This month we’re featuring Holy hip hop, also known as Christian rap or gospel rap, which blends the musical style and aesthetics of rap/hip hop with overtly Christian lyrics. To learn more about this subgenre of hip hop, be sure to check out the post “Holy Hip Hop 101,” as well as reviews of new CDs by Holy hip hop artists Sha Baraka, FLAME, Phanatak, and shai linne. The Sound of Philadelphia is explored in reviews of two new Legacy releases: Conquer the World: The Lost Soul of Philadelphia International Records, and a compilation of Gamble & Huff’s Greatest Hits. A big “thumbs up” is given to Palmystery, the new solo CD by bass player Victor Wooten, perhaps best known for his work with Béla Fleck and the Flecktones. Though we gave Miles Davis’s The Complete on the Corner Sessions a brief mention in our “Best of 2007” line-up, we’re running a complete review in this issue. Also featured is The Great Debaters Soundtrack, with contributions by the Carolina Chocolate Drops; The Manchester Free Trade Hall 1964 performance by Rev. Gary Davis; and John Work, III: Recording Black Culture, which sheds new light on the field recordings made by the Fisk University professor.
Released on March 4, 2008, Our World Redeemed is the sequel to Christian rapper FLAME’s third album, Our World Fallen. Born Marcus T.W. Gray, St. Louis native FLAME was influenced by hip hop music at an early age and then by Christian rap upon hearing The Cross Movement. FLAME is now a successful recording artist for Cross Movement Records as evidenced by Our World Redeemed; it debuted at number five on the Billboard Top Gospel Chart and number one on the Christian Music Trade Association’s R&B/Hip-Hop Chart. Our World Redeemed contains sixteen stylistically diverse hip hop tracks and includes collaborations with popular Christian rap artists such as Trip Lee and Lecrae.
Similar to recent Cross Movement Records releases, Our World Redeemed is produced at a high quality. As a concept album, the tracks move between narrative musical tracks and spoken word interludes to form a story of a young man who decides to turn his life around with FLAME encouraging him all along the way.
The general theme of the lyrical content of the album presents, from FLAME’s perspective, the daily struggles of a Christian believer and the redemptive solution of the Christian faith. FLAME’s lyrics do not conceal his theological perspective, as the album contains a plethora of Biblical quotes: many passages are quoted directly and verbally referenced as to the specific book, chapter, and verse. These biblical selections exhibit an overtly Calvinist perspective. In the track “Who Can Pluck Us,” FLAME specifically addresses the theological notions of predestination and election and raps, “but they’re in the Bible we gotta talk talk about it.” He continues to label traditional Calvinist tenets of faith and suggests that these comprise “a test for your salvation.” Similarly, in “It’s All Gon’ Pass,” FLAME attacks worldly materialism by rapping, “you can have it all / the cars and the cash / it ain’t gonna mean nothing when the lord comes back.”
FLAME’s influence from the larger realm of hip hop is evident in both the album’s production and style of his rapping. For example, the track “Go Buck” uses a hard sounding, minor vamp of synth horns that could have been pulled off of any DMX album. In this track, FLAME’s fast paced rapping style sounds quite similar to that of Busta Rhymes. The more soulful and R&B inspired “It’s You” is much more upbeat and echoes production techniques reminiscent of The Neptunes and a syncopated rap style more similar to that of Tupac Shakur. The track “See More Him” cleverly spins the following phrase to allude to the Biblical story of Zacchaeus in the sycamore tree: “I wanna see more him / cause I’m sick of more me / I’m gonna be like Zy-ki / in the sycamore tree.” The vocal production on this track employs the technique achieved through the manipulation of Antares Auto-Tune that has recently been popularized by artists such as T-Pain. Therefore, this album, while presenting a straightforward Calvinist apology for the Christian faith, employs the techniques of and echoes much of contemporary hip hop production and aesthetics.
Posted by Mike Lee