Posted September 26, 2014
By MarcusHathcock_NRT, Staff Reviewer
I know I wasn't alone in wishing that tobyMac's son, Truett "TruDog" McKeehan would come out with an album of his own. After all, the torch has to pass at some point between generations, and TruDog comes from good--pedigree? (No pun intended... well, sort of intended.)
That hasn't come to pass yet, but Baltimore's TJ Prodigy produces the kind of positive youthful raps I was wanting out of a project like that.
I'm apparently late to the game when it comes to Prodigy, whose real name is TJ Lasinski. Although he's only 14, he has been making original music and YouTube videos for much of his short life, and has amassed an army of passionate fans.
Over the past couple of years, TJ has rolled out single after single, YouTube music video after YouTube music video, and finally, to the excitement of all those fans, TJ has put it all together for the seven-song EP, Flight.
In true M.C. style, TJ comes out of the gate with bombastic party anthem "Crank the Bass," which basically serves as a jumpstart for the album. If you're looking for lyrical depth here, sorry... it's all about "move your body / rock your body / let me see ya." Basically, if you like Family Force 5's party rock and a rapid-fire, 50 Cent-style flow that talks about "dancing all night" and seeing "all the ladies lining up" because of "swagger," then you'll be right at home.
"We Stand" features another rising teenage heartthrob in Tae Brooks, together juxtaposing the ills of society that come from isolation and brokenness with the power of standing united in community with others. The verses talk about a child being beaten to death by a stepfather, and a bullied student bringing a gun to school. The passionate chorus resounds, "If we stand together we'll change minds forever / We stand as one 'cause wrong is wrong / We're not gonna let you stand alone."
TJ Prodigy gives us a treatise on his personal calling with the more than two-years-old song "Hands Up," a synth-rich, triumphant-sounding jam that says: "I put my hands up for all the dreamers out there." He also takes the opportunity to gush on his fans, the "ladies in the stands," and his late grandfather, ultimately saying, "When someone says you can't, you gotta prove them otherwise."
Another autobiographical song, "Anthem," features TJ rapid-fire rapping in more intimate detail, talking about his past of being bullied ("The kid on the ground? / That was me / Never picked first and always teased / My confidence / That was low / Their words hurt more than you could ever know"), his absent father ("Where's my dad / Forgot to even call the other son he had"), how music changed his life ("For a while I guess I lived in the dark / till God gave me music, it became my spark"), and his new focus today ("I stand for kids who've lost their way / Who gave up on tomorrow because of yesterday"). This is a standout track; it provides TJ's most personal transparency on the whole record, and it strikes all the right notes.
There are two versions of this song--one featuring the personal testimony of rapper C&K, and TJ's verse on its own. In my opinion, the better version is the collab, because C&K unashamedly reps Christ in his portion.
TJ's current single and most recently released song, "Fly Away," has a catchy hook sung by Jessica Hayes. In the same spirit as "We Stand," TJ tells the true stories of people going through difficult times, in the end encouraging them to "let nobody hold you down." One story was about a kid who was teased for singing, and the other was about a girl from South Korea who said TJ's music gave her hope in the midst of an abusive home environment.
Flight is a project that--whether intentionally or not--basically chronicles TJ Prodigy's growth as an artist. There's a clear difference in the production quality, songwriting and execution between the older songs and his newer ones. While certainly his older singles aren't at all bad, it's exciting to see his leveling up in the newer material.
Listeners really are missing out on certain dimensions of these songs by merely listening to them, though. TJ has released music videos for each of these songs, and the stories are told even more poignantly by watching his visual treatments.
There's probably a bit too much "I, me and my" grandstanding in this album for my liking, but my guess is TJ Prodigy isn't primarily geared towards the Christian audience. If you look at TJ and Flight as a way to minister to the masses, then it's probably more palatable than if you think he's trying to preach to the choir. Then again, the choir always needs a good sermon about hope.
TJ Prodigy is a gifted rapper who clearly is taking meteoric steps forward in terms of his overall craft, while telling some important stories that need to be told and encouraging anyone who will listen to keep dreaming.
Song to Download Now:
"Anthem" feat. C&K (Get it on iTunes here.)
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