Posted November 01, 2011
Rel Paul, born Jerel Paul Bland, is a busy man. As a father, pastor, record label CEO, and recording artist, his plate is full. So it's only fitting that for his debut album, Spoiler Alert, Rel Paul takes advantage of the CD format and serves up a full disc with over 79 minutes of rap, hip hop, and gospel-tinged urban music with a Godly message. Spoiler Alert is brimming with music, and Rel Paul calls on many friends and fellow artists to help him spread the Good News. The result is an album varied enough to have something for everyone and songs to fit nearly every radio format.
The album begins with a bang. Track one, "Spoiler Alert...We Win," starts with a droning hum like a warning signal as Rel Paul makes a passionate declaration in the form of an introductory rap. He may be behind a microphone instead of a pulpit, but you can't take the preacher out of this rapper. The climax of this 'sermon' is that "with us unified in the face of the One whom there is no equal, we say the battle is His, vengeance is His, and we are His, and with victory guaranteed, the Spoiler Alert is.......We Win." The "We...Win..." chorus that follows is Christian rap's equivalent to Queen's "We Will Rock You." It's a Christian soldier's war cry. Rel Paul declares, "There are only two sides, only two teams," and he warns, "this here is eternal, yeah, life or death / Two gates, the pearly ones or to Hell...no game, stop, drop, and roll don't work there." It's a gripping, stirring opening song that sets the stage for all that follows.
Rel stays on his pulpit in "Dogmatic," saying, "I insist you listen to this, this is more than music, I'ma tell you what the truth is..." He then boldly and unapologetically states the case for Jesus as Lord and King. Not only is freedom derived from Jesus -- "Even the Statue of Liberty raises her flames to the one who reigns" -- but Heaven can only be assured through Jesus. In the final verse, Rel says, "I still can't believe that they still believe there's multiple ways to Heaven," but he enjoys "knowin' that they can still probably make it in, in, all the in." And that's his goal on this record, helping folks find the way in to Heaven.
"Still Here" features rhymes from guest rapper Viktory and a beautiful female vocal from Jade Harrell. Rel announces to doubters and haters that the Devil did not and will not win. Rel's "still here" and he's not going anywhere. He's on a mission to glorify God and spread the Gospel, and his work won't be derailed or sabotaged.
"Dudz" focuses on living a passion-filled life in Christ. Rel reminds listeners that this is something they can have, and the next two songs zero in on personal decision and the need to accept Christ as Lord and Savior. "Crescendo of the Heart" is my favorite song, and features Washington Projects, the brother-sister duo of Jekob and Rachael Washington. Rachael sings, "Today, I decided I'm not gonna settle for livin' so ordinary / Tonight, gonna open my heart, give it away, give it away." You'll find yourself singing along with the team-sung chorus, "He's breathing life, I'm breathing death / Before I know it, there won't be nothin' left / I'm tryna live my life blameless, shameless / I'm on my knees Father, give me a crescendo of the heart." What a cool way to explain the way that God builds us up and increases our capacity to feel and love! "Forevermore," which features Elle Renee with a gorgeous chorus vocal, serves as a companion song to "Crescendo of the Heart," explaining that it's not too late to make a decision and a new start, even if you've tried before and failed. Rel announces, "I can get you in...I know the number, quick call Him / Tell 'em you believe, quit stallin'." He warns the listener not to delay: "What ya waitin' on, a decision this good shouldn't take this long."
Track 7, "Moment's Notice", features Marvin Winans, Jr.'s (yes, from that Winans family) smooth, soulful vocal. It's a great song that pits the world view of "live for today because tomorrow isn't guaranteed" against the Christian's guarantee of eternal life. The true believer lives each moment to its fullest, not out of selfish fatalism, but out of a desire to make the most of life and to love God now "cause in a moment's notice, I'll be caught off the ground."
"Rain On My Parade" is another highlight. It's Rel's declaration that no matter what trials may come, He will not be deterred or defeated. The chorus references Rihanna's "Umbrella": "I'ma keep goin, wit no umbrella, ella, ella, aye...I'ma still have my parade, even if the rain never goes away." As Rel explains, "Gotta have the rain and the Son to get the roses up." His rap makes intelligent, creative references to biblical events, Benjamin Franklin, and the "other Franklin" (Kirk).
Jeremy Spring of the band Abandon Kansas lends his voice to "Sweet Painful Exodus," a song that must be autobiographical for Rel Paul. It's about the need to say goodbye when a relationship is negative and toxic, pulling you away from God. "What I do know," Rel says, "is that you keep me stagnant, super bad habit, you're my negative magnet, and I'm positive, that if I wanna live, them I'ma have to cut you off". The song is general enough that listeners will be able to identify in their own way.
"Rev 22:22" is an homage to Christian rap and hip hop. Rel reminisces about growing up listening to Christian rap and lists some of the notable artists of the past, while answering the question, Where do we go from here? "We go on," Rel sings. Though Rev 22:21 is the end of the Bible, the song's title points to the fact that there will be no end to the musical form.
"Cry Wolf " and "Devil I liveD" go well back-to-back, as both songs are from the point of view of one who has turned away from sin. "Cry Wolf" features Christy Johnson of Worth Dying For, and relates the story of a man seen by his peers as a hypocrite because he was not really walking the life he was talking about. However, he's changed, and he's telling his doubters, "I'm breaking from the masquerade, I'm changing my way / No never gonna back down, I'm not crying out wolf." "Devil I liveD" is another favorite of mine. It's a passionate, aggressive song in which Rel raps about the U-turn his life took and his new life in Jesus: "By reversing the devil, I lived."
Florida rapper Canton Jones guests on the melodic "Finally". The song is about Rel's long journey both professionally and spiritually as he went from "dream to reality." Sometimes the road is long and hard, but in the end, the rewards are worth the effort: "Freedom, love, joy, peace, no more grief / Finally / Victory, breakthrough triumph, happiness, no more cryin / Finally."
The album rounds out with more guests on "Foolishness" (TeTe), "Cherry Pickers" (Valdez Spikes), and "Sinbad" (Oz & Tyman Ray). The first song is appropriately chaotic with its dance beats as Rel is once again telling detractors and doubters of the truth that he'll not be quieted. In "Cherry Pickers," he vows to do the hard work and doesn't need selfish "cherry pickers" to step in: "I don't need assistance to get in His face, this is that Kingdom DNA / Abba Papa I do what He say, disobey Coach you'll lose the game / and me and you can't even be on the same team / if our jersey's don't even bear the same name." Rel, with help from friends, resumes his pulpit for "Sinbad," at once a condemnation of sin and an affirmation of life in Christ.
"Citizenship Award" may at first seem like a tongue-in-cheek song exposing the unpopularity of Christian rap, but it goes deeper than Rel saying "I'ma make my noise for the Lord, y'all can keep them citizenship awards." It continues the challenging stance of "Sinbad," with Rel demanding to know who will stand for the truth. He calls for change and asks Christians and non-Christians alike to stop fighting each other when the world is hurting and broken, and to recognize who the true Enemy is.
"Stone Age" (featuring R-Swift) follows, a rebuke about passing judgment and a cautionary reminder to those who pervert the intent of Galatians 6:1 that Jesus is the one who fixes things. "How quickly we forget, wrongs are made right at the cross, but when somebody fall it's easy for us to write em off. Gotta remain watchful, sober, bear each others burdens, the stone age is over."
Rel Paul is not one to go out with a whimper. "Breathe Out," the penultimate track on Spoiler Alert, is an aggressive, hard rocker that you'll want to crank up the volume for. It's Rel's personal declaration that he won't buy into the world's demand to "go numb" or "play dumb." It's a prayer to God, as well as an entreaty to listeners to wake up to the promises that God has offered. Rather than turn to drugs and things of the world to escape pain and heartache, we should turn to God. "Show me where the pain at, tell me can you feel that, Lord we ain't trying to hear you, we don't comprehend that you're the pain killer, you can cure all that..." We need help to fight the lies and temptations of the world, so Rel prays for revival, personally and for society: "Lord I'm tryin to live holy, tryin to stand boldly...But when I start to think, the wound starts to bleed, and when I dream, it becomes hard to breathe, but I can't fight the feelin, yeah I can feel Him...don't fight the feelin' y'all don't u feel Him, don't fight the feelin'...Breathe out!"
The final track, "Anonymous Triumph," (featuring Cortney Joi) reminds us again that we don't need to try to compete because we're guaranteed victory in Jesus -- it's not about us, it's about Him. And we need to die to self: "Talk is cheap unless you talkin' Jesus, then it's expensive, it's gon' cost you somethin, cost you everythin', kill yo ego." With the song's outro the album closes in much the same place it began: "Getting your approval, it's doesn't make me...Remember, I win, cause I belong to Him."
With his debut album, Detroit-based rapper Rel Paul offers up a heaping helping of rap, hip hop, and other urban flavors that are sure to leave listeners satisfied. With 20 songs and nearly 80 minutes of music, no one will walk away hungry. Spoiler Alert is an album focused on the battle between good and evil, in the world and within our hearts and souls. Rel shows us that there is only one choice that guarantees victory. With Christ, "We Win!"
Before I conclude, I have a confession to make: This is the first rap record I have ever listened to front to back. I say this to support what Rel says in "Rev 22:22," that God has more than a "few tools for spreading good news." I think rap is still under-appreciated as a Christian genre. But just as different Bible translations speak to different audiences, Christian music needs a strong rap/hip hop presence. So if you've never listened to rap or think it's not your thing, I challenge you to sample Spoiler Alert. Taste and see that the Lord, served up rap style by Rel, is very good indeed!
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