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.
The Trap Which Sets Your Soul Free | Posted August-10-2018 What You Need To Know:
Nashville native Derek Minor is an iconic rapper and producer in the Christian Hip-Hop (CHH) industry. He's co-CEO of his recording label, Reflection Music Group (RMG), has compiled 13 commercial releases over the past decade and has directly invested in lives of other artists such as nobigdyl. The current release, The Trap, is a piece of art rivaled by few others in the genre. It's the third release in the "Up & Away" series from Minor with previous EP releases titled High Above and Your Soul Must Fly; both released in 2017.
What it Sounds Like:
The Trap is not a record the listener can ignore or just play in the background. Each track is heavily weighed with socially conscious topics relevant to racism, politics, stereotypes, culture, faith and real life issues. Essentially, the album tackles head-on the daily struggle of what it’s like to be an African American in modern society. There hasn’t been a similar hearty release since summer of 2017 with Propaganda’s Crooked.
Lyrics echo the words of, “The world don't care about us, but they want more for their cameras,” on the opening track to the project highlighting a flawed culture we tread within. “It Is What It Is” was the first single released back in February previewing Minor’s mindset about to be unraveled throughout the 15-track masterpiece interjecting faith, empowerment, and love as the answer to the sins of the world.
“Black Market” interjects that 90’s hip-hop elements vibe with deejay scratches, a return to the boom bap and a mid-track masterful switch up that fans will applaud. “Decisions” follows that era with classic storytelling which would make Slick Rick proud.
“Of Course” and “See You Win” gain my vote for summer anthems to just nod, bounce, and dance uncontrollably to in the car or gym. “Goodbye Lullaby” contends as one of my favorites of the project, as Minor reminds listeners he can harmonize and destroy tracks bar for bar with a fine-tuned flow unlike any other.
Social injustice may reign as the overall theme for The Trap, but Minor’s references to his personal faith, God’s word, and the Kingdom are anything but sparse. Minor proclaims, “I tell the whole world I’m a sinner and Christ saves,” in the final track “Revolution.” He also declares “I’m not perfect, but I’m sticking to His plan. When I lose my life I already lost it for Him,” in “Don’t Cry.” Minor has always worn his faith open for all to hear and witness.
Best Song on the Record:
“I Have a Dream” is unmistakably my favorite track on the project. The song echoes the civil rights movement pioneer Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s historic 1963 speech striving for equality among all races. Regardless of our own environment or situation, Minor speaks of a better life through Christ. We’re all seen as God’s children and should be treated as such in human form. With several beats and flow switch ups displayed on the record similar to this track, Minor showcases to listeners the good, bad and ugly in all walks of life. Simultaneously, he exhibits the multitude of talents present between singing, rapping and even poetic highlights.
Derek Minor is masterful in his delivery. The substance of each track was researched and executed with near perfection. Social injustice and all of its accomplices (racism, inequality, hate) are not easily discussed topics to present to a culture consumed by the next Billboard hit or club jam. Minor crafted songs to reach people at their core, the heart. As Jesus defined, souls are won within the heart through love. He lyrically meets people regardless of their situation and points back to the cross. His extensive talents are wonderfully displayed throughout the project within his unique storytelling delivery through harmony and rhyme. Highlights like “Decisions,” “Goodbye Lullaby,” “Of Course,” and “I Have a Dream” walk the listen through unique audio experiences neatly packaged and what some will deem album of the year.
Transparent Perfection | Posted June-30-2018 What You Need To Know:
This EP is the second installment of four scheduled throughout 2018 following Part 1 that released back in January that featured breakout single, "Not To Us/Good Love." The exuberant, high-level energy that Steven Malcolm exhibits on stage is born from the hope present in his lyrical content. Bar for bar, few other rappers mimic the transparent weight of what Malcolm offers, enabling fans to connect to his music on a much more personal level.
What It Sounds Like:
An infusion of worship ("Even Louder"), international ("The Second City,""Fuego"), EDM ("Been There"), and trap sounds ("On Ten") could be a sonically chaotic nightmare. However, Malcolm bridges various sounds to precision and excellence. Malcolm spans across various cultures without skipping a beat between island, Spanish, and electronic sounds. It's a breath of fresh air to escape an oversaturation of albums that are smothered in trap. Malcolm offers incredible wordplay that is only fully appreciated after repeated listens, and I found myself hitting pause and going back, again and again, to make sure I didn't miss a line. Tough to do as there's so much to unpack in every track! The level of transparency, biblical truths, and life experiences Malcolm is pulling from is nothing short of phenomenal.
Malcolm definitely wears his heart and faith on his sleeve. Every track pours out of a period of who he was prior to being born again in Christ, and the entire EP brings praises to Jesus. Listeners will have no problem capturing spiritual or biblical references throughout the EP.
Best Song on the Record:
Without question, "Even Louder"featuring Leeland reigns as my personal favorite. There's something so unique when hip-hop and worship collide. The redeeming nature of Christ is highlighted and glorified. There is transparency multiplied when you can surrender to the worship of a loving God.
Steven Malcolm is, above all, a masterful lyricist who is just now starting to leave his mark on CHH. His cadence and wordplay are unmatched by few within the genre. The Second City: Part 2 fuses substantial faith-filled lyrics with incredible beats. These past two EPs have offered listeners a distinct journey into the heart and mind of a believer and individual saved by grace. That's something we all can relate to.
Worship in Hip-Hop Form | Posted October-26-2017
Canadian award-winning songwriter and worship leader Andrew Marcus surprised his fanbase with his latest release, Lift My Eyes EP. The project remains worship-based, as each track clearly resonates with biblical teachings and a vertical focus; however, it is presented in hip-hop form. Under the new moniker Addition, he crafted a seven track EP fully written and produced by himself. Addition's goal for the project is for listeners to have a tool to memorize Scripture and stand on the promises of God.
The opening track "Father's Heart" meshes the teachings of Jesus and His grace and mercy with the story of Adam and Eve. The focal point of "Under Your Wings" rallies around Ephesians 6, speaking about the armor of God over strong strings and a driving beat, creating a personal favorite. The title track breaks down the teachings found in Psalms 121 as believers call out to God in times of trouble.
The next track, "Still Waters," is laced with a mixture of beautiful keys, and the hook reminds listeners of Addition's worship roots. Variety is added with "Hiding Place," which takes on a spoken word vibe similar to Fearless Bnd's Jeremy Johnson in content and delivery. This is definitely another standout track enforcing the Lord's strength when believers put faith and truth solely in Him.
"Unseen Guest" speaks of the presence of Jesus in our lives regardless of the situation. The EP finishes with "The Story," breaking down the Gospels and what Jesus can provide when a personal door into a soul is opened.
Throughout the EP, Addition achieved his personal goal of reviving the 90's hip-hop production, highlighting simplistic beats which power the tracks with strong keys or plucks of strings behind driving bass. Content-wise, listeners should be encouraged by the many promises God offers in Scripture, detailed throughout each of the seven tracks this EP has to offer. Also, the Scriptural references are easily located, assisting listeners to keep those bible verse themes in mind in times of personal struggle and defeat.
The Bottom Line: Overall, Andrew Marcus' fun hip-hop side project emphasizes God's glory and the teachings of Jesus similar to a typical worship track, but presented through witty rhymes schemes.
For Fans Of: Connor Flanagan, B.Reith, tobyMac
Song to Download Now: "Hiding Place" (Get it on iTunes here.)
Real Love On Display | Posted October-10-2017
The Puerto Rican songstress Blanca has reminded fans everywhere not only of her eclectic musical range but also her stance as one of the premier vocalists in any genre with the release of her new EP, Real Love. She joins a new wave of artists who are not confined to one genre or musical direction. The Real Love EP blends soul and worship with a handful of other music stylings, fine tuning Blanca's sound and expanding from the hip-hop and pop production styles her former projects were known for.
In recent months, Blanca quoted the words of A.W. Tozer: "What comes to our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us." This thought serves as the underlying theme for the EP, expressing that we should experience real love when thinking about God in any situation. The concept is conveyed beautifully by the title track and first single off the EP. "Real Love" walks out the way Blanca discovered the real love of God during the last days of her mother's life.
Other standout tracks from the EP are "Undeniable" and "What If." Even in its shortened EP format, the listener gains a complete walkthrough of how God's undeniable real love doesn't change, regardless of the hill or valley of the current journey. "Undeniable" reinforces the strength of God's faithfulness and proclaims how believers are surrounded by His promises. "What If" challenges us to halt self-doubt and place complete trust in our Lord.
The production of "Remind Me" infuses that classic Blanca sound from her older work as the lyrics calls on God to remind us of His everlasting love even in the busy day-to-day tasks. The Dominican Christian Hip-Hop artist Redimi2 is the only standout feature on the EP, lacing the closing track "Give It All" with his native language and adding beautifully to the overall feel of the project.
The Bottom Line: Tastes of EDM, soul, hip-hop and modernized gospel are all accounted for aligned with a remarkable worship feel on Real Love. Blanca's inner emotions and struggles are molded into truth most believers can relate to and connect with. The Real Love EP appetizer sets the stage for eager fans to witness a breakout full length album in early 2018.
Breaking Out | Posted September-08-2017
This devoted husband and father of two breakout Christian pop rock artist is trending in unfamiliar waters with ease. Most of his younger career Jaxson spent dancing and performing with world renowned Gospel artists as he crafted his own unique sound. Jaxon is following his heart creating genuine, authentic music covered in encouragement, which he hopes people turn to in their time of need.
"I Need You," the latest single from Jaxon, has a prominent soft rock vibe with a soulful Gospel feel. The drums drive the track into a catchy chorus the listener will be singing along with by the end of the song. Jaxon exhibits a confident baritone melody with touches of a tenor, showcasing some range from this young Missouri native.
The Bottom Line: Jaxon meshes story telling with worship, formulating a unique auditory experience. Jaxon's creativity and vocal range should equate to a solid future cruising towards the next release.
Corey Wise is one example of the handful of independent hip-hop artists who have cemented Christian hip-hop (CHH) as a viable force to compete with across all genres in 2017. Midway through the year Wise has already released two meaty projects, with the release of Vision back in February and now his latest project titled Focus! in July.
Wise dropped two singles in advance of the EP. First up was "Motives" featuring Jarry Manna of the indie tribe. camp. The heart behind the single is both artists finding their motivation rooted in Christ and His example, regardless of the obstacles faced. The mellow vibes were produced by The Real Age, and this track is poised to become a weekend anthem. The next single, titled "Fire Emoji," is your classic hip-hop trap track interlaced with Wise's pronounced faith. The lyrics shine: "I was saved by grace and I'm looking ahead / bear a cross everyday by the Spirit I'm led." Wise handles the basic concepts of CHH to near perfection with samples, production and lyrical content.
Other standouts include "Welcome To Your Tape," which documents a devotion to his wife with lines like "Netflix and chill, that ain't really us, more like SVU, some popcorn cuddled up," and "New Job" which showcases Wise's exceptional flow, wordplay and love for hip-hop. A personal favorite from the overall project is "Fly Away" featuring Bee. The song highlights God's everlasting grace, our brokenness and the comforting strength from Him which we find in our faithful walk. The tempo is significantly slowed down from most of the other tracks, nearly mimicking an outcry of worship.
The Bottom Line: Corey Wise has sprinted through the start of his CHH career with two solid projects offering promise for years to follow. It's evident that Wise is rooted in not only his own faith, but biblical principles found in God's Word. He is out to prove that being Christ-centered and energetic in music doesn't have to be corny, and his example is to be commended as some of the best material available.
Hit Single Gets Star Treatment | Posted May-24-2017
Derek Minor's October 2016 release Reflection birthed a single that exploded on the charts, gaining the number one spot for a 4-week run. "Change The World" featuring Hollyn continues to bask in the spotlight as the track remains in the Top 20 on Billboard's Hot AC/CHR chart. This wave of popularity transformed a single into a mini project, with Change the World (Remixes) uniquely duplicating the track times three through the eyes of three incredible producers: Cardec, Juice Bangers and David Thulin.
David Thulin's version is first up on the three-track remix project, driven by his signature heavy EDM influence. It's the only one to jump directly into Minor's verse, which is welcomed. Also, Derek's voice seems to be the most prevalent on this mix; it doesn't get lost in the production switches. Overall, it's a pleasant take on a standard EDM track with a Minor twist.
Cardec's version integrates an EDM feel with more of a pop overtone. Even a hint of Caribbean influence is detected with the airy vocals, snaps and slower pace. Claps were substituted with snares. Sonically pleasing, it's a track that relaxes the mind.
Finishing off the trio of remixes is the Juice Bangers edition. Strong 808's power this track, returning Minor and Hollyn to the closest resemblance of a hip-hop track. The welcome piano echoes from the original track once again, maintaining the creative masterpiece of the single. Personally, Minor saved the best remix for last, as just enough of a difference is added to the original to make fresh and pleasing to the ears.
The Bottom Line: Each of the three remixes differs enough from the original to warrant their creation. Each version of the hit single is personalized to the point where three remixes don't seem repetitive, but enjoyable. Minor discovered yet another way to stay cutting edge and one of the best artists and producers in the genre.
Song To Download Now:
"Change The Worldfeaturing Hollyn (Juice Bangers remix)" (Get it on iTunes here.)