Le'Andria Johnson is known for her powerhouse voice and overcoming some crazy odds to get to where she is now. If someone is needed to "bring down the house" and really work a song, she's the one to call. Her new album Bigger Than Me showcases a different side of Le'Andria, taking us on a new musical journey. She worked with producers Claude Kelly and Chuck Harmony, who are known for their work in R&B and pop. Additional production comes from Stanley Brown.
There are times on the album where Le'Andria's voice channels Tina Turner. This is pretty evident on the 80s pop tinged "Love Anymore." This song basically calls on simply love, especially in a time where people are unfortunately expecting Christians to be unloving. She has (in sometimes very unconventional and controversial ways) reached out to those who seem unlovable to the masses. So "Love Anymore" is a challenge that the singer clearly takes to heart.
Although some may want to pigeonhole Le'Andria to the songs where she can squall throughout, adding more to her musical repertoire makes her even more special. She owns every minute of this album. She petitions God to basically renew and change her on "Come Through," a feel good R&B song that you could play at a get together. Sit back, relax and totally relate to "Wait on You," which is followed by the encouraging church solo "Change is Now" (co-written by Le'Andria). I have to admit, "Change is Now" ends too early, and I cannot wait to hear her sing this live.
"Holy Ghost" nicely marries some retro 60s soul with some signature Le'Andria Johnson adlibs. Stanley Brown makes sure that she does not stray too far from the Gospel sound as Le'Andria sings that she has been "Gone Too Long" from the presence of God.
The Bottom Line: Bigger Than Me is a very well put together album that shows the amazing chemistry that Le'Andria has with producers Claude Kelly, Church Harmony and Stanley Brown. It also proves that she can sing a variety of styles, and she will not be boxed up. Not that awards are the ultimate goal for a Gospel artist, but I can definitely see this album being nominated for some Stellar and Dove Awards.
After years of singing background vocals, Gene Moore has released his highly anticipated EP The Future on Motown Gospel. His moment is here, and he packed a lot into an 8 song EP. Producers who worked to highlight and accent Gene's sound included Aaron Lindsey, Terrance Vaughn, Cleo "Pookie" Sample, Ced Smith and Dana Sorey. Jariuce Banks handles vocal arrangements on a few songs.
"Lord if you gotta break me down to make me what You want me to be, it's alright / I don't need it if it's not from You / In my decision, it is You." These are just a few of the lyrics to "Not There Yet," a track very characteristic of Moore. He smoothly weaves his voice over the strumming of the acoustic guitars, accented by the bass guitar. Gene shows a strong sense of gratitude and praise on "All for Me." His vocals soar throughout this one while the background vocalists stay locked in, and his range sneaks up on you. It's when he goes into falsetto at the end of the song proclaiming "I'm grateful" that carries the most power.
Anthony "B Slade" Williams wrote "Move Over," a song with a urban, R&B and quarter vibe. Already garnering some great responses, Gene sings of letting the "Chief Navigator" take control of his life instead of trying (and failing) to do things himself. "Coming Home" was one of the first singles from the album, and it defines Gene Moore well. He describes himself as a soul singer who sings about Jesus. There is a velvet texture to this whole song, from Gene's voice to the background vocals of Gene and Chelsea Warren, to horn arrangements courtesy of Phil Lasseter.
Gene was signed in 2014 and waited patiently as he and Motown tried to find his niche and place in Gospel music. Although his faith was tried and there were times where the label really could not pinpoint how to market him, things finally fell into place. So when he sings a song like "Future," you know he really means his future looks bright. It was great to hear Gene's vocals blended with Cheryl Fortune. Both singers have a tone in their voice that is unmatched. Aaron Lindsey (with help from Cleo "Pookie" Sample) provides production while sharing co-writing credits with Gene and Shameka Dwight.
Gene has been singing the power ballad "Recover" around the country, and he is getting great responses. It is the honesty and tenacity in the lyrics that are relatable for anyone who has seen struggle but decided to keep going. Gene tackles Stevie Wonder's "Summer Soft." His love for Stevie is evident while the track showcases his chemistry with musicians Terrance Vaughn, Nick McNack and Ced Smith.
The Bottom Line: This moment finally came, and Gene Moore seized it like a champ. If you are not familiar with him, pick up The Future. You will not be disappointed, and after listening, you will be encouraged in your faith. In addition, you will understand why people like Lalah Hathaway, John P. Kee, India Arie and more are all buzzing about Gene Moore.
Gospel For Young and Old | Posted August-05-2017
Deitrick "D Haddy" Haddon is a workhorse in terms of putting out music and engaging in ministry around the globe. Having followed his career since 1997, I've been able to observe his crazy work ethic. He has been able to deliver quality music whether it is his studio albums or live projects. Haddon's latest album, Deitrick Haddon & Hill City Worship Camp, features the group of the same name. Although it is a live recording, it's chock-full of grooves and a gumbo of styles.
Lead single "A Billion People" is a powerhouse number that also goes with his campaign of the same name. Deitrick is serious about not stopping until a billion people proclaim the name of Jesus. Great moments come when they repeatedly simply say "Jesus," along with the ending vamp of "You are Lord." Listen to "A Billion People" and "Holy" back to back and you will be compelled to worship. Michael Spann adlibs while the singers proclaim that God is holy. There's something about those songs that have very little words. This one simply says "Holy, holy / the God we serve is Holy."
"Favor" is a fast tempo song that channels 80s soul, including a hint of a Prince influence. The bass guitar and drums help drive the groove, while the synths and the rhythm guitar provide the flavor. They take it to an all-out jam session. Praise anthem "Parade" serves as a journey of sorts that takes people into heaven through multi-layered components. It starts off with a drum cadence, and the singers sing in a syncopated manner. Compare it to a dramatic number by the ensemble cast of a Broadway show, flowing into a song of adoration from a church choir. That is "Parade."
"All Day Long" is another one of those "throw the BBQ on the pit, invite some friends and family over" jams that will be on the playlist right in the middle of a good hang out. The party continues on "Glory" with a beat reminiscent of "Juicy Fruit" by Mtume. It is a family affair as brother and sister-in-law Gerald and Tammi Haddon join in on the fun for the island jam "Feel Like." Listen closely as the song briefly morphs into an interpretation of the old classic "I Feel Like Going On."
The Bottom Line: This is a fun offering for D Haddy while still containing powerful moments. This project has multigenerational appeal. Youth and young adults will be drawn to it, but older generations will love the old school feel in several songs. That is Deitrick Haddon for you: he gives you a five course meal, and you are bound to enjoy some, if not all, of those courses.
The God Over Money roster is continuing to grow and blossom into a full-on movement. Selah the Corner dropped two mixtapes in the last few years and finally whet everyone's appetite for his new album when he released the single "Highpotenoose." Now Memoirs of a Perfect Life is finally here.
The producers who helped create the 18 track album are Wit, KP, 42 North, Tone Jonez and Soundnami. Selah created a documentary to highlight the process of making the album and to give insight into his name and mission. In saying "I am the Corner," he emphasized that he would be "that thing that redirects you assertively towards God." That statement is for anyone regardless of his or her profession.
Selah's mom is featured, talking about how even from birth how he physically stood out as a child, and that was a foreshadowing of the fact that he would always be different. This serves as an intro to "Intro Vert." One thing that Selah has established is his ability to incorporate clever punchlines over a variety of beats while staying true to that NYC hip-hop that influenced him. "Masquerade" has Selah explaining why he can only be "100" in a world that needs hope and nothing fake.
On "Sticc and Moov," Eshon Burgundy features and spazzes over the subtle snare and toms with a heavy kick. So many differences are addressed with Jered Sanders on "Same Bird." The issue of church unity (or the lack thereof) among predominately black and predominantly white churches is addressed while both rappers smoothly flow over the Wit and 42 North backpacking beat. Brotherhood and fighting together is the theme, and it continues on "Cliché." Selah and Bizzle address the critics and the themes saturating mainstream rap. They pull no punches, even critiquing artists that rap about acts that they clearly do not commit.
I almost spazzed on "Anthemic," which is obviously the goal. Wit provides the soundtrack to the head-nodding while Selah creates an anthem to speak to societal ills.
The Bottom Line: Memoirs of a Perfect Life is a winner, another album for GOM to use to impact a culture that needs hope. We waited for a long time for a full length album by Selah the Corner, and thankfully, he delivered!
Dedication to Family and Fatherhood | Posted June-07-2017
Beleaf is back with his latest and final album. His Beleaf in Fatherhood videos on YouTube have taken off, and he has gained quite a following. The constant touring to support his albums has weighed on him, and he desires to be the best husband and father that he can be by stepping back to focus on his family. The album In Fatherhood showcases a different Beleaf than the one we saw on the darker (but amazing) album Black Sugar, Red Pills.
This body of work was not an easy feat; it took patience and care. Beleaf worked with producers (and frequent collaborators) Anthony Cruz, Erik Kingsley, DSTL and JRuckers. The result was songs like "Activate," which includes the dreamy chords and syncopated drum patterns courtesy of Erik Kingsley and Santhosh. The song shows that it's the progression of pain and trials that allowed Beleaf's faith and strength to be jumpstarted.
Kingsley's chords stay chill and subtle against the banging beat on "Lightweight." His flow comes with rapid fire as he presents this autobiographical look at a day at his house with his kids. Andy Mineo's feature on the album is not highly marketed or mentioned on promos, but he jumped on "Ain't This Life is Perfect" and killed it. Before Mineo spits his 16, Beleaf spits about feeling content with where God has him and the joy of being with his wife.
This family theme is not some contrived way to get a pat on the back from the Christian community. The album is something that is overflowing naturally out of Beleaf's life. Songs like "We Gon' Make It Out (feat. Gracy)" and "You're Okay (feat. ABIV)" show his need to provide for his family while appreciating and assuring his wife that he will not leave her. His wife Yvette leaves an encouraging voicemail on the track, praising Beleaf for his love and attention to their kids. The way they cut up the sound bites of Beleaf's children is so ill on "Tribe," surely making this a family affair. There is a definite ode to Tribe Called Quest on this one.
The musical journey continues on "Plate" with Beleaf killing it over his own beatboxing. "Baby Daddy" is an uptempo jam that also serves as the album outro. Vocals from Kyra De'Nae helps to give that funk edge that we would hear on Outcast or Kendrick Lamar records.
The Bottom Line: Beleaf presents an album that will make us want more from him, but it's very commendable that he is taking a step back to focus on fatherhood. If In Fatherhood is the last we hear from Beleaf, I am content.
Song to Download Now:
"Ain't This Life Perfect" (Get it on iTunes here.)
Chris Cobbins is Back | Posted June-06-2017
Chris Cobbins has been in the game for a long time. Some of us first heard from him when he was singing hooks on songs by artists on Reach Records. Then he partnered with the producer Cheese Beats (aka the Kraken) to release a few projects. Now he's back with The Beauty in the Beast, a five song EP.
Chris takes an aggressive approach to facing hindrances and no longer losing time on "Face My Enemy." From losing his brother to losing faith in having a child, challenges were taking the "breath" out of him. Thankfully his wife kept believing, and he now has his child, but Chris is saying "enough is enough" with this track. His baritone gets some distortion to coincide with his message to give it a bigger effect. "Good God" is a heater thanks to the drum patterns on the chorus mimicking the tom toms on the drums and his sped up vocal revamping of the old school call and response "God is a good God / Yes He is."
Crooning to hard-hitting beats has always been a signature for Chris Cobbins. Thankfully, he sticks to what works. A dope rapper could spit a mean 16 over the "O.O.M.E (Out of My Element)" track, however, Chris serves this track well enough on his own. Many should be able to identify with trying to fit in with the rest of world while straying away from God. The song is poetically different from other songs centered on this topic: "Lost in this noise and I can't afford it / My reality, my reality is distorted / If You're telling me this is a test, I'm failing it / I'm out of my element / It just don't seem right, I don't fit here / Would You restore my heart?"
Other strong tracks to check out are "Good," which has a small taste of the classic song "Tainted Love," and "Solo."
The Bottom Line: Chris Cobbins is far from being done, and The Beauty in the Beast was a good way to show he still has skills. As he stated in "Face My Enemy," he has the "Gospel with him."
Song to Download Now:
"O.O.M.E. (Out of My Element)" (Get it on iTunes here.)
Starting Strong | Posted June-01-2017
Being an independent artist can be one of the toughest things to do in the music industry. However, if you succeed and find a strong following for your music, it can be extremely beneficial. Jermaine Dolly embodies what happens when you grind it out and never quit in order to fulfill your dreams. This former background singer for Tye Tribbett has even sold one of his old mixtapes out of the back of his trunk. No longer independent, Jermaine is now signed with By Any Means Necessary in partnership with Fred Jerkins III's Darkchild Gospel.
Jermaine sent his single "You" to several media outlets, and his sense of humor, witty videos and outgoing personality served him well. From the success of this one song, Jermaine traveled the country ministering. "You" was his only official single for almost two years before he released his long-awaited full length album, The Dolly Express.
"Waiting" has some hints of Earth, Wind and Fire and Chicago with the build-ups and synth arrangements also heard in a few Prince ballads. Dolly sings in his full voice while incorporating his strong falsetto to sing of being patient to hear the voice of God. Meanwhile, "Serve" features Dolly softly singing of claiming strong allegiance to God through any accolades or hardships he faces. Midway through, the song takes a brief moment to build to a driving ballad, only to return to the easy listening sound it began with.
"Get On the Train" has an old school vibe to it, while Jermaine takes a clear cue from singers like Larry Blackman of Cameo as inspiration behind his singing on the jumping "Yeah, Yeah, Yeah." "I Don't Wanna Be Moses" is one that I cannot get enough of. The message of not giving up before you are able to fulfill some great things clearly resonates. The groove and beat just click, creating an infectious song that is hard to get out of my head.
The Bottom Line: The Dolly Express is a strong debut for Jermaine Dolly, and I am really excited for all of his success. With a tireless work ethic, hilarious personality and a strong trust in God, this is only the beginning.
Jered Sanders Keeps the Music Coming | Posted May-30-2017
Jered Sanders, signed to Bizzle's God Over Money label, released Nobody Famous earlier this year, which ironically garnered him even more attention. He has released a lot of music in the last few years, backed by his raw hip-hop delivery. Now he graces us with a new mixtape, Verseatility, featuring him spitting over popular and obscure instrumentals. Thankfully the beats chosen represent Jered's delivery well.
"Time Tickin" hits just right lyrically and beat-wise. It is one of those tracks that separates the real lyricists from those who benefit from an overproduced track or hide behind a cookie-cutter trap cadence. It is stripped down to a straight Boom Bap and horn sample. Spewing out metaphors, Jered goes hard about his calling (and being forgiven) on another song that bangs, "Guess Who's Bizzack." The motto "God over money" gets another boost while Jered's lyrical cadence flows naturally over the track.
"Bad and Boujee" has been a massive hit this year, but Jered and Bizzle flip its message on "Sinner Man." I usually try to stay away from the "they killed it better than the original artist" bit, especially in CHH. However, that is very true with "Sinner Man." Bizzle comes in when he says, "I never told your daughter to twerk something / Only told her that she's worth something / They hate it though / They don't want it on the radio..." Jered shows that he can get down over trap music, but he makes it clear that they are here to bring the hope of Christ. Towards the end, Jered kicks it into high gear with a rapid-fire delivery.
From girls who are lowering themselves to attract attention on social media to the Flint, Michigan water crisis, Jered hits on several things on "Better." This Missy Elliot track gets merked nicely. Insert the slowed down "Letter to AJ" and hear Jered pour his heart out to a friend who is locked up, carefully mixing empathy while briefly admonishing him to seek Christ. "My Views," another hip-hop head nodder, gives a good overview of this brother's mission, his outlook and his bars.
The Bottom Line: Go get Verseatility and indulge. There are a couple of tracks that could have been left out, and that is okay. Jered Sanders won't be slowed down until his mission is done.
Song to Download Now:
"Sinner Man" (Get the whole mixtape for free here.)
Continuous Motion | Posted March-30-2017
Taelor Gray is on a mission to release somewhere around 10 projects in 2017. He released Jacob and Judas (executive produced by his brother, Christon Gray) via PledgeMusic only, and now he has released In the Way of Me. To keep pace with a seemingly impossible number of projects, Taelor's "pen game" is set to continuous motion. Taelor Gray is one of those artists who dares to deal with issues that plague society while also daring to tackle the joy and struggle of a man who is living a life with Christ, themes found throughout In the Way of Me. AG handles the majority of production on the album, with additional tracks from Wes Pendleton, Daniel Steele and Swoope.
At first listen, "Radio (feat. Christon Gray)" could be mistaken for just another radio hit with a dope hook from Taelor and Chris, but this song is so much more. You need multiple listens as they both slip some slick bars; catch the references. "Moral Tower" is the ill banger and a retrospective on a certain part of his life. Taelor recalls being a weed smoking college student who was a bit promiscuous and fell into depression. He found himself among students who were struggling, yet gained so much knowledge.
"Comfortable" has Taelor rapping to the slowed down beat that has become a signature tempo he's used on several projects. He reminds people not to get too comfortable in this life because we are only living on borrowed time. There is so much to chew on that you will have to listen to it several times and let it digest. He goes on to give praise and honor to God, the "Most High." This track is unique because many artists in this genre tend to have someone else (usually a pop or CCM artist) singing the chorus. However, Taelor just goes in by himself, not really aiming for a hook, but taking his time and letting the song build.
The "boom bip" drum pattern (provided by Swoope) of "Me Versus Me" is a nice setup for a cypher. Taelor partners with wordsmiths Swoope, Ki'shon Furlow and Kai to address a battle that no believer can escape: the battle against your own flesh and self-will. All the artists kill it.
One of the things that I appreciate greatly about Taelor Gray is his love for Gospel music and hip-hop, the Word of God and unity, yet also studying the richness of Black History. These elements are impressively molded together on the track "Close." I get a kick out of him borrowing for the F.C. Barnes classic when he sings "I'm coming up on the rough side of the mountain... / I'm doing my best."
The Bottom Line: Taelor Gray is hip-hop! Taelor marries hip-hop with the life of a Christian so well. In the Way of Me is a complete album with only ten tracks, demonstrating that sometimes it is smarter to condense the amount of songs to have a more potent album without throwaway songs.
A Reignited Sound | Posted March-07-2017
I have often used the term "underrated" before to describe artists, but when describing Anthony Evans, the word, "undervalued" comes to mind. He creates music that mixes a little pop, soul, Gospel and CCM, and as a result I feel that he is not properly valued in the CCM and Gospel industries. Some in Gospel may feel he is too CCM for their format, and although he has been more embraced in CCM radio, some may feel that he is too soulful for their format. It may be time for these formats to start broadening their view.
Anthony has just released a masterful new album titled Back to Life. He hooked up with young producer Max Stark again, as well as the incomparable vocal producer Tim Davis, to create a musical journey throughout this album of worship. Listeners will hear Anthony taking more risks vocally, adding even higher notes than we have heard him sing on previous albums.
Ironic as it is, he has found more of a sense of purpose living in Los Angeles in middle of a culture that has very different religious views than he does. However, the authenticity of some of the people he has met has provided a boost that he needed. "Back to Life" shows a rejuvenated Anthony Evans who sings of his renewed faith and sense of who is because of hope is Christ: "I, I'm back to life / I'm feeling hope arise / Because of You / and only You Jesus." He continues to sing of how major issues that affect the everyday person have no power over God. This one is as empowering as it is hopeful.
Bethel Music's "Ever Be" gets a makeover with Anthony Evans's edgy stamp of soulful vocals and powerhouse background vocals from a noteworthy choir of singers. I love the way the beat takes the forefront of the music on the beginning of the chorus. Anthony even remakes his own song, "Incredible," which was originally written by one of his mentors, Kirk Franklin. This time around, the background vocals are fuller and layered while being sprinkled throughout the whole song. He added some heat to an already funky song.
"Everything Changes" has the retro soul feel that Bruno Mars has made popular. Turn it up, roll your window down and just vibe to it. Of course with Anthony being a Californian, he had to sing praise via a little EDM with "Home."
The Bottom Line: I know that Anthony Evans is singing across the country and has a multicultural appeal. However, I want more people to take notice of this amazing talent, a unique artist who has some of the most crisp and polished tenor vocals out there. Back to Life will definitely be a great addition to his musical repertoire and serve to inspire you to seek a stronger relationship with God.