (“Intro”, “Black Magic”) and across New York or into the heart of the early commercial hip-hop pioneers (“Stop”, “Jump”) or the DJs cutting (“Mazel Tov Cocktail”). Across the beats, there’s a huge range of creativity within and between beats, each of which have a unique flavour that inspires rhymes, ideas, memories and contemplation (“Losing”). We end on “Return Of The Real Hard Beat” featuring Deepspace 5, which both summarises and completes the album. If you’re in need of hearing some beats-based ingenuity with all kinds of sounds and styles, get this.
Beautiful Eulogy – ‘Selected Songs’
Beautiful Euology is a Portland, Oregon-based group consisting of Braille, Odd Thomas and Courtland Urbano. With an album that is made up of songs by Beautiful Eulogy (and one by Propaganda), this 11 track project is a phenomenal introduction to both underground hip-hop and also to the excellence of the three artists lyrically and in production and beats. The introduction track beautifully illustrates our purpose on earth and our desire to be with God. “Exile Dial Tone” is one of the most accurate and insightful vocal illustrations of being in this world but not of it. Absolute lyrical brilliance. Throughout the album there is production that is contemporary, underground and brings elements of digging (cutting up old records), mood, style and timing shifts, along with synth and live-feeling soundscapes. “Anchor” and “Cello From Portland” are both like hip-hop shoegazing. “You Can Save Me” with Marz Ferrer is a clear and powerful message of how God alone can restore and save us. The final track “Lofty” with real backpacking hip-hop speaks of God and his creative craftsmanship. The same phrase could and should be applied to this album which in eleven tracks has such depth and expressive dynamics that it’s enough to fill the hungriest hip-hop dead. Just turn on, breathe deep, reflect and let God…
Believin’ Stephen – ‘What I Believe EP’
Anyone that knows the Lamp Mode Artists from Philly will know that the entire crew are focused on Chistocentric hip-hop that clearly and dynamically expressed. This independent group’s sole purpose is to point to God, Jesus and the Bible through hip-hop culture. ‘Intro’ brings clear insight as Stephen lets us know that Jesus is the only way with no other god, in his quest, “giving rap a facelift.” (‘Good News’). Production is tight and continues to grow, with a host of beatmakers (Tony Stone and others), many simply effective breaks – alongside scratches from DJ Essence. In this up-close and personal album, Stephen covers a range of topics (across and even within tracks), spitting the good news that he got saved and that the listener should too. We find how sin infects every area, with Christ alone who can cleanse in ‘Sindicate Remix’. A standout is ‘Exposing Relativism’ in which the fallacy of relativism and believing what you want is exposed – “forget your pre-supposition and get the one that is Christian..” Continuing in the truth, the album ends as powerfully as the beginning, with the moving and enlightening, ‘Jenny’s Story’. The message – you never know when your end will come, “Jesus was the only person ever who was righteous” so get right with him today. True.
Believin Stephen – The Perseverance Mixtape
“The Perseverance Mixtape” is the latest step forward from Believin Stephen aka Stephen Brindle. Like his brother, Timothy Brindle (who the project is dedicated to) and the Philly-based Lampmode crew, Believin Stephen produces music filled with and fuelled by Christ. His mixes lyrical ingenuity with Biblical and theological concepts, all set to some crunchy and mainly underground beats (“Persevere”). One thing I respect about this album is the honesty and lack of self-promotion throughout the music, in stark contrast to much hip-hop! “God is diesel” is an ode to the all-powerful God who sits above all others. Throughout the project, Stephen brings a clear message about Christ, the Gospel and the Word. From track to track Stephen and guests quote Scripture and pointing to the saving and on-going work of Christ. All the times, Stephen and crew drop witty lines, “I’m an alien, like Dan Ackroyd..” before bringing Biblical truths back round, “I reap what I sow”. The project is East-coast in tone and projects Christ, with the MCs acting as Christ’s servants throughout the mixtape, pointing upwards not inwards. There are some tight beats throughout, such as the grace-laced “Jesus, Jesus” across to more underground beats like “Ya Kept Me”. Interesting flows cross the project as guest MCs and Stephen keep it varied. This is a great project to understand God’s Word and purposes. Plus you can download it for free. Can’t say better than that!
Ben Knight – ‘Myld Stallyn’
Nerdcore is a form of hip-hop themed around subjects that are defined as ‘nerdy’. Ben Knight isn’t from a rap background but wanted to try something different from his time spent touring with pop, punk and rock bands. The album title and track of the same name (“Myld Stallyns”) is itself a twist on Bill & Ted’s band in the movie – even more relevant with talk of a Bill & Ted 3 movie in the pipeline. The overall theme of the album is fun, nerdy, with an array of references to sci-fi, movies, games, plays on words and nerd topics, as in ‘Something Happened On The Way To Zanarkand’ (from Final Fantasy). Throughout, Knight drops intentionally simple old skool vocal flows but this doesn’t mean low quality. With nods to 8-bit music (‘Weapons Of Mass Distraction) and games, the project mixes clarity, quality production and witty lyrical banter effortlessly. In the game hide and seek, someone hides so someone has to seek to find but this is the core of the game. In the same way, this album is like one of Jesus’ parables – if you seek him, you’ll find him. And you’ll have a lot of fun along the way.
(The) Body – The Body
In summary, this is a mix and blend of east coast, mid-west and even a touch of dirty south from this rap family coming out of the New York area. ‘The Body’ represents the latest project from the Get Gospel Records community. This super group includes 8 MCs, who’ve been performing together since 2003 and hail out of Brooklyn, NYC. This album and their sound reflects their roots from the Jamaican neighbourhoods of Flatbush and Crown Heights in New York. The tracks vary up rap, r&b and soulful vocals, as the beats and delivery travel through the hip-hop musical neighbourhoods of east coast, mid-west and dirty south. The album fires off predominantly minimal sounding contemporary beats – with lyrics around life-issues (“Imagine”) and Christ-centric (“The Mission”) – and songs combining both, like “Real Life”. Delivery ranges between easy going and abstract, with some serious lyrical agility, from Nzingha’s double-timing on “To Be With You” through creative flows in “The Body”. The one area where the project could be stepped up is with a more varied range of beats. This is not helped by the obvious reliance on sounds and beats from the Korg Triton range (yes, I know it’s sad that I know, but the fact is I noticed..) But no matter, as production is tight. We journey from the downtempo, “When It Drop” and “Rejoice” – through the more challenging and lively such as “God’s Army”. At least 2 tracks from this project (“The Body” and “Hands In The Air”) are getting serious airplay across Christian radio stations – a testimony to the quality throughout the artists making up The Body. Run Time – 54.42.
B.I.G Shadow – ‘The Assignment’
BIG Shadow is part of Adullam House Records in Detroit, Michigan who are dedicated to the development of today’s generation and to help restore the heart of the fathers to the heart of the children and today’s generation to the fathers. ‘The Assignment’ is not just an explanation of calling, it’s a journey through hip-hop, opening up with a grimey dirty south low rider with BIG Shadow not in it for the Cadillac or the loot, but in the rap business ‘for the truth’. We travel across sub-genres with dirty south rollers in ‘That Heat’ and ‘The Anthem’. We reminisce personally to younger days with ‘Them Dayz’ the gentle tune contrasting with contemporary issues of heartache and pain. There are regular east coast elements in tracks like ‘Much More’ and ‘Making Chedda’ (confronting other rappers and the garbage they spit). Worth mentioning are ‘Daddy’ (touching on a daughter’s difficult relationship with her father) and ‘Non Fiction’, both of which have a minimalist feel. Bringing up the tail is the gentle yet powerfully challenging, ‘Red Shoes’, the red shoes representing when people rise up and bring something valuable out of another person. This reflects the priceless life transformation available through Jesus. A sensitive yet challenging album.
Braille – Shades of Grey
Shades of Grey is an awesome hip hop album. Right from the start up you have a perfect blend of beats from different producers, interesting cuts, brilliantly assembled samples and sick delivery from Braille.. The first song, ‘Right This Moment’ fires u p with an operatic sample with Braille (initially he reminded me of ‘. Next up we have ‘It Won’t Last’ – quite a party track in the Lightheaded vein with a grooving guitar sample, horns and a catchy hook. Braille says this is one of his favorite verses he drops on the album and you can feel the passion and energy of the track. Othello drops a verse, as does Pigeon John in his sung style which really works on the track. ‘Hiphop Music’ (a dedication to, lesson in hip hop music) features a nicely EQ’d bass and beat from the excellent Tony Stone producing – with the master Rob Swift cutting scratches in across the hook. Another banger – an uplifting, catchy track. In ’10 Years’ we have a mix and blend organ, keys (from 9th Wonder) combining to create a head nodder, beautiful music with Toni Hill dropping sweet vocals over the top. (Giving an almost Fugees feel). Braille rides the beat nicely. In Statements Part 2 we find Braille and Othello on form, a track that came from their old crew name (Return to Sender) and shouts to the current crew, Lightheaded. There’s a Tribe Called Quest style ‘rock, rock on’ headz up too. On ‘Microphone Rush’ we find Manchild from Mars Ill guesting and adding to the track. No surprise, as the music and beat could easily be something from Mars Ill, ‘Backbreakanomics’. The lyrics took Braille over a year to write. Very well crafted. On ‘The Find’ we have another dope track (again, a vibe reminiscent of Tribe Called Quest?) but mixed up to fit Braille’s delivery, given a slight distortion / radio feel – to add. Cuts (from Muneshine of Lightheaded), sampled voices, and horns give a live/party hip hop feeling. ‘Keep On’ – Braille brings a story of hope, that we have all fallen but we can all live free and ‘shine light when it’s too dark to see.’ A real encouragement to ‘Keep On’. I got a lot from this track and it spoke a lot to me. A mix of flute, harp and and I think oboe and samples being mixed up through the track is a master touch. ‘Let Go’ (letting stuff go close to you) was written by Braille when in New Jersey. It has that kind of feel, if you’re feeling me and has an awesome story behind its creation. Guests on this track (too many to mention) really add and make it. This has a deep urban flow. It is crafted to perfection. ‘Poetry In Motion’ (part two) – nice cuts with a vocal sample of a child really helps. Again, Braille’s delivery roles and surfs the beats – ‘giving 100%, never settling for less.’ Another change in ‘Life Cipher’ with another guest producer keeping the sound fresh. This is Braille’s equivalent of an interlude. ‘Goliath’ sees Braille committing to stand for his values against goliaths, more specifically the music industry – and emerge victorious. Interesting samples and cuts keep it rolling and varied. ‘Soul Rock’ is described by Braille as ‘an ill type posse track’ with fellow lightheaded emcees, Ohmegga Watts and Othello – plus Sharlok Poems from LA Symph. I can see crowds nodding, rocking out to this track. I would.. In ‘Nobody’ a slightly detuned guitar sample gives a raw and authentic edge. Braille spits about how nobody (representing a person, or all people) is reluctant to be true, come out from themselves. As I hear Braille, I’m reminded of the Matrix 1 where we find a world of people content in their un-true life. Braille encourages ‘nobody’ to ‘take off the mask.’ Very clever lyrics. ‘Shades of Grey’ is the final mash up, again from the prominent Tony Stone. Tune starts off like something from Lord of the Rings! Breaks down to another excellent flow from the man Braille. Shades of Grey is described as ‘..the place where the lines between right and wrong are blurred.’ This is a personal flow. Braille wanted a soundtrack feel to this and it is fully delivered. 10/10, no doubt. Run Time – 55.13.
B Reith – ‘Now Is Not Forever’
B Reith is a hip-hop artist who effortlessly mixes a great ability in rap, singing, acoustic guitar and production to produce a fresh and popular sound that cuts through many ‘traditional’ hip-hop projects with life and vitality. In a sense, though, B Reith is the essence of hip-hop with live instrumentation, innovation and bringing his unique style to the mix. “Comeback Kid” expressing his (often amusing) determination to keep getting back up and never quitting, staying strong over rock-fuelled breaks. The project mixes some nice acoustic rap flavours in, such as the brilliantly grooving “I Know” (better than and pre-dating the Ed Sheeran vibe, see also “Just For You”). “Mess” continues this acoustic, soulful flow as B Reith grows to be okay with who he is. B Reith shows serious vocal skills across the album (the moving “Antidote”). Old skool funkiness meets hip-hop in tracks like “My Story” as we hear B Reith’s testimony and God’s grace. The sheer mix of musical styles done with such quality (soulful “Wish That”) shows a serious level of God-given ability. One of the standouts is the incredible “Old School” which has a scrumptious old-skool meets jazz-funkiness over fun-fused lyrics and a crisp flow. Worship flows in “Rain Down” – calling out to the “…One who made it… the One who gave his all to save it.” We end vocally in the mainly piano-driven epic “Breathe” where he ends up in the palm of God’s hand.
Brian Psalms – ‘My Testimony’
“My Testimony” is a project from Brian Psalms, a drummer, producer, DJ, digital artists, rapper and singer who hails from Atascocita, Texas. He has a passion to lead people to follow and obey Jesus (“Jesus I Need You” from “Perfect”), showing how his life has a purpose with Jesus. Brian brings a very honest project and is open about his love for God and how God has moved in his life and helped him overcome various issues. Brian has a very clear and uncomplicated delivery that is simple without being simplistic. “A Reason” kicks us off showing how there is a reason for each season but encouraging God’s people to stay faithful, keep going and let go of the past. “Bring Me Joy” is a worshipful sound and song to God with a deep heart and love for God shining through. Unfortunately, with most if not all of the tracks, the lyrics are clear but the beats sound like they have serious peaking / clipping issues so the kick drum and bassline sound quite distorted. This may possibly be intentional but this makes it hard to appreciate the fullness of the tracks. What may be lacking in production is offset by the clear effort Brian Psalms has put in and his honesty, Biblical lyrics, God passion and a humility that can be lacking even in Gospel rap.
Brinson – ‘No Other Heroes’
Brinson with a very solid album that shows an excellent independent artist assembling a very real, lively and Jesus-minded project – with Jesus being the only hero we should look to (“No Name”, the enjoyable “Nobody” ft Martay and ReadyWriter). The project sees a number of varied tracks and flows, breaks and hooks. Brinson’s flow is There are a number of jump-up tracks like lead track “Chase God” and the banging “Hit The Floor” which is a standout on the project. Not far behind is the pulsing “3D StandOut” with a twisting synthy backing and hook from Jai. “All The Way” ft. Champ, with his southern drawl testifies how we’ve had our “DNA changed… not scientific, it’s Spirit, it’s Christ”. Then “Not Too Far” (from God – there’s a way back to Him) has some beautiful vocals from Nikki Dawson (from the US ‘The Voice’ series) as Brinson brings an accessible flow. “Last Time” reminds us that God forgave our sins. Brinson gives the listener a clear opportunity to know Jesus in “Most Importantly” as he talks through becoming a Christian. Aside from a nice touch in a bassy dirty south shout-out to Tim Tebow, the project ends with “I Am Yours” which is a powerful hip-hop worship fusion that really works.
Brinson – ‘Until We Meet Again’
When an artist can bring his essence and experience to an album and mix it with quality production and lyrical truth, you know that God is doing something good. Mixing songs with a club feel (“Sun Goes Down”) and other challenging tracks (“Hands On Me”), Brinson has fine-tuned this album into a hip-hop voice. Standout tracks like “So Hard” mixes clever wordplay, Biblical understanding, while commenting on both social and racial injustice in America through to the beheading of Christians. What’s the answer to evil and when it’s so hard? “The only way we win is with the love of God.” And that’s the truth. Brinson pursues a constant God-challenge to his listeners throughout such as in the heavy and hard-hitting “Swarzenegger” (Jesus will be back…) asking thr question, “If you ain’t living for him, what are you living for?” We see a more personal side of Brinson in “Trees In The Forest”, as the mellow vibe reflects some of what’s in his heart and thoughts as well as his need for rest and time with God. But Brinson hasn’t lost any energy or bite. If the album starts with the passionate pursuit of God in “Right Derr”, we end with this chase of God and preach God’s name -with Brinson determining to do what he came for as he “don’t know another way.” This leaves us with a God-challenge. How are we going to live?