Beautiful Eulogy‘s lyricists are at the top of their game in Worthy. Odd Thomas is a rapping philosopher and theologian. In the span of seven or eight rapid-fire bars, he packs in doctrine. A few lines of “Messiah,” for example, cover a theology of pleasure, Edenic sadness, divine gifts, Christic centrality, idolatry, and a theology of emotion. Both Odd Thomas and Braille lean on the prolix side, with lines dense with words. But they are experienced rappers, each exhibiting strong breath control and facility for staccato expression. Odd Thomas’s inner-line rhymes lend an irresistible crescendo to his forceful material.
I have listened to Braille now for nearly 20 years (from his “Butterflies” days). The rapper has long been at the top of the list of hip-hop lyricists (secular outlets like URB have recognized him as such). His specialty is hard-hitting, heart-on-his-sleeve content, emotional, tapping into the struggle and glory of the regenerate human condition. Braille uses pitch and tone masterfully, occasionally breaking into what is nearly a yell to pierce the heart with biblical insight. In places in Worthy, the hair on the back of your neck will stand, as in Braille’s verse in “If. . .”:
And the grace of God is only sweet to the ears who hear the sound of it
But that sweetness won’t be tasted by the mouth of a counterfeit faith
Only the thirsty will drink from the fountain of life
And count everything as a loss for the sake of being found in Christ
Braille came up in a different day in Christian hip hop—the days when lighthearted, youth-group-focused artists proliferated; when Cross Movement blazed the “doctrinal rap” trail to the tune of ferocious East Coast beats (on par in some songs with Wu-Tang Clan and other leading groups, despite serious budgetary differences); when West Coast Christian rappers in some cases battled one another and in others delivered creative and impressive records; and when Southern rappers carved out their hook-driven, boldly-believing material (this book is helpful here).
Rap, and Christian rap, has gone in different directions since the early 2000s. Beautiful Eulogy has essentially charted new territory in the Pacific Northwest. Hailing from this region, Macklemore stormed the rap game a few years back, eschewing a splashy label deal for independent distribution, progressive lyrics, and an organic—at times almost tribal—sound. I would not link Beautiful Eulogy directly to the Grammy-winner, but it is clear a new subgenre has emerged in both secular and Christian rap circles in recent years.
Worthy showcases this exciting and still-morphing sound. Though some songs on the album are better than others, there are no skippable tracks. The softening of some of the electronic musical elements from past efforts strengthens Worthy. In general, the rappers are at their best with a fast tempo and a soaring sound. The majestic intro of “Weight” sets the tone for what follows; “If. . .” speaks movingly to the nature of persevering faith; “Worthy” brings to resolution the Jesus-drenched nature of the album. Read More Here
The album cover for NF's third studio album, Perception, shows the Christian rapper locked in a prison cell. It's an image that effectively—and jarringly—expresses NF's dual message here: the desire to free oneself from self-constructed mental and emotional prisons, contrasted with the admission that freedom can sometimes be difficult to secure.
As has been true on NF's previous efforts, Perception is laced with brutal honesty, depth of emotion, graphic metaphors and copious introspection—all of which move in an ultimately redemptive direction.
"Intro III" showcases the struggles between two sides of the rapper's personality: Old NF and New NF, as the latter strives to silence the former, which is haunted by past pains. New NF eventually declares to his darker side, "You had me in prison this whole time, but I'm the one holdin' the keys."
"10 Feet Down" also explores the conflict between the old and the new. We hear this redemptive encouragement: "I know the feeling of feeling like everything you deal with will never change/ … Ain't about what you did, it's what you became from it." Self-awareness shows up in "My Life," where NF admits he unhealthily channeled his alienation at times in the past: "I feel like no one ever really got me, eventually/I took that out on relationships." But he also recognizes that our choices now are what matter most, not hurtful decisions that might have been made previously: "Not about what you did, it's what you do."
In "Remember This," NF says, "I know I could die any moment," so this is some of the advice he'd like to leave: "Perfect people don't exist, so don't pretend to be one/ … Anyone can take your life, but not what you believe in/ … Don't take opinions from people that won't listen to yours/The real you is who you are when ain't nobody watchin'." Later, he adds, "People change, even Satan used to be an angel/Think twice before you bitin' on the hand that made you." Meanwhile, on "Destiny," we hear NF talking about seeking God's guidance: "I talk to God like, 'What's next for me?'"
"Outcast" describes NF's sense of being different from those in his chosen genre: "I don't wanna fit in/… I got my own shoes, I ain't tryna fit in yours…/ Yeah, I guess I don't fit the mold of rap/ 'Cause I'm respectin' women." On "Green Lights," NF discusses the power of authenticity and staying focused on your purpose: "All I spit is real life/ … I know where I'm goin', I don't let no one distract me."
Honest discussions of depression and loneliness can be heard on "Dreams," where NF confesses, "All I know is I get lower on the weekends/They tell me I should make friends, I just sit at home/My confidence as low as the gas is." That said, he also talks about letting go of the past and embracing a better future: "Threw away the deck and got my own cards." We hear similarly vulnerable confessions in "Know," as NF raps that he wants to know what it's like to "be happy/ … Wake up in the morning and feel like it's real when I'm laughin'."
"Let You Down" deals with not living up to parental expectations, and includes the apology, "I'm sorry that I let you down."
"You're Special" is about a long-distance relationship that's developing into something serious: "She got me thinkin' maybe I'ma have to put a ring on this girl." "If You Want Love" advises, "If you want love, you gon' have to go through the pain/If you want love, you gon' have to learn how to change/If you want trust, you gon' have to give some away." In contrast, "3 A.M." articulates NF's struggle to tell a young woman, "I got a lot of love for you/ … I got trust for you," words he can't quite say.
Pulling from each edge of the musical spectrum, 4th Avenue Jones creates a listening experience like none other as they forge the way for a genre they've dubbed HipRockSoul. Anchoring the sound, the roots of rock and hip hop combine with jazz, funk, and r&b to provide an artistic and innovative concoction that serves up a taste of the future of music as we know it.
"Stereo", the lead single, introduces the listener to this mix with a driving rhythmic section, solid vocals and a killer rap verse. Tracks like "Take Me Away" , "Who's Watching Me", and "Rush" continue this aural assault that keeps your attention and takes music to a new high. Other tracks showcase the group's versatility, such as "Caesar", a track that is constructed right in front of your ears, with each "piece" of the composition comes in one at a time.
Thematically, the album fits together like a jigsaw puzzle. Each track, when properly observed and placed, offers another glimpse at the bigger picture which captures the scenery of a life that is all too familiar for many of us. Whether it's haunting past relationships ("Fabulous Dramatics"), arguments with people who are important to us ("Unhappy Birthday"), struggling to make it through the day ("Take Me Away"), and a general sense of frustration ("Why"), each song speaks to a common part of life and the difficulties that many of us face during our journey. "Overloaded" relates beautifully to schedules that are hard to keep and the busyness that fills our lives and often overwhelms us.
4th Avenue Jones pulled out all the stops and have achieved new heights with Stereo: The Evolution of HipRockSoul . With a firm grasp of musical standards and traditions, the group stretches the borders on this phenomenal effort. Easily the hottest release of this year so far. Read More Here