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Category: album review

Andy Mineo’s Great American Rap Album (A Review of Uncomfortable)

Uncomfortable is the best word to describe the Christian life. I often joke that when we, American Christians, get to Heaven, we may find ourselves at the back of the line. Possibly disturbing to some but when you consider the plight of brothers and sisters around the world, it feels appropriate. Persecution certainly happens within this culture as well but far more insidious is the damage done to us by excess. I often meditate on Proverbs 30:7-9 (NKJV):

Two things I request of You (Deprive me not before I die);
Remove falsehood and lies far from me;
Give me neither poverty nor riches–
Feed me with the food allotted to me;
Lest I be full and deny You,
And say, “Who is the Lord?”
Or lest I be poor and steal,
And profane the name of my God.

I wonder if this passage had an effect on Andy Mineo as he crafted the album, Uncomfortable. The title/intro track begins by taking us to King David’s place when he was out of pocket and observing Bathsheba’s beauty rather than engaging in war where he ought to be.

How often are we misled by comforts? How often are we enamored with excess and deny God?

As 2015 began, I was looking forward to two emcees dropping albums: Kendrick Lamar and Andy Mineo. King Kendrick’s release, To Pimp A Butterfly, has catapulted him into my personal pantheon of emcees and is simply, black excellence. I speak about Andy’s Uncomfortable as a great American rap album because of its timeliness. In an age where #BlackLivesMatter is systematically shouted down by respectability politics and narratives detailing what is wrong with black people, Andy does what is required of white Americans if our nation will ever jettison racism, he examines himself and sees how he aids and abets white supremacy.

The love of Christ flows through Uncomfortable. “My own people owned people but we don’t own that.” There can be no reconciliation without recognition. Andy plunges into the difficulty and squeezes a cross shaped perspective into stifling issues. Mineo makes his listeners consider Christ’s role in their response. Truly transformative. How would this world look if Christians wore WWJD on their hearts instead of their wrists?

I remember when Nas released Life Is Good in 2012 and proclaimed that “Loco-Motive” was for all of us still trapped in the 90s. But there’s something about that record I could not fully appreciate until I heard it while riding the subway. “Uptown” has those same qualities. Andy, originally from Syracuse, has adopted Washington Heights as his home but is an anti-gentrifier of sorts. Instead of whitewashing his environment, he embraces and engages the surrounding culture. The terrain described on “Uptown” is neither glorified or mocked. A wonderfully soulful vibe, infused with Latin Jazz, lays the foundation for a record filled with love for his part of town. Hopefully the city loves him back. Real talk, can we name the top 5 emcees coming out of NY right now and not include Andy Mineo?

One of my favorite elements of Lecrae’s Anomaly was his unashamed Outkast fandom. It was hard to hear “Timepiece” or “Fear” and not here the ATLiens influence. Uncomfortable showcases the multitude of sounds Mineo appreciates. We move from the soulful Latin Jazz of “Uptown” to “Now I Know”; a refreshingly honest record that would make Teddy Riley crack a smile. “Now I Know” ain’t out here to make friends. Business picks up as Andy performs introspection with a lyrical scalpel. Ain’t nothing safe, from wrestling, Santa, his mama’s virtue (!), to jobs being available after college. Many artists lay themselves bare but Lecrae said it best on Saturday Morning Car-Tunes when he noted that Andy fillets himself for the benefit of others. “Now I know” works for me because Mineo questions much but hasn’t been able to place Christ in the pile of things that failed him.

I enjoyed listening to “Desperados”. Superhero flow definitely in the building! Wanted to hear more Mali Music on this but that’s my biggest complaint. (Sidebar: if Andy and Mali ever did a Drake-Futuresque collab?! What a time to be alive!)

I’m a fan of hyperbole. Sincerely. But hear me (read me?) when I tell you “Hear My Heart” is a crown jewel. Whenever “The Best of Andy Mineo” is considered, “Hear My Heart” will be there. When we consider the best rap songs of 2015, “Hear My Heart” will be there for everyone who’s really paying attention. “Even though you was born deaf, I pray you forgive me for the years I lived blind.” A beautiful record, honestly detailing his relationship with his sister, Andy shows that he is a master of catharsis.

When I saw the track change and a song was called “David’s Roof” I said “Uh-oh”. Nothing good happens on David’s roof. And the same is true here. Song was way too short. Just as I got into it, it was over.

I liked “Rat Race” because it showed flashes of Mineo’s battle rap roots. “It ain’t all bout who you know. Bleek knew Jay Z.” Much of the rhyming on Uncomfortable was simple but to the point. I pray Lloyd Banks gets saved. CHH needs his punchlines.

“Know that’s right” sounds very radio ready. I appreciate the freedom Andy expresses on this album. He’s clearly not chasing singles or making formulaic music. It doesn’t even have the trademark “116” anthem that Reach used to put on every CD. It is clear that Andy is ready for the world. A world that will embrace him as a conscious emcee speaking about justice more readily than the youth group circuit he has outgrown. Some may think this is bad news. But CHH is not in danger. We need Christians in the marketplace. Moving the culture’s needle. Shining light in the darkest places and playlists. Prayerfully someone who likes that OVO sound can hear “Ghost” and rock with it. Hopefully they hear “Love” and get inspired to live in its fullness, past lust, past mistrust.

Andy ends the record with a pair of #StadiumStatus joints. “Strange Motions” sounds like it will be a fantastic live record. If I was him, I’d perform that joint right after Uno Uno Seis for the cool down, lighters up anthem. It’s a big record, your headphones are not enough. “Make Me A Believer” really encapsulates my feelings about Uncomfortable in general. I anticipated a very fun album but received a more mature, but still enjoyable album. It’s great to see growth. I was lowkey disappointed when Heroes 4 Sale came out because it felt like a step back from Formerly Known. Uncomfortable is a leap above Never Land. Andy getting grown! He is absolutely a great emcee and an ambassador of the gospel.

Gems on Gems. I give Uncomfortable 4 #obligatoryjamaicanairhorns

A Year in Songs That Can Do No Wrong

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STCDNW Artist of the Year- Christon Gray

The Final Episode of 2014 #STCDNW (Click and enjoy!)

Twas a great year of music, interviews and commentary. Now I know, everybody is out here giving their awards and recognition…but we been on! Check the episode to hear ten of my favorite songs from the past year.

Also went ahead and gave out some awards.

Top Albums of the Year

Christon Gray was not only artist of the year, in my book he had the album of the year. But School of Roses wasn’t the only strong showing in 2014.

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Beleaf- Red Pills and Black Sugar

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Mali Music- Mali Is

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Trip Lee- Rise

Lecrae-Anomaly

Lecrae- Anomaly

Top Group of the Year

Social Club is the Tag Team Champion of Christian Hip-Hop.

Emcee of the Year

Beleaf is an emcee’s emcee. Great interview, great album and I feel like he’s just getting started.

Rookie of the Year

The good brother JGivens destroyed every feature he hopped on in 2014. Here’s one of my favorites:

2015 is gonna be great. Here are some artists to be on the lookout for.

On Church Clothes 2 and why Lecrae is the most important rapper alive

Would that I could get Don Cannon to narrate the events of my life. Everything would sound so crucial. Trips to the supermarket would feel like an episode of 24, the mundane events of life recast into heroic epics.

For a long time I didn’t know the difference between DJ Drama/Don Cannon’s voices because they both were so full of hyperbole. My favorite moment of hyperbole from them would have to be on “Art of Storytelling Part 4”  where I expected nothing less than a beam of light to shoot through the speaker and they would never be heard from again.

It’s probably not a good thing that I am reviewing Lecrae’s mixtape, Church Clothes 2, but paid way more attention to Cannon’s hype. It wasn’t until I listened to the non-DJ version, available on iTunes, that I was able to hear what Lecrae was saying.

He was sharp but had a much stronger opening on the original Church Clothes. It’s going to be hard to outdo that first effort, and the toughest thing in rap is the ghost chasing we subject our favorite artists to, but I’m hoping Lecrae can manage the challenge.

Believe

I’m a sucker for autobiographical raps (A Day in the Life of Benjamin, December 4th, Sky’s the limit, Nas’ whole catalogue) but this beat is swallowing his verses. It’s feeling more forgettable than it should be.

Lecrae is painting a powerful picture. He is an artist with no home. The pressure of living in the tension between sacred and secular. How you spose to make music for the streets and the youth groups?

Devil in Disguise

This track would have been at home on his 2010 release Rehab. I love how gritty this track feels. It sounds like the Memphis Grizzlies. Cannon was wise for letting the track breathe at the end.

The Fever

This was one of those joints where you see the tracklisting and you get excited. Papa San and Andy Mineo on the track?! I’m ready to move!

On first listen I was hurt. What happened to Papa San?! It felt like the living legend had to turn down in order for the track to work. Not a good look.

I love the heavy bottom dancehall bass in this record. I love dancehall. I love bass (especially when it’s plus-sized). This riddim sounds like Jason Voorhees. It takes it’s time, you can run if you want but it’s still gonna catch you.

Andy Mineo rose to the occasion on this one! He and Lecrae just work on tracks together. The apex of their powers definitely is on “Uno Uno Seis” where they ran the fastbreak like the ’87 Lakers.

For some reason, by the last time we hear the Papa San hook it kicks in perfectly. I went from pouting, to shouting, to doing the gully creepa in Jesus’ name, Amen.

I’m Turnt

Don Cannon opens the strongest record on CC2 thus far with some philosophizing about the different kinds of people in the world.

I like the line where Lecrae says, “I ain’t smoking but my homie in here burned up…I’m working on him tho…” Lecrae has taken on the arduous task of making sobriety cool. Is it possible to be a turnt up teetotaler? Nevertheless this song makes me happy and I feel like I’m in a roller rink everytime I hear it.

Let It Whip

Fantastic production from David Banner. Recognizable sample from a well loved record but the genius lies in how at home Lecrae seems on this beat. I understand if he doesn’t want to sound too regional or whatever but I wouldn’t be mad if he spit on these kind of records 65% of the time.

This joint is so Texas that Paul Wall climbed out of 2005 to bless the track. It would’ve been dope to put the young homie Trip Lee on this joint too. Trip and Paul Wall on the same record? Might mess around and see BBQ sauce leaking out your speakers!

Sell Out

If Lecrae ever signs to a major, somebody will throw this record at him and cast aspersions on his hypocrisy. It frankly disgusts me to see the plethora of hits that come up when you search for lecrae that associate him with the illuminati, being fake or somehow compromising the gospel. What’s a brother to do?

Lecrae is so skilled at reassuring his core fans that he ain’t going nowhere…while he keeps making moves to broaden his audience. Even with the unreasonable hate thrown his way, you cannot deny that son is masterful.

Don Cannon punctuates the record perfectly, “I ain’t gotta hear that you love it! Cuz I know that you love it!” If I ever become a professional wrestler, Don Cannon is going to be my Jimmy Hart.

Lost My Way

I’m throwing some serious shade on the College Dropout era Kanye impression in the first verse but this is a well meaning track that addresses the fears of his core fans. If this experiment of CHH going into the conversation of mainstream hip-hop fails, we can lay the blame at the feet of every youth group member who kept saying that Crae changed.

I like the message but this record is pretty sleepy. Maybe it’s good to listen to while you are working on a spreadsheet or something where you need background noise. If that’s what you want? Cool. But if you were tryna say something and all I feel inspired to do is refresh Facebook and see if I got any notifications then we might have a problem.

Misconception Part 2

Dre Murray has been my favorite rapper for the past year. So having him lead off this posse cut was like Christmas arriving early for me. Punchlines galore!

Swoope is super talented. He had one of my favorite verses of 2011/2012 on “TGC” but sometimes he goes too far into the wormhole of a punchline. Shooting too high, gotta dumb it down young fella.

Alex Faith aka the Michael McDonald of rap is a good counterbalance to Swoope aiming over the listeners’ ears.

Christon Gray gets busy. He sings the hook and then crushed his verse. Singer AND emcee?! Somewhere Drake is nervously sipping moscato.

Lecrae’s verse on this reminds me of Jigga on Resevoir Dogs. Legendary posse cut but this is far from a compliment. When you’ve got that anchor verse, you spose to Usain Bolt it! He’s coasting a little too much on this one for me. Maybe he felt like it was a done deal, the homies WLAK won the race but with the right verse from Crae they could have broken some records. Don’t slow up.

Round of Applause

The most skippable joint the good brother Lecrae has made in this Church Clothes era of his career.

I wish I could trade this joint for his “I’m Rooted” track. It’s a nice message but nice messages don’t mean anything to me if the track is wack. And this joint right here is biodegradable.

Bobby Bandz did a serviceable job, and I liked Lecrae’s last verse on this record but if we’re going all out with secular artists why not get 2 Chainz or Juicy J? It already sounds like a correction to every song Mike Will Made It has ever produced, so why hold back? A bridge too far perhaps?

Was It Worth It

I like records like this that have a cold winter aesthetic. (The Roots’ How I Got Over is an example of this being done perfectly.) Volume 1 of Church Clothes did this well but I found myself thankful that he didn’t put J. Cole on this record. We might’ve messed around and been a part of a mass produced coma.

Lecrae adds another great verse talking about daddy issues in rap. Not as strong as his work on “Just Like You” but it was serviceable. The interlude where Bun B gives his advice was a nice touch.

Finer Things

Last time on Church Clothes’ Welcome to H-Town“, Tedashii did an incredible Bun B impression. He switched the flow up on this one and stole the track.

Hands Up

This track felt like Lecrae finally looked at the scoreboard and was like ‘we need to go on a run.’ Without this joint, I think Crae would’ve lost by double digits, now we’re down by 7 with a few tracks to go.

Prop comes through and wakes this listening experience up. I lovingly call Propaganda and the good brothers from Humble Beast, purveyors of coffeehouse rap, but this track had an edge to it that I really, really needed.

My Whole Life Changed

Lecrae is most masterful in two modes, ALL THE WAY TURNT UP, or on those methodical syrupy joints that make us all dream of candy paint. This track is trying to be the former but something is missing.

Notable lines here tho: “I met the Lord and it wasn’t even a Sunday/Maybe one day, someday you’ll give your life up to Jesus/Instead of giving your life up to pieces/That’s gon’ rust and fade when you cease,”

If I Die Tonight

This joint fits into Lecrae’s oeuvre perfectly. This is a child of his magnum opus, “Don’t Waste Your Life“. It’s not as compelling as DWYL but impactful in conveying the message that this life is something precious and meant to be lived with purpose.

“I just dare to do what they scared to do” is the best way I could explain Lecrae to somebody. Son has to be the loneliest emcee in the world right now. As Jay is experiencing in the business realm, Kanye in the realm of culture and tastemaking, Lecrae is learning that not everybody is willing or able to come with you. One man’s innovation is another man’s baggage.

Hang On

This is a pretty heavy way to end the record but it conveys the Gravity of the situation well. We all gotta endure. Bend, don’t break.

The grandmother on the end of the song sounds just like the lady who witnesses to Kendrick and his friends on good kid, m.a.a.d city. The message of seeking the kingdom of God first is definitely on time for everyone who is caught in this miasma of busyness that distracts us from handling our business.

I make no apologies for viewing Lecrae as the most important emcee of our times.

Oh the dark waters this brother treads without dread. The rap Jackie Robinson, the rap Neil Armstrong, the rap Howard Hughes, the rap Jeremiah.

I wonder how many times Crae gets curbed because he doesn’t smoke anymore. It’s gotta be hard to hangout when people assume you are judging them when you don’t do everything that they do. How many beers does he have to nurse? Does he ever go drink for drink with them just to show them he’s cool? Can he do this without losing his inhibitions?

He thrives in the uncharted territory that exists in the tension between secular and sacred. Of course he is not the first to sojourn here but in the medium of rap he is by far the most noteworthy. Whether his noteworthiness translates into success, which in hip-hop is more defined by authenticity than by accolades, is yet to be seen.

Church Clothes is an important project because Lecrae puts a lot of chips on the table. He could easily remain content performing for youth groups and collecting Dove and Stellar awards while remaining a complete unknown in most hip-hop circles. CC2 is an opportunity for him to really set up shop.

Will Christian artists be content with navel gazing or are they going to actually engage the culture? If we engage the culture, can we do so in a way that is not contrived and dismissable? Does the desire for authenticity make reverence and relevance enemies? Too many questions, Lecrae needs too many answers.

Revisiting Rebel

9.16.13 STCDNW (Crae done changed) by Di Baddest Chaplain on Mixcloud

As mentioned on STCDNW, Lecrae’s third album Rebel changed my life. Prior to its release, I didn’t really get down with Christian Hip-Hop. Seems only right to make this the first revisiting review I have posted here. Read below for a track by track review that captures what I was thinking when I first heard the album, how I feel about it now, and using the advantage of hindsight to see the album’s impact on the artist and his effect on the culture.

Rebel Intro

We start with a weird juxtaposition of Jesus rebelling against the establishment and Lecrae rebelling against the cool. Hip-hop works as a great delivery method of the gospel because both were created with the least of these in mind. Rappers and Christians both have an oppositional identity and a confidence that goes against the norms of the day.

Christian Hip-Hop at this point seems not quite out of the “Jesus Freak” phase that rejects the cool kids.

I think much of the backlash that Lecrae experiences now is a part of a culture that he helped create. This track tells me to forget the world, they won’t accept you anyway so why try. If I’m a long time fan of this brother’s music, do I feel betrayed when I see him on 106 and Park or Rock the Bells?

Don’t Waste Your Life

The opus!!! I consider this the greatest video in Christian Hip-Hop history.

I’m also a huge fan of this song. It’s probably my favorite song by Lecrae which I know is like saying your favorite Michael Jackson album is Thriller but there’s a reason why this song was so successful. This isn’t just a great CHH song but it deserves to be in the hip-hop canon. If aliens needed to know what rap was, or a distant dystopia wanted to know how their forefathers expressed themselves, I would be unashamed to include this in the time capsule.

Quick aside: Where is Dwayne?! Dwayne Tryumf had an excellent, quasi-Renegade like verse on this record, dropped a fantastic album, a promising video to lead to a live album in Summer 2012 and then…silence. The game needs you fam! Where you at?

Go Hard

The transition into this record is so satisfying. Upcoming emcees and producers have got to pay attention to details like this. Seamless transition, maintaining the pace of the record. It’s chess, not checkers.

Crae kicks the listener in the chest with those opening lyrics.

Lord kill me if I don’t preach the gospel/

I’m only in my twenties but I’ll die if I got to

I’d be hardpressed to find lyrics that are more committed than this. Dude is clearly ten toes deep in this walk.

Couple that intensity with the good brother Tedashii and you’ve got a healthy conduit for your aggression. Which I appreciate.

I don’t like my rap all insecure and wet potato bread like. Sometimes you just need to Leonidas your problems down a well.

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Identity

When I taught faith studies I made this my theme music for a whole year. My 5th graders loved this joint! Kids will be quick to tell you if something is corny or not and the fact that they never got tired of this joint tells me a lot. Positive message and all that. Can’t beat it.

My homie Nick George volunteered to follow Miley Cyrus around for a month playing this song like Radio Raheem or that joker in High Fidelity

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Indwellin Sin

This is the saved version of DMX’s “Damien” records.

It asks the timeless question: Why don’t Jesus and Hennessy go good together?

Breathin’ to Death

Song is mad dramatic!

Gets a little sleepy but Crae sounds super desperate. This is some sanctified thirst.

Truth

I’m a sucker for rap songs that use the organ effectively.

This i song makes me think Lecrae used to listen to a lot of 2Pac. His intensity is coupled with a clear minded apologist flow. His passion is there but it’s controlled. It’s one of those wonderful moments where you hear someone sound intelligent and relatable. I love hearing brothers say some smart stuff that just confounds the bigotry of this world. Ahh refreshing!

This record should have an altar call on it.

Desperate

It’s clear that they drank mad lemon juice before they recorded. Might be a good thing they put a track in between this and breathin’ to death. Mess around and get dehydrated listening to this.

Change

I thank God for this song. Was afraid that the album was getting sleepy.

The song knocks as he tells you that you are wasting time. Another example of the urgency Lecrae frequently displays on this album. Got the feeling that Lecrae felt like Jesus is coming back next Tuesday.

Fall Back

It is clear that Trip Lee spent a significant time in Scarface’s basement listening to T.I mixtapes. It’s always exciting to hear an emcee make the leap and Trip is almost there with this record. (He takes another leap on 2010’s Between Two Worlds and is lightyears away on 2012’s The Good Life.)

This is right at the cusp of beats getting really good in Christian Hip-Hop.

One of the main detractions from CHH is that the beat selection would make Nas cringe.  I feel like this album provided the sub-genre the necessary tipping point that has ushered in the current golden age of production it is now flourishing in. Yes, you still have producers who are chasing the cool with faux epic beats from Rick Ross’ cutting room floor but for the most part this is an age of artistry that is making CHH get well deserved acclaim.

Live Free

Ugh!

JUST AS I WAS COMPLEMENTING THE BEAT SELECTION!

It’s like they made this song for the sole purpose of clearing the floor at an 8th grade dance.

Thankfully, Jai and Sho Baraka save this record from the abyss.

When Lions and Liars came out in 2010 I proclaimed that Sho Baraka was worthy of being in the conversation of best rapper alive. The homie Nick George, as we allude to on STCDNW, made the case for Lecrae as the best out of the 116 clique. I couldn’t receive it. Admittedly this is because I associated Crae with every cornball Christian who disparaged secular rap and hoisted him as the example of excellence. This, my friends, is not only throwing the baby out with the bathwater, it is hating. It’s only a testament to how excellent Rebel is. Even a reformed hater like me had to take notice and admit that this brother gets busy.

Got Paper

This is what the kids call a filler track.

Songs like this make me feel bad when I pray for money.*

BUT I appreciate it for its time capsule value. I feel like the brother who recorded this song would not listen to Church Clothes and feel comfortable.

It’s funny, a lot of people place a premium on authenticity but undervalue growth. Could it be that as Lecrae has grown in his walk he has found less need to condemn all things secular? I think it’s a mark of new believers to make all things worldly taboo but it strikes me as silly. I get it. When I was in 8th grade I got convicted by a sermon and threw my entire music collection (over 200 CDs at the time) away.** But if we aren’t to have ANYTHING to do with the world, where do we draw the line? Should I only watch Christian movies and read Christian books? How about Christian newspapers and magazines? News, weather and sports? At what point would I realize that although I am not of this world, I am still in this world and have to engage it on some level. It’s not compromising, it’s being realistic.

Furthermore, what are we doing if we don’t engage the world. How you gonna convict them if you don’t even acknowledge them? And who’s gonna listen to someone who only comes around to tell them how wrong they are?

I’m a Saint

One time for Gladiator Theme Music!!!

The Bride

Why am I surprised to hear this much energy at the end of the album? Not tryna start nothing but methinks he’s taking shots at Creflo.***

Attacking megachurches and the prosperity gospel crowd is such low hanging fruit. Are there elements within the culture that I find problematic? Sure. But rather than disparaging folks and calling them wolves and all that, there’s gotta be a better way to correct our brothers and sisters in love. Go to them privately with the matter, if it doesn’t improve then go to them with other brothers and sisters, and if they still don’t get down with what you are saying, wash your hands of them and keep it moving. But you can’t do this without relationship. And you won’t get relationship by merely throwing rocks at the throne.

Beautiful Feet

Solid finish to a terrific album. Smooth landing good brother, smooth landing. 

*Like anyone wants to be broke?! Nah son.

** My man Bony Tony is still mad that I didn’t just give the CDs to him.

***Though, this being a review of a 5 year old album, would be the highest form of instigating if that was my goal.

Brian Mooney

Educator, Scholar, Author

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