Swoope cemented himself as one of the most celebrated lyricists in Christian hip hop after Wake Up dropped in 2012.
“Swoope’s album the Wake Up woke me up,” Lecrae told Rapzilla. “That album just slapped me man. This dude is raising the bar.”
When an album is so excellent it shocks a future Grammy Award-winner, certain expectations are created. But as Swoope prepared to write his next solo album, Sinema, he suffered from a condition that jeopardized his reputation—writer’s block.
“I couldn’t write at all,” said Swoope. “I wasn’t producing anything of substance.”
In January, Swoope released Circa MMXI: The Collective with the High Society Collective. It received rave reviews. Two months later, Swoope followed up with his Collision Records debut which slapped more than Lecrae, inspiring some to call it a classic.
@MrSwoope WAKE UP. 3•20•12. Preorder it on Itunes. Anointed. Powerful. Classic. Humbled to be apart of this project.
Swoope believed he could never outdo Wake Up. Collision CEO Adam Thomason disagreed. An art professor once told Thomason that disciplined artists will improve over time by default, and he relayed that message to Swoope.
“Don’t worry about being better than Wake Up,” Thomason told him. “Just continue to live life, love Jesus, write, produce and research. If you don’t, you won’t grow as a person. Then of course you won’t be able to do anything better.”
Swoope knew completing all the tasks on Thomason’s to-do list would be more challenging after his wife became pregnant with what they thought was third child. Except two babies appeared on the sonogram.
Only after months of prayer, studying the Bible and pep talks from Thomason did Swoope escape his Sinema writer’s block.
“Saying I’ll never produce anything better than Wake Up says two things,” said Swoope. “One, I made Wake Up in my own strength. Two, that the Lord doesn’t have enough power to do something greater than he’s done before, like Wake Up was pinnacle of the Lord’s excellence and providence in my life.”
Thomason, a pastor, provided Swoope with accountability.
“Your gift doesn’t make the gospel greater,” Thomason told him. “The Lord allows your gift to continue to point to that thing that’s already shining.”
“Playing through that mindset gave me freedom to make Sinema,” said Swoope … “I didn’t learn that the everything that I had was God and that when he takes that away, I have nothing.”
Once Swoope learned this, he wrote Sinema in three weeks.
Sinema dropped on August 5 and climbed to No. 1 on iTunes’ top-selling hip-hop album charts. Swoope and J.R. produced most of the album. Wit, Alex Medina, Tyshane, DJ Official and Cardec Drums also contributed.
Swoope explained the concept of the album to Rapzilla.
“Sinema is a movie,” he said. “It’s an audio film about the perils of the love-hate relationship I have with a young lady. Our entire story is spelled out from conception to demise, our love that turns into hate.”
Several Bible passages—Proverbs 7, Romans 7 and James 1:13-15—and an interaction Swoope had with a women other than his wife inspired the concept.
“The storyline is very embellished,” said Swoope, “but there was a young lady who I was working closely with musically that, after rehearsal, I’d go out with for a cup of coffee here and there. And there was a point in time when I noticed that I was enjoying that more than I should have—not like I’m in love with this girl or I want to go cheat on my wife. But because I cherish my wife so much, when I started to enjoy going out of for that cup of coffee longer than I should have, we had to cut it out because I knew that if I let it continue, in seven years, I’d be cheating on my wife.
“This is how it starts: very innocent, very platonic, casual, relational meetings that are harmless up front. If you’re not careful, if I let this seed get planted, it will grow into something that I don’t want … No, I wasn’t cheating on my wife. No, I wasn’t attracted to another women. But there was just a ‘this could turn out to be something I don’t like,’ and Sinema grew from that.” Read More Here
Since coming onto the scene, Swoope has been something of a conceptual giant in the game. He’s always providing more than what meets the eye (or ear in this case). There is always some kind of theme and bigger picture to what he does. This has been something that fans have come to expect, and Swoope delivers this in a big way on Sinema. It starts from the very beginning of the record with a voicemail from a female voice that we will get to know better throughout the record. This leads right into the first track where Swoope gives us the backstory.
On the surface the concept seems like a story of a man and woman and there developing relationship. As the record carries on (or you give it a few more listens) you can start to see the other side of the story, which is a man’s struggle with the sin that is in him. The story is cleverly told, so the listener is able to digest the story at their own pace. This also gives the record a monumental amount of playback value, because with each listen more pieces of the story reveal themselves.
Conceptually, Swoope’s goals were not to simply tell a story. It was clear that he was trying to deliver an album in a movie format. Sinema was supposed to play like an audio movie, which sounds nearly impossible. This isn’t something that many artists before him have tried and even less has done it successfully (Kendrick Lamar is the only one that comes to mind). Swoope can now add his name to that short list because he created exactly what he was aiming to create. Sinema plays like a movie from start to finish. In every way a hip-hop album can play like a movie, Sinema did.
Starting with the story, it developed the way stories usually develop throughout a movie. There is an introduction then it builds and reaches a climax. The music is also another cinematic element. In film the music plays a complimentary role, but it’s also used to tell the story. On Sinema that same element is present. The music is used here just as cleverly as it is used in film. It is a complimentary piece to a beautiful story, but the music itself helps to bring out the emotion in the listener that is supposed to be felt.
The track “Sin In Me” is one of many examples of this. This is a huge turning point of the story (or the climax of it) and it carries a more somber musical sound, which allows the listener to understand (and more importantly) feel what is happening. Throughout the entire record the cinematic element is always present. It was innovative and beautiful and a conceptual masterpiece.
It’s hard to talk about Swoope and not talk about lyricism. He’s become one of the best lyricists in all of CHH, and many would venture to say all of hip-hop. He’s developed this reputation by continually dropping lyrical gems and pushing the genre forward lyrically. Sinema is no different. It really is a lyrical masterpiece. From start to finish Swoope displayed phenomenal lyricism. To create the audio movie that Swoope was aiming for, his lyricism had to be spot on because his words are what’s bringing the story to life. That’s exactly what he did; his lyricism is a huge part of what brought this story to life.
Swoope’s storytelling was great, but that’s not all he had on display. The metaphors, similes, double entendres and punch lines were incredible. He showed all of these skills early on by opening up the record with “Sinema”, which was a beautiful portrait of what Swoope is as an emcee:
“She said, I gave you everything you wanted
Now you’re talking about leaving me
What’s it you don’t see in me?
How you put this seed in me?
Sowed your royal oats and just leave me with this cream of wheat”
Swoope also brought back the critically acclaimed “TGC” with Sho Baraka. This track is a true hip-hop heads dream. It’s just two great lyricists giving everything they have on the track:
“Similar to Lillard, shooting just for practice
Trail blazer y’all just follow behind a jacket”
That’s just a small taste of what this track has to offer, it will probably take a few dozen listens to catch all of the lyrical gems on this one. Continually throughout Sinema Swoope brings this high level of lyricism. He also stretched himself farther on this record with some transparent honesty. This was best displayed on “Best of Me” featuring Natalie Sims. He poured out his heart unfiltered on this track and it was a whole new element that elevated the record even higher.
With Sinema Swoope has set the lyrical bar very high for all CHH artists to try and reach. He also continued his legacy of being a lyrical genius.
There are so many elements that came together to make Sinema great. One of those elements was something that seems small but was huge for this album, and that was balance. In every way possible this record was balanced. The sound was versatile but balanced. There was something musically on this record for everyone. Conceptually it was also balanced. Swoope did the seemingly impossible; he made a record that casual fans and hip-hop heads would love. The storytelling and concept was deep enough to please hardcore fans but there was enough simplicity to keep the casual fan. That same balance applies to the spiritual aspect of the record. There is enough meat on this record to keep even the hardest of lyrical theology fans coming back. It also appeals to the CHH fan that isn’t into lyrical theology. It was beautiful to hear how he was able to keep this balance throughout the entirety of Sinema.
Swoope was rapping with supreme confidence throughout this record, and it was for good reason. Sinema is a beautiful work of art. That seemed to be part of the goal of this record; to be a work of art. He was firing on all the aspects of this record and was able to create a timeless piece of art. There’s probably nothing that Swoope will be able to do that will have the cultural impact that Wake Up had but he was able to create some art that might be musically better than anything he’s done. Swoope proved that no pressure is too great for him and that he is a musical genius unlike anything CHH has ever seen. Sinema is another piece of art to add to the museum that is CHH, and it will define this time in the genre. That’s a beautiful thing.