Shot Heard Across the Genre | Posted October-29-2019 What You Need To Know:
Travis “Thi’sl” Tyler was born in Mississippi, however, grew up in St. Louis, Missouri. To this day, St. Louis and its surrounding communities have been a focal point for him. Thi’sl directs his music about the cityscape and surrounding environment to educate younger generations that hope exists.
Over the last 15 years, Thi’sl has devoted his music to reflect His own faith and help revive the streets. Beginning with work aside from Reach Records independently on two projects, then several projects as a signed artist from 2009 through present day. Chronicles of an X-Hustler, Fallen King, and Beautiful Monster are standout creations from the mind and heart of Thi’sl.
On Small Thing To A Giant (STTAG), Thi’sl once again takes a negative situation and flips the focus towards the Kingdom. He was shot (in the leg) during a robbery last September while giving back to his community through Mission: St. Louis.
What it Sounds Like:
First thoughts are Thi’sl is taking every advantage of renewed life through a second chance lens. From start to finish, STTAG contains some of his most impactful content and delivery to date. Thi’sl speaks on the events which surrounded his shooting from a year ago, how God has moved through the experience, and how he’s arrived on the other side of it a different person. A person energized, focused, and fueled by his faith.
The features on the project from Courtney Orlando, V.Rose, and Jarrel Lomax serve more as harmonizing accents to the overall sound. Thi’sl had a story to reveal throughout the eight tracks, a personal journey. Listeners can hear transparency without hesitation.
“War Torn” featuring Fiend is the most aggressive track on the project harnessing Thi’sl's renewed energy. It serves as a war cry to impact your city regardless of your circumstance or environment.
“This Is Not The End” featuring V. Rose reveals insight into Thi’sl’s direct thoughts about the incident mimicking a cry out to God for understanding.
“Activated” featuring Courtney Orlando finishes up the project with encouragement exemplified. He proclaims, “I woke up a different beast from this surgery.” The inspiration received throughout the course of the previous year is felt on blast.
Sonically, it's not solely you're typical trap record. “Activated” has an incredible pop to it close to boom-bap sound us old school listeners miss. “Sugar” has a spoken word, soulful vibe to it backed by standard trap sound. “This Is Not The End” has a bluesy, rhythm and blues soundscape assisted by the melodic voice of V.Rose. Overall, the project presents itself as an experimental trap record with refreshing additions and sounds sure to pleasantly perk your ears.
A sense of gratitude towards God and Thi’sl’s personal faith is sensed throughout the project. There is no shortage of godly references and nods to His faithfulness during extreme trials faced by the artist.
Appreciation in one sense or another is felt on nearly every track. Throughout a difficult experience, Thi’sl was able to rise above due to God’s faithfulness and love. During “Sugar” Thi’sl raps, “That’s my hardest trial today / but it’s built-in my faith / because my trust in the Lord, He gonna make a way.”
That’s one beautiful aspect of Thi’sl’s music. He lays out lyrically the wrongs of the world and the trials he faces daily, however, Thi’sl doesn’t allow discouragement to settle in knowing God’s got a plan.
Best Song on the Record:
The quality of STTAG overall adds difficulty in selecting a track that stands above the others. However, “Let’s Get To It” snags recognition as a favorite. The overall bounce of the track alone makes it special. The expressed energy captivates my attention. It demands movement from your body. Thi’sl proclaims that regardless of what difficult situation may arise, he will never change knowing God’s got this essentially.
When you’re a giant in your faith, few things become bothersome. Thi’sl took a difficult situation and reflected how God moved throughout. Each track covers a unique perspective on the shooting and its effect over the course of the last year. Even wrapped into a condense EP package, the effects of its contents were gigantic. The strategic use of features throughout added proverbial icing on an already brilliant effort. STTAG will definitely entertain some project of the year lists at year’s end and rightfully so. Thi’sl’s ear to the street while carrying his cross faithfully is a beautiful thing to hear through his music and watch through his street ministry.
The Elements Redefined | Posted October-04-2019 What You Need To Know:
Toby “Tobymac” McKeehan grew up in the suburbs of Northern Virginia mostly influenced by the culture of neighboring Washington D.C. Since the start of his solo career in 2001 apart from the legendary dc Talk, Tobymac has recorded seven studio albums, five remix projects, two Christmas albums, and two live projects. He’s devoted a remix project to every studio album with the exception of This Is Not A Test.
The most recent offering of The St. Nemele Collab Sessions is comprised of song remixes from Tobymac’s 2018 studio effort, The Elements. This remix project is unique as it includes several featured artists from the Christian music industry and offers a brand-new song.
What It Sounds Like:
Refreshing is the first word that comes to mind when thinking of the sonic value of The St. Nemele Collab Sessions. In years past, the other four remix projects didn’t include vocal additions from featured artists. Tobymac stuck to the formula of inviting some of the industry-best producers and industry friends to provide a new touch on original tracks. This time around, he borrowed vocal offerings from some of the most well-known artists in Christian music. Ledger, Crowder, Bart Millard, Jordan Feliz, Cory Asbury, Matt Maher to name a few of the invited guests.
With the focus being more-so on collaborations, each track has a personalized feel set aside from the original song. A formula for success separates from the repetitive notion to solely change the beat on remixes. This project breathes new life into the original songs found on The Elements from a year ago.
First up, we have “The Elements – Neon Feather Remix” featuring Ledger kicking the project off. Ledger’s adlibs and harmonies add an edge to the original. Combined with the beauty the usual Neon Feather remix adds, the first track is one of the favorites.
“I just need U. – Tide Electric Remix” featuring Cory Asbury is a standout track too. Not solely because of the inclusion of Asbury, but the brilliance of Tide Electric. The calm, slow buildup into powerful drums and a certain beauty remains throughout the track to pronounce it not only as melodic, but a track you can bob your head to.
“Heart Of My Beat” ends the project on a high note being a completely new original track. It’s catchy and easy to repeat the hook for hours. Therefore, your typical Tobymac track.
Tobymac has possessed a 29-year career (11 years with dc Talk, 18 years solo). Defined as a solidified “Jesus Freak,” expressing his faith through music has never been an issue. There are touches of spirituality throughout this remix project. “See The Light – Ruslan Remix” speaks how the light of Christ takes away burdens, obstacles and weakness focusing on the strength and love our Savior provides. “Scars (Come Wit Livin’) – Neon Feather Remix speaks in-depth about-facing trails in life and using those weaknesses as strengths in our faith. To do mighty things for the Kingdom. Toby is defined by his faith, always has and always will.
Best Song on the Record:
Many gems stick out on this project, however, “Horizon (A New Day) – Stereovision Remix” featuring Aaron Cole struck a chord with me personally. Cole has always remained a favorite artist of mine. The fact he bodied the added verse on this track confirmed its spot in my heart. The switch from background keys in the original to a driving acoustic on the remix was the cherry on top. This track remains on repeat regardless of the week.
The Elements stood as one of my top three Toby projects until this remix project arrived. Now, the two mixed collectively could claim the number one spot. I’m a sucker for collaborations, especially when done properly. Toby enlisted top-notch producers and heavyweights from around the industry to join him while finetuning songs that will resonate in the heart for years to come.
Happy Raps For The Soul | Posted September-21-2019 What You Need To Know:
Isaac “Peabod” Peabody, based in Seattle, signed with Centricity Music in hopes of growing his following and sound. In his early days, Peabod came from, of all things, a background in folk music before crossing over to hip-hop.
He signed with Centricity in November 2017 followed by releasing his first single “Shoot From The Hip,” accompanied by a video in May 2018. His debut project, Healthy Snacks, released the following month creating an infectious buzz due to his unique and positive sound. Peabod stands as a voice for millennials and the early days of hip-hop.
What it Sounds Like:
Peabod’s sound and content are a refreshing break from the atypical tracks from trap-smothered chronicles of oppression, injustice, personal testimonies of a hardened street upbringing. His musings poke fun at the modern-day in the life of a millennial or young person in general. He brings a comical twist to the stresses of life merging out of an introvert personality.
The EP opens up with “Antisocial,” which personally deals with how we as a society become too busy with schedules and deadlines instead of focusing on what we individually desire outside of the norm. Next, Peabod transitions into “Left Out” bringing his friend Chad Mattson (from the band Unspoken) along for the joy ride. This track is a catchy, happy vibe proven to place a smile on your face. He speaks of avoiding cliques and the “in-crowd” and standing out just enjoying your own life.
“Side Hustle” is the next track detailing the life as an independent artist pursuing music as a side gig while grinding at a daily nine to five career. Also, he highlights the joy of being an artist and writing music, a passion he’s always possessed.
An ode to his wife follows titled, “Hoodie.” The hook build within is quite infectious and resides in the back of your head for days after. He speaks of a young relationship and the quirks of such a partnership. This track is a nice blend of rap and rhythm as listeners are treated to a taste of Peabod’s folk-like vocals from back in the day.
Rounding out the EP offering is the title track featuring Marty from the iconic hip-hop duo Social Club Misfits. With an “ole skool” 90’s vibe, Peabod slows down his flow placing the “backpack rapper” persona to test. Stripped down, it’s a testament to how easy it is to put out a song in the hip-hop genre these days.
Sonically, it’s quite pleasing overall. Bells, harmonies and an overall simplistic sound cover the EP enabling listeners to nod their heads and even snap fingers. This is feel-good music that just forces you into a good mood.
Similar to life application teaching sermons on Sunday mornings, the EP is composed of relatable, fun, and clean content. There may not be numerous references to personal faith, God or the name of Jesus. However, it’s content Christians can relate to their own daily life and struggles.
In “Antisocial” he mentions taking a sabbath. Followed by lyrics in “Left Out” referencing, “My God loves all of his children.” Tidbits such as these are sprinkled throughout.
Best Song on the Record:
The track I relate most to would be “Side Hustle.” Also, the “da da da dada” adlibs stick with me for hours afterward. It’s a song that demands movement from the body. Content-wise, it’s my daily grind in a nutshell. Following a passion for music, the culture and the industry within juggled with the strain of career demands.
Even though this project is neatly packaged in a 5-track EP form, it feels complete. Two solid features from industry favorites. A wide variety of topics and scenarios most of the listeners encounter daily. A range of sound found inflow and substance. Peabod sticks to his original formula of “happy raps,” which cements a smile on your face and motivates you to live your best life possible.
It’s a welcomed switch in hip-hop from not only the overbearing trap sound but the echoes of a harsh, gritty lifestyle. If you ever need a pick-me-up or a break from reality, immerse yourself in Healthy Snacks or the Backpack EP. Your heart will thank you for it!
The Triumph Of A Dual Threat | Posted August-30-2019 What You Need To Know:
We’ve all heard the phrase, “born to do this.” Aaron Cole has been singing and engaged in his passion for music since the age of 4. Therefore, most believe Cole was born to use music to bring glory to God. Even though he independently released two projects as a young teenager in 2012 (13) and 2014 (15) respectively, Cole didn’t gain traction until his 2016 EP release If I Can Be Honest. After signing with the iconic label Gotee Records in 2017, he released an EP the following year titled, Virginia Boy. All of this built up to Cole’s first full-length release with Gotee, Not By Chance. A headliner tour is planned in the not-so-far future.
Born in Bristol, Virginia, but now Cole resides in Nashville; one of the predominant music industry hubs. He lives and breathes music quoted as composing at least one or two songs daily. The move a few years back inspired him to create constantly. He still believes in the album model and desired to create a “fire” full-length project, something brilliantly accomplished as detailed below.
What it Sounds Like:
Precision. Aaron Cole’s debut full-length album accents and builds upon his strengths, both with harmonizing and rapping, then took his skill set to the next level. From start to finish, the project is composed of a polished sound cementing why every single or feature released receives the spotlight.
After a classic soulful gospel introduction, Cole wasted no time with “Flashback” featuring 1K Phew reminding listeners he can master the art of harmonizing and rhyming without hesitation. Speaking of rhyming, he reminds us on “Back In My Bag” and “Cassius Clay” that Cole can still “rap, rap” flowing bar for bar effortlessly. On the other hand, “Photos” featuring Evan Ford showcases the range Cole possesses. Natural melodies, soulful vibes, and peaceful undertones are captured. The same may be said for “Who You Are” featuring Montell Fish. It’s the type of track fans can kick back and relax on a Friday night with the windows down straight finessing.
Even as summer fades, Cole gifts listeners an anthem on “Maybe” featuring Derek Minor and Kaleb Mitchell. There’s no shortage of crafty wordplay, crisp production, and a collective masterpiece.
The overall production remains airtight like Cole’s personal performance. Not an easy feat due to his talented depth switching between rhythms and rhymes. Each track fits seamlessly between the lyrics and beats. You’re not solely smothered in trap like most of the competition. It’s a breath of fresh air.
There isn’t any shortage of Cole’s references not only to his personal faith walk but of God and of Jesus consistently. In “FASHO,” he calls out specifically Galatians 6:9. When Cole discusses love and relationships in “Love Don’t Cost A Thing” he states, “help me to never sell out and give them the truth, while I’m looking for love, lead me to You (God).” Basically, “Who You Are” is an R&B version of a worship song exclaiming how amazing God is.
Cole’s admiration for God and his personal faith are stamped on essentially every track from start to finish.
Best Song on the Record:
Saving the best for last, the title track “Not By Chance” stands above all else highlighting Cole’s dual skill set. The content weighs heavily pushing the listener to take time to process everything said. Lyrical mastery at its finest. This track displays Cole’s growth, confidence, and maturity within his own voice and cadence.
One of his lines reminds listeners, “God’s showing me I win even when I lose.” One beautiful aspect of Cole’s music is the hope found within. He always reminds us that God is the answer regardless of the applicable trial or tribulation.
A track nor feature does not exist which wasn’t intricately chosen to emphasize Cole’s reign in the industry. Even more promising is the fact he’s just getting started at only the age of 20. There is a sense of refinement and completion spilled over regardless of the track. His individual growth is evident since his Gotee debut of Virginia Boy last year. The project contains a suitable mixture of range that may be enjoyed on various platforms. Examples of worship, admiration, triumph, confidence, and happiness are evident throughout. Whether you’re looking for a song to relax to, move every body part to, or bob your head; something for every mood is captured.
The keys solo of sorts during the conclusion of the title track elegantly wraps up the album poised for a standing ovation.
A Foreigner to the World, Not to the Streets | Posted August-29-2019 What You Need To Know:
Pettidee released his first project Still Alive in 1999, 20 years ago. Two decades later, he’s mastered the logistics of the industry revered as one of Christian Hip-Hop’s (CHH) pioneers, talented producers, and innovator of eclectic sounds. Born Dewayne Petty down in Florida, his music has achieved mainstream placement in over 10 opportunities ranging from America’s Top Model to FX’s acclaimed Sons of Anarchy. Pettidee has produced for the likes of The Grits and has withstood numerous trends within the industry while remaining relevant to the streets and spreading the name of Jesus.
His most recent offering, Alien, capitalizes on Pettidee’s zone of comfort. He produced and mixed the entire EP personally while meshing various sounds sonically which few artists venture into currently. The project brings to life how Pettidee has fine-tuned and finessed his God-given talents to add souls to the Kingdom through the art of hip-hop.
What it Sounds Like:
Pettidee’s authentic southern sound remains in-tact regardless of the time expired. Aggressive, gritty, dense, yet smothered in truth and hope. For the current project, he integrated electronic (EDM), island, and trap sounds infused with classic hip-hop vibes from the south bridging from his roots forward.
The opening and title track “Alien” matched its intended concept with a futuristic feel and tone throughout. “Lethal” meshes a reggaeton vibe with hard-hitting 808’s forcing body movement. The energetic “Thru the Fire” reminds listeners of that classic Pettidee sound which made him famous.
Essentially, Pettidee’s creativity and experience in the genre is crystal clear throughout the project. You hear the maturity and growth in the lyrics, the precision of the production and the spiritual content is quite evident. The sound of everything meshes well as the Floridian rapper is no “alien” to hip-hop culture.
“I feel strange here, this is not where I belong,” lyrics that kick of the project cementing Pettidee’s faith and relationship with God. He goes on to utter the words, “I’m a strange man, in a strange land, and it’s God’s plan.” Throughout his elongated career dating back to the ’90s, Pettidee has always made one thing clear – his faith remains at the forefront of his craft and skills as a rapper. He’s always been known to be the voice for God in the streets pulling souls towards the Kingdom one at a time. His mission has always put God first, he and his career second.
The project ends with basically a worship track, “Hands in the Air,” exclaiming his love for God and worship of who God is. It’s filled with praise and a soulful twist to Pettidee’s typical lyrical arsenal providing a logical sense of completion to ‘Alien.’
Best Song on the Record:
“No Pain, No Gain” featuring Philip White snags best track honors for numerous reasons. Lyrically, it’s the most in-depth and relatable track on the project. He speaks on systematic injustice, concerns from the streets, personal experiences with pain and strife, yet backs it with the hope and faith found in God.
Sonically, it contains some of the hardest 808’s I’ve ever heard coupled with a sound standing above typical trap music the genre has been smothered with.
The heart behind this track is quite inspiring, one thing that sets CHH apart from mainstream hip-hop. Real-life issues are discussed, but not without the hope, love, compassion, and grace felt from God. Christians main endure pain often, but not without progression. We’re tested, but with good reason. Out of the rubble, strength is discovered in various forms.
The concept of the project should be echoed throughout the industry. Believers are aliens to this world, as this world is not our home. Temporary. Our home resides in Heaven praising God and His Son for eternity. Regardless of the pain, struggle, or trials faced daily while alive, hope exists. The hope in our permanent residence. The hope that no matter the difficulties faced; we know the final outcome. This message was beautifully intertwined throughout the project.
Pettidee may be an OG of this genre and space, but the message has never changed. Southern hip-hop laced with creative production and hope-filled content set out to inspire entire generations.
A Short Audio History of an Extended Career | Posted May-25-2019 What You Need To Know:
KJ-52 (born Jonah Sorrentino) defines Christian Hip-Hop (CHH). In his 20-plus years of exposure to the genre, KJ has created over 15 albums, a handful of mixtapes, and even a Christmas project last year. KJ-52 has spent his career being an ambassador for Christ, never ashamed of the title 'Christian rapper.' He’s displayed such a love on tracks with humor, lyricism, antics, and just a pure appreciation for the hip-hop culture. KJ-52 was a gateway into CHH for thousands of fans in the early 2000s, and remains an ambassador for our youth in 2019.
Most recently, he released What Happened Was… to be paired with his autobiography to be released under the same name. In 2018, KJ also released a movie serving as a visual autobiographical story of the previous two decades. He created this current EP with up and coming Nashville-based producer Poetics (Chandler Sherrill). Chandler has worked with CHH heavyweights such as Dre Murray, Pettidee, Derek Minor, Canon, and Dru Bex.
What it Sounds Like:
To gain perspective for the sounds of this EP, it helps to be familiar with Poetics and his aggressive beats. This producer uses the current concentration of trap music to his advantage by crafting anthems one after another. With this project, listeners get a taste with “Beastmode” featuring long-time friend Xay Hill, “Flex” featuring Dre Murray, and “Go for It” featuring independent artists Jodie Jermaine and Mitch Darrell.
Simultaneously, KJ-52 only seems to improve lyrically as he matures in lyricism and overall flow. Ever since Dangerous released in 2012, a steady attention to refined bars and remaining in the defined pocket of any given beat has been spotlighted. Even though he's been around for over two decades, KJ-52’s tracks never possess a “dated” feel like most CHH pioneers have been guilty of in recent years. He’s constantly plugged into the culture and trends.
KJ returns with two tribute tracks, one to the restaurant chain Chick-Fil-A and the other to main characters from NBC’s The Office which ended after a 9-season run in 2013. “Gimmie That Chicken” and "Jim and Pam” bring back the nostalgia of past humorous tracks like “Coke, Fry, Cheeseburger,” “Mullet Pride” and “Gimmie That (Mountain Dew).”
KJ-52 never abstains from including spiritual-driven content in each of his numerous releases, and this EP is no different. With lines like, “Cause God is there even when you can’t see Him / I pray you’ll know Him before you go and meet Him” on “Depression Nap” to bars such as “Your life plus no Christ / That is a crashing disaster” from “Big Enough,” KJ brings his faith to the forefront as if he has the word Christian tattooed across the back. He’s unashamed, vocal, and proud that Christ drives his lifelong race from start to finish.
Best Song on the Record:
Even as an EP composed of eight tracks, a skippable track doesn’t exist. Each has its own identity and relates to listeners from various angles. “Depression Nap” is the standout track from the project because of it's subject matter. Not only do too many of us deal with depression, but the answer of hope from Jesus is interjected flawlessly. That’s the beauty of Christian music overall, as artists speak about relevant topics but also provide a viable answer to our giants in Christ and in our personal faith.
The beat and production behind the track from Poetics is one of the most unique, yet mesmerizing sounds in the CHH space to date. Dru Bex on the hook cemented it overall as a favorite track of mine in 2019.
KJ-52 never disappoints. You’re guaranteed a few things with every release such as: relating to a track, dancing to a track, laughing at a track, and appreciating KJ as one of the pioneers of CHH. Since this project serves as an accompaniment to KJ’s history in the CHH space, he’s wrapped up a small, yet impactful collection of tracks that relates to themes of nearly every release dating back to 2000. I applaud KJ for enlisting one of the hottest independent producers and a few indie, upcoming artists to spotlight. What Happened Was…pleases the ears and the heart, and should be targeted as a must listen for your summer road trips.
A Personal Testimony In Album Form | Posted April-12-2019 What You Need To Know:
Born to Samoan parents, Tedashii grew up in Lufkin, Texas. Now in his early 40’s, Tedashii’s family resides in Denton, Texas. He first came to know Christ as his Savior during his freshman year at Baylor University, and it was also during his college years that he began to take music seriously and explore his talents and passion for hip-hop.
Since 2006, T-Dot’s released five full-length projects and one EP. His last album, Beyond Paradise, dropped five years ago. Therefore, a great deal of hype awaited current release Never Fold and its 17-track offering on March 8. Tedashii based the project off of the teachings found in Luke 9:62, which states as follows: “No one who puts his hand to the plow and turns back is fit for the kingdom of God." To Tedashii, “Never Fold is about celebrating life in the midst of adversity. It’s a reminder to not succumb to the pressures of life when in the end, it’s what makes diamonds of us all.” (Reach Records profile biography)
What it Sounds Like:
As expected due to the extended number of tracks, a variety of styles are explored throughout the project. CCM (Christian Contemporary Music) guests including the likes of Crowder, Jordan Feliz and Sarah Reeves, the culture of trap, and just straight bars are all battle tested throughout the 17 tracks. However, the overall sound that prevails is “feel good” music that begs the listener to simply smile.
Standout tracks lyrically include “Full Effect,” “Hold Me Down,” “Splash II,” and “Get Out My Way.” Such tracks pinpoint hope, encouragement, and celebrating life while also focusing on Tedashii’s personal skill set beyond a mic.
Tidbits of Tedashii’s faith walk are sprinkled throughout the album. “Home” featuring Crowder portrays the parable of the prodigal son from Luke 15:11-3 in a renewed way. “I’m skating on thin ice (Yeah) / and my hope is within Christ (Yeah)” resonates deeply for those listening knowing hope is available regardless of our failures.
“It Is Well” serves as the ending of the project and is bittersweet. A featured unknown female vocalist sings the renowned hymn in the Samoan language, adding even more of a beautiful undertone of worship. CHH’s own Swoope tends to the keys for the track, serving as a refreshing surprise.
Best Song on the Record:
Lyricism is always a personal draw for me, relating to a personal love for hip-hop. Therefore, “Son of Sam” steals the accolades of best track from the project. Essentially, the track summarizes Tedashii’s five-year hiatus from hip-hop while spilling out emotions of anxiety, depression, and doubt. However, one of the staples of CHH is the hope bound to the music. Even though transparency depicts personal struggles, reconciliation, and a leap of faith, solutions are interjected, proving his testimony stronger than ever.
Never Fold is a collection of artistry, worship, celebration, and clarity defined. Tedashii takes fans on an elongated journey detailing a roller coaster ride of emotions from the past five years. He beautifully bridges the gap between CCM and CHH, yet hasn’t forgotten how to appease hip-hop purists either. This project possesses a certain complexity which warrants repeated listens and careful inspection to capture all of its beauty within. Much of what fans deal with on a daily basis in the form of emotions and hills and valleys are depicted throughout. Thankfully, also offered is the reality that God loves and heals all situations regardless of their nature. That hope is painted continually from start to finish. Rarely do artists of our culture take the time to lay out their story on an album, and a unique treasure is revealed from Tedashii’s heart - enjoy wholeheartedly.
Home Sweet 'Home' | Posted February-10-2019 What You Need To Know:
Aaron “Canon” McCain originated from Chicago, Illinois, yet grew up in Atlanta, Georgia. After college in Memphis, Canon settled in Tennessee to perfect his hip-hop craft. Before signing with Reflection Music Group (RMG) in 2011 and putting out his debut album Blind World, he released his first mixtape in 2009 titled, The Great Investment. The following year, Loose Canon was released as the first of three in the series (Volume 2 in 2014, Volume 3 in 2016). In between that, Canon debuted his second full-length release, Mad Haven, in 2013. A handful of singles blessed fans over his eight-year career in Christian Hip-Hop (CHH) before his following was blessed with his third full-length release Home on December 7, 2018.
Canon has molded a sound of its own. A little bit trap. A little bit street. A little bit boom bap. All original. Tagged as one of the fastest “spitters” in CHH, his talents spread elsewhere too. Canon prides himself as one of the more prolific storytellers too. Transparency into his life, faith, viewpoints, and heart is vividly seen across all releases, but especially prevalent this time around.
What it Sounds Like:
Canon offers an overall viewpoint of Home on his homepage (www.getthecanon.com) which sums up the feel of the project, "I want people to feel proud about what they have. If you have little or much, there is hope. The comparison game tears down houses. If there's anywhere you belong, it's home."
When one thinks of a home, emotions of comfort, relaxation, love, and security pour in. Canon compacted these feelings and created a project the listener can fall in love with; something absent in music in recent years. A recipe for success with a pinch of autotune, a swirl of impressive features, a few cups of quotable wordplay, and a spoon full of east coast flavor summarizes a record for the ages.
Home represents a non-stop house party from start to finish Kid-n-Play would be proud to host. “Ain’t Got to Love Me” and “Lord Of the Lies” encompasses Canon’s heart on the project. “Pacman” and “Bammm” sets an aggressive tone. Featureless “Focus” and “Push Thru” accent Canon’s flawless delivery bar for bar. Then, the tempo eases downward like a slow dance climax for “We Gone Make It” and “Home” pinpointing the home as a place of comfort. A place the listener can kick back and digest the makings of a classic.
Canon never hesitates to include his personal faith and related lifestyle in releases. Home is no different. Biblical versions of love, personal reflection, life obstacles, and his daily walk are spotlighted throughout each of the 10 tracks.
Spiritual endurance is found in “Push Thru” with lines like, “I may crumble but I got faith now, watch me push through.” God’s faithfulness is discovered in “We Gone Make It” with, “God over everything, won’t lose no self-esteem, even with broken dreams, peace still surrounding me.” Similar spiritual gems can be unraveled throughout the track list. Fans will be encouraged to hear how Canon personally traveled through various trials and triumphs attributing his faith as the supreme conqueror.
Best Song on the Record:
From a project smothered in street anthems and melodic highlights, a clear favorite defined was a struggle. However, “Pacman” featuring Aaron Cole arises as a personal favorite. Between the catchy hook and the aggressive flow shared by Canon and Cole, the artistry of each demand attention.
Canon mastery of wordplay, symbolism, and lyrical control is quite evident in Home. The project contains a comfortable mix of tempos, welcomed inclusion of summer-like anthems for the streets, and material requiring multiple listens to truly appreciate the balance of weighted topics. Even though the project is heavy on included featured artists (12 in all), the personal vibe of hearing Canon’s heart from multiple angles of life is easily deciphered. Overall, Home is one of the few projects of 2018 that didn’t get lost in the onslaught of weekly releases standing out as one of the top ten releases.
Greatness Exemplified | Posted December-10-2018 What You Need To Know:
Ty Brasel was homegrown between Memphis, Tennessee and Olive Branch, Mississippi in a region known as “Memphissippi" by the local residents. Brasel fell in love with hip-hop during his high school years. This love came at a personal price for him as he began to glamorize the “rapper lifestyle.” Drugs and multiple law enforcement encounters delayed Brasel pursuing his love for hip-hop and God until 2015 when his mixtape Cloud 9 Rapsreleased.
His passion for the genre and skill set thrived annually as in 2016 Brasel released his first EP (1994 Until…), followed by his debut independent full-length project in 2017 (Young T) leading up to this year’s dual part release collectively titled, Destined For Greatness. This project consisted of two parts, Sides A and B. Side A released on March 30 as a standalone release, then was reintroduced along with Side B on December 7 as a full-length concept album. Amidst all of his personal success, Brasel was signed to a major recording label, 4 Against 5 (IVAV), in December 2017.
What it Sounds Like:
Brasel relates his most recent release to a life-long journey. He desires to provide life music as a soundtrack for individuals who experience both the valleys and mountains, triumphs and defeats day in and day out. His passion for hip-hop matured during the height of southern “trap-style” rap around 2013. Therefore, Brasel has brilliantly meshed sounds from trap-infused production and lyrically-focused bars from the east producing an overall eclectic sound pleasing to a variety of listeners.
The project borderlines a concept storyline as Brasel encourages fans to buckle up for a ride throughout his personal journey detailing his early humble beginnings to the spotlighted success enjoyed currently. The “sides” of Brasel as a sinner and divine redeemed son of God are detailed from start to finish. Highlighted tracks that expose his transparency include “The Game,”“Phoenix In Exile,”“Meant For Me,”“God Son,” and “No Escaping.”
Other moments of brilliance showcase his pure lyricism as an artist including “Praying Hands II,” All At Once+,” and “444+333 (God Is Perfect).” It’s often rare an emcee can rattle off bars effortlessly with flawless execution coupled with explicit emotional detail.
Spiritual concepts like faith, love, relationship, and God, in general, are pinpointed throughout this project. Unlike most other CHH releases, a fine-toothed comb is unnecessary to discover Brasel’s refined faith and admiration of God.
One track stands above others serving as the climax to Brasel’s difficult journey through life, “Through The Fire.” He explains, “When my soul is low, I look to the hills. When I’m lonely when I’m hurting – I call on You.” Regardless of countless struggles faced, Brasel finds victory in Jesus and his increasing faith.
Overall, listeners feel a call to worship throughout the project.
Best Song on the Record:
From Side A (tracks 1-7), I’m partial to “444+333 (God is Perfect).” The track is a mixture of praises to God and a transparent side of Brasel relating failures with successes. Also, the production of the track screams originality producing a sound unlike anything else in the genre.
From Side B (tracks 8-18), I’d chose “Praying Hands II” since raw lyricism is a gift few other artists possess. Brasel unleashes a pure rawness to his bars absent from the overall refinement found everywhere else on this project. The production aides the brilliance of the track tagging it as one of my favorite offerings from Brasel since his start in 2015.
Even though this project released towards the end of 2018, Destined For Greatness stands out as one of the top five projects released this year. From the storyline of the project to the refined lyrics combined with unique track production, everything together produces a rarity—a near perfect release.
Brasel’s honesty is refreshing and relatable to listeners from various age groups regardless of background. His personal faith exposed is refreshing proving an artist can interject God’s name and deities without tarnishing the remaining content.
Also, the project’s replay value adds a timeless factor, again unseen in most music released in our era. The relevancy of the tracks, concepts, and Brasel’s talent shall only improve with time and much more is on the horizon for this promising artist from 4 Against 5.
A Musical Cyclone of Styles Mastered | Posted November-10-2018 What You Need To Know:
Gabriel Alberto Azucena, also known as GAWVI, drew inspiration in high school from The Cross Movement (Human Emergency) after a nudge from his mother disapproving of mainstream hip-hop influence. GAWVI was so moved by the record and the inspiration of the genre, he transitioned into Christian Hip-Hop (CHH) almost immediately and, soon after, discovered Lecrae. Fast forward to 2016, and GAWVI signed with Reach Records as an official artist after an 8-year run of being known as their in-house producer, during which he produced several notable singles for Lecrae and Trip Lee from the Reach roster. In the short two-year period since GAWVI released two EPs in 2016 (Lost In Hue and Holding Hue), his debut album in 2017 (We Belong), and now Panorama in October 2018.
What it Sounds Like:
GAWVI describes Panorama as a wide-angle view of a physical space, and he’s achieved such a definition with the overall sound of the 17-track project. He has blended to near perfection a variety of sounds and cultures ranging from Latino, Caribbean, salsa, R&B, and pop. Unlike most of the oversaturated industry highlighted with solely trap beats over mumble rap, this project is a welcome breathe of fresh air regardless of the track. The best word to describe the contents would be "variety." Repeat listens are required to appreciate it's eclectic contents.
“Slingshot” pays tribute to King of Pop Michael Jackson, with a creative reference pleasing to the ears. Salsa-driven “Trapchata” and Latin-laced“Dulce” and “Green Card” (featuring WHATUPRG) immerse Americans into a culture most are foreign to. The final tracks “Get Em” and “Fashion Joe” stick closer to the current hip-hop trap vibes dominating the airwaves nationwide.
A hidden gem is found with “Baker Act” (featuring Aklesso). Essentially a worship song, both artists cry out to Jesus in their own unique fashions, exclaiming that Jesus is working intimately in both of their lives. Aklesso states, “I’ve been searching for my purpose / and I’m learning that God’s working.” GAWVI follows up with, “I’ve been needing Jesus to save me now / I’ve been so alone these days, ahh / I feel all this shame, I don’t care right now / I need you to save, Jesus save us.”
In “No Gas,” lyrics echo “I need Your saving grace / I need You, to take the pain away, yeah.” Throughout the extended project, you hear GAWVI’s requests to be saved, for prayer, and for God to lead him cementing His Savior’s influence over his art and creativity. He’s aligned with Reach Records' overall battle cry to remain unashamed of their faith in and out of the studio.
Best Song on the Record:
There haven’t been too many projects released in 2018 where I’ve struggled to pick a favorite anthem or track. However, Panorama presents that exact dilemma as it plays like a highlight film. Still, “With You” stands out beginning with the mellow acoustic guitar steering the direction of the track, and its overall sound differs sonically from anything else included. Some meaty topics are addressed including depression, death, loss, separation, and most importantly hope. Listeners can immediately relate to the conversation, as did I. The personal feel coupled with the equally visually beautiful video shot for this track cause it to stand out above all else.
Absent of a true throwaway track, the 17-song collection Panorama presents is a beautiful display of how culture and music align regardless of the genre. A collision of vivid styles, lyrical imagery, and relatable lyrics package this project into a true standout. GAWVI takes listeners on an audio journey through his personal struggles, upbringing, and roots. Not only does it give an appreciation for GAWVI the artist, but for his passion for life and music combined.