|A Lock'd and Loaded Project | Posted August 08, 2011
Deshon “Shonlock” Bullock is someone who understands the music industry, both in the secular and Christian realms. He has been there and done that as a dancer and choreographer for Aaliyah and Arrested Development (among others), and he has been tutored under the incomparable tobyMac as part of the Diverse City Band. With an ear to culture and a heart owned by Jesus, I expected Shonlock to produce a God-centric, radio-friendly, high-quality debut album.
And Shonlock delivered.
The album kicks off with his first single, the smash hit “Something in Your Eyes,” a kick drum-pounding, dance club friendly song that is all about the hope and the light that followers of Jesus carry within them. I remember hearing this during Shonlock's solo set at tobyMac “Winter Wonder Slam” tour, thinking it was one of the night's undeniable highlights.
So that's the song we all know, but where does the story go from there?
“Could U Be” is a relaxing, but uptempo jam that applies Shonlock's smooth, Akon-meets-Seal vocals over churning, turbulent beats and instruments. The juxtaposition of autotune-heavy singing and instrumentation lends itself to the story of Shonlock's song, which is God's steady and continual pursuit of him, through the madness of his life. He talks about how he “was found in the lost and found,” and that God “picked me up, I was hurting.” But beyond that, he admits how that when things are going well, there's the temptation to push God aside, although the voice of the Holy Spirit never lets him go and he realizes God is “all I ever wanted.”
The second single released from NEVERODDOREVEN is the catchy “Hello,” another techno/dance-influenced number that encourages people to embrace their God-given identities and chase their divinely inspired dreams. “This is your chance, the moment is now. I know you've been waiting to turn it around. Just step out in the open and you'll figure out there's so much more than who you are right now.” It's a mid-tempo, synth-strings anthem that has an inspiring, strangely familiar feeling to it. The more I listened to this catchy song, it hit me: The hook has the exact same chord progression as the song “City on Our Knees” by Shonlock's mentor, tobyMac. I could sing the tobyMac song right over the chorus of “Hello” with no problem. That was a little strange for me, but regardless, it's a good song. I'm looking forward to a mash-up of the two songs, since they are compatible thematically, too.
Shonlock switches gears musically with “Simple Man,” where he transitions into electric guitar-backed rapping. The song is full of words that, to the casual listener, sound right at home on secular hip-hop radio, including “pimp”, “shawty”, “playa”, “hustle” and “grind,” rapped with a style similar to both Jay-Z and Nelly at times. But the message of this aggressive rap isn't typical rap. In a phrase, it's: “Hey, this little light of mine, let it shine. Burn, baby! I do it all for you; I know the view gets hazy. The grass is greener here, oh my dear, smell the daisies. Said naw, don't play it cool, act a fool – go crazy!” Yeah, he's chasing the rap game, but he's chasing Jesus harder, he says.
“Bet Ya House” is a funky, big energy, snare-happy song that expresses Shonlock's joy at doing what he loves for the Lord. “Not saying I've arrived, but I survived. And if I choose to act a fool, it's 'cause I'm so alive,” he raps in the first verse. Lots of grunts and “hey”s are scattered throughout for effect. Organ, piano, electric guitar, hand claps and even a cheerleader-type refrain combine pleasingly. Much in the same vein as the previous song, Shonlock declares, “They call me Lock, I beat the block, get lit without a lighter.” A later song, “Q2GO,” expresses how Shonlock has been waiting for God to release him, musically, and he reiterates that he is only in this to save souls and glorify God: “Tear the roof off reach the lost at all cost I aint even gotta floss. Straight out the box, blocks ahead of your block, it's Lock: ready to explode and give you all that I got!”
“Set It Off” is a high-energy, Outkast-like jam that encourages people to embrace their own callings from God. “You're a star... don't try to be me. Be who you are, it's easy.” There are some great drum breakdowns that remind one of Outkast's “Hey Ya,” and the use of brass only emphasizes that.
In “You Act Like,” Shonlock introduces his first R&B-style love song, where he praises a woman for showing him love, even though he doesn't deserve it: “You read my forecast, knowing you deserve the best, waiting on my clear skies. I'm impressed.” It seems from the mid-tempo, harmony-laden jam that this is a relationship that hasn't really materialized yet, but the singer is beginning to understand what's happening. “I ain't saying that you love me, but you act like you love me. Yep, I think you love me...” he sings in a club-friendly tenor voice.
Simple acoustic guitar and piano are the backdrop to “Cheers,” a ballad that showcases Shonlock's vocals the best of any track on the album. It's almost a Mat Kearney-style song that seems to tell the story of a broken relationship and the transitions of life. The more heart-wrenching “Scarred” immediately follows with smooth female vocals accompanying Shonlock's emotional rap about destroying a relationship. The scene is painted poignantly: “My words mean nothing to her 'cause she know that I'm a poet. Standing at her doorstep, empty bottle of Moet. The pain brung the rain, so I'm out here gettin' mo wet.” The regretful lyrics, which never lead to resolution with the relationship, come to a climax as the singer realizes he has to get right with God first, and asks, “Could you love me again? Is grace gone like the wall of Berlin? … Before it ends, let the healing begin, my God!”
Monster growls, screams, crumbling concrete and Ephesians 6:12 open the distortion-and-guitar rap “Monsta,” a song that isn't about Shonlock's internal struggle, rather, it's about feeling persecution from the secular world for being a Christian. “You talking to me... act like you never knew me... wish you could see the beauty. Yeah, I'm a monsta.” He goes on to say, “Them truth tellers, that what they scared of.”
“Get Free” uses orchestral-type synth strings and blues guitar as the backdrop to talk about the empty pursuits of money, pleasure, lust, and getting high. He tells stories of strippers, their clients, violent youths and drug dealers, ultimately offering in the chorus: “Get free, get free right now. I know a lot of y'all ain't where you wanna be right now.”
The album ends with the title track, “Never Odd or Even,” which sums up the story of salvation and temptation, struggle and grace with a declaration of thankfulness and awe for God's seemingly “odd” decision to save him and not get “even” with him. It's an anthemic rock song that declares, “1 and 1 makes 2; 2 and 2 makes 4. But it doesn't add up how you love me, Lord. It's moving. 'Cause I know yo hear, there's no more fear. Yes, you've made it clear you are always near. I'm fearless.”
Shonlock has exploded onto the scene by showing his versatility, his street cred, and his unshakable devotion to Jesus. NEVERODDOREVEN delivers positive, God-centered jams in a number of different styles and genres that can please a wide audience. Shonlock has been there and did that in the secular world, and it's clear that he has a strong sense of his divine mission on this earth, and it involves an uncompromisingly powerful musical expression of his faith. It's rare to find an artist who can express pop, rock, rap and R&B with such command. NEVERODDOREVEN is such a great album because it takes you on such a roller coaster, thematically, dynamically, musically and lyrically. You can be dancing crazily to “Something in Your Eyes” one moment, and then sitting, motionless, pondering the powerful words of “Never Odd or Even” the next. It takes a special artist to take the deep themes of faith and struggle and communicate them in language secular radio could appreciate. Well done, Shonlock; you're that artist.
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