Love At First Art | Posted September-30-2020 What You Need To Know
James Larrick, stage name JIMMY ROCK, originates from Sandusky, Ohio. He entered the Christian music scene in 2016 with his debut single “Primero,” under collaboration with Ben Crespo. Over the last four-year period, Rock has opened for premier artists such as Lecrae, Skillet, Social Club Misfits, Andy Mineo, Family Force 5, and a wide range of others. His talents range from an Electronic Dance Music (EDM) artist, performer, producer, and creative. Essentially, a renaissance man of the musical arts.
Some of Rock’s recent hit singles include “Here with You,” featuring Destiny Gurley, “Replay,” featuring Ben G., and “84.” You can check out his discography on Spotify by clicking here.
Over five years, he has already collected a number of accolades. Rock has co-hosted and performed at nationally-known festivals—Alive Festival, SonFest, United Festival—throughout major cities, including Nashville, Detroit, Las Vegas, and New York City. He’s deejayed at some of the most high-profile award show afterparties and watch shows, Mayweather vs. McGregor. Rock has taken his extensive skill set and traveled frequently using his talents from God to keep the party moving.
Rock’s highly anticipated debut studio EP, World of Drops, brings energy like no other. The collective sound combines varying stylings of music merging together hip-hop, trap, spoken word, and electronic dance as its core. Overall production of the project was kept in-house between Rock and long-time friend Ben Crespo.
What it Sounds Like
The EP opens up with "Intro to War," an introduction from spoken word artist, Egypt Speaks. The Cleveland, Ohio native has toured the world sharing her stories through the art of poetry. The essence of the track resonates that beyond war, beauty lies.
Jimmy Rock is an orchestrator of sound. His art form rests in the emotional draw of music. How particular sounds tug at the heart and soul. How an elevated tempo forces the body to move vigorously. Poised as a deejay first, then an artist second, Rock pursues a responsibility to control crowd response.
Tracks such as “War,” “Don’t Sleep on Me,” and “You Feel It” are within the wheelhouse of Rock. Such tracks were created to provide an immediate impact on a crowd of listeners. Some may see these as ideal tracks for a workout playlist or theme music at a sporting event. If so? Mission accomplished in the sight of Rock. Otherwise, future crowds will be wiping sweat off their foreheads while enjoying genuine dance music begging movement to occur from the front row to the rafters.
The remaining two tracks, “Catch These Hands,” featuring artist Pettidee, and “Won’t Stop,” featuring artist Steven Malcolm and FERN, of Social Club Misfits, invite guest features to the party Rock facilitates through his musical craft. They extend his reach between the EDM and CHH fanbases united in sound and rhyme.
The artist and the included features embrace a unique role on a project like this. The roles reverse as the features are the ones providing the content overall above the production merit Rock provides. To gauge spiritual content, we look to Pettidee, Steven Malcolm, FERN, and Egypt Speaks.
Listeners should particularly pay attention to the verbal talents of Egypt Speaks from the introduction. The value contained within her contribution speaks volumes. Steven Malcolm brings honor to God several times over on “Won’t Stop.” Malcolm speaks of what all Christians want to hear the day we meet Jesus, “Well done my good and faithful servant.”
Besides the wholesome generous helping of EDM content, Rock provides, his features do not disappoint exposing their own faith and willingness to brag on our God.
Best Song on the Record
I’ve been a “since day one” fan of both Malcolm and FERN, so “Won’t Stop” snags the accolade of my favorite track from the EP. Each featured artist spits some of their best bars in quite some time respectfully. Together with a forceful, deep baseline, the track doesn’t disappoint on any level. I do not think my minivan speakers have fully recovered to this day. The entire vibe just makes me smile and nod my head in accordance with the catchy feel.
Rock’s dominance of sound control and production excellence only disappoints by the lack of content. I crave at least two or three more doses of a similar sound after the last track ends. Then again, that’s why an old guy like me misses the focus on albums before EPs were ever normalized into the industry. Even in its shortened form, I adore each track individually for different reasons. The manor in which Rock was able to merge spoken word, EDM, and hip-hop into a short overall playtime was masterful. I’m immediately anticipating what’s next from Rock and to any artist—that equals success.
From the Altar to the Streets | Posted September-25-2020 What You Need To Know
Kevin “KB” Burgess solidified his career in Christian Hip-Hop (CHH) after signing with the infamous record label Reach Records in 2010. In college, prior to his signing, KB was the leader of a hip-hop independent group known as HGA (His Glory Alone). It was through HGA, Lecrae Moore, and the team at Reach where KB realized his true potential. Over the next eight years, the artist has released a mixtape, two EPs, three studio albums, and a handful of singles.
His devotion to faith and fellowship with Christ through the originating mantra “His Glory Alone” carried into KB’s own clothing line: Native Supply. To date, the merchandising hub has over 62,000 followers on Instagram, selling thousands of items annually.
Never apologetic about his faith as a strong ambassador for positive, God-filled hip-hop, KB returns with a vengeance on his fourth studio album, His Glory Alone.
KB recently signed with Sony Entertainment in early 2020. The label released a recent snippet about what KB's goal is for the record, "KB’s latest release is a message meant for today, but tailored to a better tomorrow. Music for hope and change earned through blood, sweat, and tears. It’s what happens when KB speaks straight from the heart without a filter. The things that KB loves the most—prayer, celebrating God, and music—come together to hopefully encourage, empower, and heal." His Glory Alone takes the best efforts of each of the last three albums and combines a collective sound like no other.
What it Sounds Like
KB has formulated an exciting bridge between worship music and the world of trap. It’s like an album from the likes of Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, or Travis Scott and being revamped and rearranged by the likes of Kirk Franklin or Tye Tribbett. The message of the Gospel and the hard-hitting 808’s of trap wired together to create something beautiful and impactful.
Worship anthems such as “10,000 Reasons” (Matt Redman), “Whom Shall I Fear (God of Angel Armies)” (Chris Tomlin), “Let It Rain” (Michael W. Smith) among others creatively flipped by KB and crafted into soundtracks for life to the streets.
KB also paid homage to his multi-cultural fanbase with two tracks featuring international heavyweights Tommy Royale, Bianca, and Musiko. “Libre” (Free) featuring Tommy Royale speaks about the freedom found in Christ and owed to all people regardless of color, race, or ethnicity. “Sí Canción" featuring Blanca and Musiko flipped a worship song from Vertical Worship with a Spanish twist. It’s unique, uplifting, and empowers the spirit regardless of your background.
“Masterpiece” is one of the album's standout tracks. It's an ode to KB’s daughter. As a father of daughters myself, this one especially hit home. The track displays KB's range of musical talent and honors the blessings God provides.
Essentially, His Glory Alone is a worship album with the streets serving as a background. The entire basis of the project is giving God his deserved Glory and thanking his son Jesus for unbound grace, mercy, and love. Over three-fourths of the tracks have classic and modern worship favorites as foundations for the included material. The few which do not are plastered in appreciation, devotion, and examples of servitude of God.
On “10K,” KB explains, “I got a God, don’t change with the seasons, uh.” On “Armies,” KB confirms, “Life ain’t been the same since death died, won it by a landslide.” Listeners will discover similar gems of faith throughout the album from KB and his all-star roster of featured guests.
I challenge the listener to not only pay attention to the spiritual content of His Glory Alone, but to pay close attention to the effects and victories KB speaks on due to his unwavering faith, dating back to his teenage years.
Best Song on the Record
Focusing on a single favorite track is no easy task. His Glory Alone doesn’t have one skippable track. However, “Let It Reign,” featuring artist Bizzle, has gathered the most repeat plays from me thus far. Several factors cultivate this track as a highlight. The driving bassline and infectious hand claps are hard to ignore. The classic worship line of lyrics from “Let It Rain” has been cemented in my memory since first listen: “Let it rain, let it rain/Open the floodgates of heaven.” That alone, driven by the handclaps, motivates you to move with the music.
Bizzle’s contribution acts as a cherry on top of sorts to an already blazing anthem. God Over Money’s frontman never disappoints in bringing the gospel forward with crisp and clear lyricism reminding us why God reigns over the lives of believers. Then, enter in KB’s lyrical contribution which has quotable lines one after another throughout. Personally, it’s one of the strongest tracks I’ve heard in CHH this year.
KB has always possessed an 'outside the box' mentality. Therefore, you cannot contain KB to one genre or one type of lyricism. His creativity overflows constantly. To combine the worship and hip-hop genre feels natural with KB’s persona and heart, wrapped around the art he provides fans consistently. Fans are treated to KB’s bag of talents. Worship. Check. International sound. Check. Innovative wordplay through raw lyricism. Check. As I previously mentioned, a skippable track doesn’t exist on His Glory Alone. It’s impossible to remove headphones and not walk away personally affected by the album's songs. KB has crafted a masterpiece.
Stream His Glory Alone on Spotify or purchase the album on iTunes.
A Roller Coaster of Emotions Exposed | Posted September-25-2020 What You Need To Know
Artist Byron Juane is from small-town Gastonia in North Carolina. He comes from a small town. But, he possesses the talents of a big city superpower. Similar to artist Aaron Cole, Byron has focused on his God-empowered musical talents since preschool. He can play several instruments from piano to trumpet. He remains immersed in a wide variety of soulful sounds from jazz to rhythm & blues to hip-hop. His debut in the Christian Hip-Hop (CHH) and Urban Soul scene dates back to 2015, under the moniker K¥NG.
Byron can effectively articulate his art through lyricism and harmonies. Lately, he's poured his efforts into an emotional outcry attached to his own version of Rhythm & Blues (R&B). His Hopeful Soul EP, released in 2019, is one final product that fits his recent musical vision. Now, he takes you through an emotional journey on his new release, Promise I’m Not Crazy. On the project, Byron unpacks heartbreak, pain, recovery, love, and happiness.
What It Sounds Like
A transparent roller coaster of emotion seems to capture the essence of Byron's new EP. Those of us who have fallen in love and developed an in-depth, complicated attachment to a person of interest will directly relate to the EP's songs. Listeners will discover a raw, exposed, and vulnerable version of Byron unseen to date.
“Nice Guy,” the EP's only single, is a theme song for men stuck in the 'friend zone.' The song is also relatable for people who are in a one-sided relationship. The combination of acoustic guitar, bass line, and crazy hi-hats gives the track a crisp, fresh sound.
The bonus track “Gorgeous” is an EP highlight (the song was an instant download for people who pre-ordered the EP). The song is a call of appreciation for the physical and emotional attributes of your female partner or spouse. It’s perfect to play around Valentine’s Day, an anniversary, or anytime to reflect how much you love and appreciation that special someone.
Another highlight is found in “Crazy.” Byron speaks on how love may be seen as crazy, especially showing constant expressions of love. Love invokes a certain level of insanity. What we will do or say for a loved one baffles some, intrigues others.
Listeners are treated to a true R&B experience. Echoes of acoustic guitar and keys, harmonic runs, thick bass lines, and enough emotional output to make someone grab a tissue or two.
Anytime I try to pinpoint godly values on an R&B record, the word that comes to mind is integrity. How does the art stack up against who the artist is, was, or strives to become? Most refer to such a genre as grown folk music. As with daily life, people look to Christians to see how they handle challenges, differently than an unbeliever would. I think such applies to this form of musical expression, too.
I grew up as a male in the 1990s where R&B was at an elite level. Now, as a believer, I struggle to find solid R&B from a Christian's point of view. Then, enter Byron Juane. A Christian male shares his personal struggles in finding love and expressing it with a companion. Music like this is needed, as it’s rare in the Christian space.
Best Song On The Record
The intimate track “Crashing,” featuring artist itstaylormade, is my favorite song from the EP. It represents the soundtrack for heartbreak. Byron speaks of an emotional high when the relationship is good, but focuses on when the good fades to bad far too quickly. The featured artist chimes in with how heartbreak feels like a crashing wave or slamming the brakes of a vehicle.
Thinking back to relationships pre-marriage, I relate far too easily to the words spoken. I feel many will share in the relation and connect easily to this track. The production, especially the mix, shines brightly throughout as an array of sound links seamlessly together sharing the background to strong, powering vocals.
Byron's inner exposure through emotion and environmental chaos on Promise I’m Not Crazy is a welcomed spotlight we can all relate to at one point or another in our lifetime. He provides a sense of comfort realizing we’re not alone in our own feelings of being lost, heartbroken, and borderline shattered. Love is a powerful emotion. It can either empower us or destroy depending on the perspective of a given scenario.
As I mentioned earlier, we need more of this in our faith-based space. Since we’re called to be different in every given situation, how Christians handle love and heartbreak is a lonely grey area for most. I thoroughly enjoyed the overall production and sound selection as it fits well with Juane’s emotional outpour allowing his vocals to shine and not feel submerged or drowned out. I hope artists use such an EP as a guide or blueprint to expand on relational love and how believers interact with all relatable situations and emotions.
Iconic Moments Define History | Posted August-05-2020 What You Need To Know
Hip-hop artist Legin hails from Norfolk, Virginia. He travels globally spreading the gospel message through the spoken word and hip-hop art forms. He remains steadily active in his community locally and nationally with several organizations and movements, such as Expect Renaissance, Inc., Safe House Project, Inc., and Kerus Global, to restore communities in the name of our Lord.
Legin has self-released one album and three EPs since 2014. He’s also teamed up with Renaissance Music Movement (RMM) for two compilation releases, as well. His third and current EP release, In This Moment, is a four-track collection collaborated with the talented Grammy award-winning producer Laquan Green. The basis of Legin's project was to share his current mind frame on the cultural unease of modern-day society related to protests, pandemic, and outright craziness.
What It Sounds Like
In This Moment may be short-lived, but the message behind each track is timely and relevant. The project opens up with “Faces” speaking about a call to action and not to turn the other cheek to all of the social events occurring all around us. “Divided we stand, united we fall” echoes out of the hook from the track and speaks volumes to the current state of national affairs. The production behind the track is calm, almost eerie, in-tune with the deep content of the lyrics.
“Refuse to Pick” invites the only outside feature found in Parris Chariz. Chariz is a heavyweight on the mic and in the industry and a solid choice to contribute to the track. The vibe of the song remains calm, the tempo slowed and ideal for the concepts included. The theme rests in confidence found in God, not in any political party or government power. To be honest, this is one of my favorite tracks from Legin.
“Feel" focuses on social injustices and all the unnecessary deaths of African Americans, especially from the past eight months. The track almost has an acapella feel with soulful injections from Laquan Green throughout. It’s a peek inside of emotions and feelings of a black man's current day. Personal and transparency at its finest.
The project wraps up with “Cry.” Legin pleads to listeners to listen, to emotionally connect, to come aside men and women of color and combat injustice as a body of Christ. The repetitive sounds of a flute, once again, interject a sense of peace amongst chaos. The peace found in Jesus, the cross, and our faith as a whole.
Overall, the EP may be short in length, but the content could fill conversations for days and weeks. It’s a welcomed escape from the atypical trap sound introducing a slow tempo, woodwinds, and a mix similar to what people experience daily. Peace during chaos.
As usual, Legin fills his lyrics with worship to our God, Savior, and Spirit within. He never lacks spirituality in his content. On “Faces” he speaks on Jesus rising out of the grave and the Garden of Eden. With “Refuse to Pick,” Legin sings about the cross and the crucifixion. That’s just the tip of the references and highlights as he’s never shy to express his faith and God’s truths within his powerful lyricism. I’ll allow the listener to unbox the many other odes to worshipping God.
Being a huge fan of hip-hop superstar Parris Chariz, I have to go with “Refuse to Pick” as my favorite of the four. My own opinions align with the topic of the track to being my faith is poured onto God, not any political party or governmental system. The rhyme schemes, wordplay, and creative production all blend together, fusing into an excellent outcome. Legin sings, in detail, of God’s reign in his life, void of any personal political hold. Chariz is like the cherry-on-top perfecting the track overall. "Refuse to Pick" is a song with high replay value, as I’ve listened to it over 10 times trying to catch everything spoken.
We’ve experienced a summer of civil unrest, protests, anger, and disappointment across local, state, and federal governing bodies. As a result, weekly singles and projects have taken social injustice as a premier point of discussion. Legin’s perspective has been refreshing as he’s successfully interjected a huge helping of Jesus, hope, and the cross aside his views of social injustice and unrest nationwide. As previously mentioned, In This Moment may be short reserved to four tracks, but the content is thought-provoking, relevant to current events, and smothered in faith. The production is unique and diverse and Laquan Green adds soulful genius throughout. In This Moment was well executed. Bravo, Legin. Bravo.
The P Is for Phenomenal | Posted July-17-2020 What You Need To Know
Parris Chariz, a Detroit native, aims to bridge the gap between Christian Hip-Hop (CHH) and mainstream rap through his own skillset and lyrical messages. Since 2015, Parris has released seven projects and many singles; an impressive discography of Friday night vibes and anthems.
He entered CHH in 2015 with his debut album, Appreciation, which gained favor with many hip-hop heads and popular CHH artists. Parris' next project, In Your Weakness, kicked his influence into full effect, certifying him as one of the elite artists in hip-hop. His consistent features with artists like WHATUPRG, Ty Brasel, and Jarry Manna have led to a successful, yet underappreciated career in the genre. With Parris' latest release, 2045, the artist's constant grind is about to receive overwhelming support and recognition being his best work to date in the five-year span.
What Does It Sound Like
Parris says that 2045 is built around self-reflection and overcoming–specifically fear, lust, and comparison. This project represents the most transparent version of him to date. For this project, he tagged Medisin, one of the most underrated, yet talented producers in the CHH space, to handle a substantial amount of the album's material. Keen listeners can hear his distinct influences and the use of seldomly-used sounds, such as strings, electronic components, and guitars. Some examples of the creative production used are found on “Hate Me or Love Me,” “Starlit” (feat. Ty Brasel and FOGGIERAW), and “Danger.”
Content-wise, 2045 seldom misses the mark. The rhyme schemes, wordplay, lyricism, and emotion poured throughout equates to his best work to date. “Can’t Hold Back Freestyle” showcases Parris' artillery-like delivery of bars. Switching talent spheres, Parris runs his rhythm & blues (R&B) skillset on “Secrets” and “Geeked Up.” Overall, the sound is diverse, transparent, talent-dripped, and smothered with replay value.
On par with every release from Parris, 2045 doesn’t shy away from godly and spiritual references. “Hunger Games” quotes that Jesus was in the room when I was born. “Hate Me or Love Me” encourages listeners with this one-liner: Mama taught me you just throw up a prayer. Parris may not utter the name of Jesus 10 times on every track. But, his talents as an emcee are built like a bridge between Christians and non-believers.
His skill behind a mic gains him access to people groups most don’t have access to otherwise. If you follow Parris on social media, you'll see his personality screams the love of Jesus. Like Lecrae of Reach Records, we need intercessors to bridge the gap between the two worlds making it possible for Jesus to work.
Best Song on the Record
Narrowing down quality projects to one favorite is never an easy task for me. 2045 has several favorites that resonate within me for various reasons. However, if I had to close my eyes and select a favorite, I’d go with “Hate Me or Love Me.” The track's production is brilliant. It’s definitely not your atypical trap beat and soundscape. It also has an aggressive acoustic guitar, soothing sounds of a flute–or oboe?–booming 808s. These combine for one of the all-time favorite production molds for a track. Over to the content, it’s classic Parris. Quick flow and delivery. Rich vocals and imprint. Everything came together beautifully as a highlight of the project. I’ve already listened to this song over a dozen times (if that means anything to the common listener). Great track.
2045 is a creative collection, given by everything that Parris has to offer. Not just for the listener, but for the genre and art of music. Sonically, the project differs from most of its counterparts. Unique music from start to finish. The album has three bonus tracks, including 2019’s “Angels.”
The artistry blend of harmonies and lyricism, when done right, will always command a standing ovation. Parris possesses the tools to challenge any other artist within the genre (the talented artist has been one of my top ten artists since 2015).
Digest track to track with hunger. Ingest the music with eagerness. Catch the wave of “Surfboard P” and ride through a collection of some of the best hip-hop music in existence–whether speaking of the mainstream or Christian spaces.
The One With Artistic Tracks | Posted June-08-2020 What You Need To Know
Martin Lorenzo Santiago goes by the stage moniker “Marty” or “Marty Mar.” He's a member of the hip-hop duo Social Club Misfits. He began his career in Christian Hip-Hop (CHH) in 2011, dropping two solo mixtapes, Please Don’t Make Me Look Bad and When Darkness Falls. Afterward, Marty hooked up with his close friend, Fernando Miranda (FERN), forming the duo Social Club Misfits--a group, I might add, who is still going strong nearly a decade later. In-between releasing a dozen projects as the dynamic duo, Marty took a pit stop in 2015 to release his first solo EP, Marty For President. Fast forward five years later, and the singer is ready to drop a sequel, Marty For President 2. Summarizing his recent statements, Marty meant for the two EPs to mend as one complete album.
What it Sounds Like
The soundscape is quite eclectic on Marty's new EP. He leaned on mainstream artists, such as Mac Miller, Kid Cudi, Tyler the Creator, and Joji, for impact and inspiration. Marty experiments with confidence using sounds from various genres, extending his dominance of the mic. Listeners will hear that classic Marty vibe, a harmonizing, mellow version, comedic bars, and a pop-driven, perky vibe extending Marty’s talents. Oh, and he’s a fantastic whistler, too.
“The One with the Presidential Freestyle” showcases Marty’s lyricism. “The One with the Emo TRL Sound,” featuring singer Hollyn, presents a unique sound from Marty, yet sounds like something he’s previously perfected. “The Last One,” featuring WANDE, is a great summer anthem. I call it "relaxing happy music."
Marty knows a thing or two about production. And, for this EP, he teamed up with production superheroes Derek Minor, JuiceBangers, Ray Rock, Tee Wyla, and others to solidify the EP's amazing sound.
We could stand on the fact that Jesus is a part of the cover art, so there’s that. In all seriousness, Marty never eludes from being bold in his faith on and off the mic. Throughout the opening track, “The One About The Misfit Pt. 2,” Marty weighs his faith experiences with how God has blessed him, as well as singing about a few trials from life as a Christian and Christian stereotype.
On “The One Where I talk to God,” featuring hip-hop superstar Andy Mineo and indie pop band Tree Giants, Marty speaks with transparency as he praises God for what He does--even when believers are not always 100 percent faithful in return.
As with any Social Club Misfits project, faith is at the forefront. No worries with this solo effort from Marty either, as listeners get a decent dose of his faith and devotion to God.
Best Song on the Record
After a small inner debate, I settled on “The One with the Presidential Freestyle,” as my EP song favorite. It’s raw, unrestricted Marty just spitting bar for bar in freestyle mode. That, and the classic comedian within shines as Marty interjects humor within the lyricism. The word play is phenomenal, as multiple listens are required to catch all the rhyming mastery.
Marty For President 2 feels complete as a separate project or when combined with the 2015 original release as intended by Marty as a collective album. No two tracks sound alike. The versatility doesn’t feel awkward, as each record fits seamlessly like a puzzle piece. Marty remains in a comfort zone with his flow, voice, and everything in-between. If Marty was on the 2020 Presidential ballot in November, he’d secure my vote without a second thought.
The Joy Found During Difficult Seasons | Posted May-01-2020 What You Need To Know:
Ty Brasel was born in Memphis, TN, where he grew up at the intersection of East Memphis and Olive Branch, Mississipi. This area, referred to by locals as “Memphissippi,” is where Ty first recognized his passion for music.
A press release from his music label, Curb/Word Entertainment, gave a great description of not only Ty's new album, The Divine Storm, but Ty as well: "Ty's style, as showcased on 2017’s Young Tand 2018’s Destined For Greatness, draws inspiration from the southern style of rap he was raised with, as well as influences like Kendrick Lamar, Curren$y, and Post Malone. Ty’s eclectic style and songs are often aimed at people in the down cycles of life. The theme of overcoming life struggles and personal demons is ever-present. The notion that while there may be storms within, peace and hope are attainable."
Brasel released three singles before dropping The Divine Storm in early May 2020. “The Power,” featuring KB, has gathered over 850,000 streams since its release in January. And, “Highlight,” featuring WHATUPRG and 1K Phew, has collected more than 350,000 streams since its release in March. "Night Dreaming," released in 2019, is considered a birthday gift to his fans.
In March, Brasel released a statement about the creation of The Divine Storm stating, “The road to creating, clearing, and releasing my album has been unimaginably challenging. Although this music was written in the spring/summer of 2019, I believe the message is more timely and relevant than ever. Looking back, I see God’s hand every step of the way.” Given the circumstances around COVID-19 between March through present day, the correlation between the album’s tracks and reality is rooted together. Brasel provides life music during a time of need where music is a form of healing.
What It Sounds Like:
A brilliant escape from the smothered trap sound, which has saturated Christian Hip-Hop (CHH) for the last few years. You discover sounds absent from most CHH tracks: piano, trumpets, flutes, and bells. The album is a collection of organic instruments closer to a live set. The overall balance of The Divine Storm shifts to melodic beauty from Brasel himself and accompanying background vocals of silent features. Translated, listeners are exposed to a heavier helping of Brasel's voice. Unlike most, he doesn’t require heavy autotuned influences to belt out harmonies. Brasel’s voice has a natural, mellow, "Friday night cruise" sound pleasant to the ear.
Standout tracks include “Whirlwind,” “Airborne,” and the melodic “Paid For It,” featuring Jay-Way and Brianna Catrice. Each song has a vibe of its own. “Paid For It” dips into more of a soulful worship track focused on how Jesus paid for our debts in sin, enabling us to navigate life with purpose. “Whirlwind” shows us Brasel’s strong bars and wordplay throughout speaking of the storms of life defeated by the power of Jesus. “Airborne” weighed in as a favorite of mine. The track possesses simple production allowing listeners to focus on the content.
Like Brasel’s 116 brethren (a supergroup comprised of rap superstars Lacrae, KB, and more), he’s unashamed of presenting the gospel in his content. He gives references to faith, God, and His Son Jesus throughout the album. On “I’m Grateful,” featuring J. Monty, Brasel speaks, “Look to the right, Look to the left, see God’s hand at every step.” Ty's project displays God’s existence in life’s everchanging storms, and how adversity is met with strength gained from God’s love and the Bible.
Best Song on the Record:
My favorite song from this album, by far, is “I’m Grateful.” I love the calm, soothing sonic feel of the track. Brasel shines bright lyrically as the feature from J. Monty compliments the record with precision. A simplistic hook is present with a soulful harmony in the background. You'll need to play the song a few times to snag the intricate wordplay. It’s a homage of celebration and gratitude similar to the end of a storm when the sun reappears, igniting its scenery.
The Divine Storm has a feel of a concept album. Each track points back to a storm-like reference or is nature-driven. He raps about how God’s love and the hope found in Christ rescues us from storm-like scenarios in life. I thoroughly enjoyed the contrast of harmonies and singing from Brasel, mixed with his strong wordplay and flow. The contrast felt natural, not forced. Brasel’s formula to stray from a feature-drenched album continues to work in his favor. Each track has its own sonic value and varies enough to add replay value. A strong complement of Brasel is his effortless flow. In the end, The Divine Storm differs enough from 2018’s Destined For Greatness to provide its own unique arsenal of sound but sticks to a familiar formula from Brasel of precision and excellence.
Celebrating Diversity in Music Artistry | Posted April-24-2020 What You Need To Know
WANDE, born Yewande Isola, is a promising rapper native from Nigeria and Austin, Texas (she currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia). She started as an independent hip-hop artist who eventually became an A&R (artists and repertoire) administrator at Reach Records (She signed with the label as an artist in 2019). WANDE is the label’s first female artist in its 16-year history.
Over the last four years, WANDE’s devotion to fine-tuning her craft as an emcee, singer, and overall creative has shifted her career into fast forward from being just another rapper to one of Christian hip-hop's (CHH) most elite artists. Besides an impressive two-year cycle of infectious singles, such as “I Gotta Live,” “Fuego,” “Blessed Up,” and “BAND$,” WANDE’s only other release was the 2019 two-song EP, No Limits. Exit signifies her debut album as an artist.
WANDE has worked with some of the genre's top artists, such as Datin, V. Rose, and Joey Vantes. As with many artists from Reach Records, her singles, “Be the Light” (feat. Evan and Eris Ford) and “Happy," from Exit have been featured on the nationally-televised program ESPN. Some of WANDE's previous singles have been featured on Black Entertainment Television (BET) and VH-1.
What It Sounds Like
An array of one-word expressions come to mind after a thorough listen of Exit: elegance, devotion, beauty, refinement, and reverence. WANDE’s collective array of creative forms bind together effortlessly celebrating her skillset as a vocalist and emcee. She possesses an arsenal of outlets sonically clicking together like a puzzle. Her alter ego, Blande, shines on "Iconic" and “Been Up” (featuring WHATUPRG and nobigdyl). WANDE defines this flipside version of herself as one who brings the pure hip-hop vibe.
Her vocals shine through on several tracks, including “Nice Things” (featuring Taylor Hill), “More of Me” and “Be the Light.” These tracks support the transparency found within WANDE who provides a window into her heart and mindscape behind faith and life’s obstacles. Tracks like “Happy” and “A Million Ways” (featuring Stevie Rizo) showcase WANDE’s capacity as an artist. What makes her sound quite unique is the diversity shining through.
Several producers collaborated on the album, thus bringing this project’s sound to the forefront of the industry. Ace Harris, Carvello, Taylor Hill, and others orchestrated a sound palette pleasing to ears not affixed to the standard trap music heard across the genre. People are challenged to closely listen for surprises of sound pleasant to the ear and heart.
Exit bleeds spirituality from start to finish. WANDE repeatedly speaks of the theme behind the project; every exit is an entrance. Not an end to any given path of life, but a direction to a new beginning. The light of Christ, the love of God, and how faith wraps purpose around life is an album highlight.WANDE truly is unashamed of the word of God and explicitly exclaims what relationship with Jesus represents in her daily journey.
Lyrics from “Be the Light” summarize the entire vibe of WANDE’s faith. “Born sinner, I don't mask it/Savior hopped up out the casket/So I spit His life in my lyrics, it's written/Oh no, you never gotta ask it/In the depths of the dark, gotta let it shine the most/Only in you is my boast/Died for me, oh, my Savior did the most.” This is just one of a multitude of examples throughout the project where WANDE’s faith is highlighted lyrically. She stands out as a role model, not only for females but for all Christians alike. Live loud for our faith.
Best Song On The Record
I’m personally a fan of the entire record. A skippable track doesn’t exist. I enjoy each song for a different reason. This is quite the feat for a debut album. Narrowing down to a favorite, I’d select “Wakanda.” It defines WANDE's varied artistic characteristics as a whole: the origins sound of her Nigerian roots and her talents as a seasoned lyricist. My only complaint would be the length of the track as I could easily hear WANDE spit for five to six minutes on this one.
Exit represents a journey into not only faith, but vivid personalities that define WANDE. Her extended skillset as an artist, vocalist, and individual is spotlighted regardless of the track. Her energy spills over from the artistry into her personality with infectious undertones. It’s nearly impossible to not smile after any interaction with WANDE. The same is felt after listening to the album. All 10 tracks are impressive. The buffet of sounds and the diversity; all of it collected transforms into beauty through and through. WANDE’s journey has just begun and what’s to come is exhilarating to anticipate.
Confidence Transformed into Excellence | Posted April-10-2020 What You Need To Know
GAWVI, born Gabriel Alberto Azucena, has been connected to Reach Records since 2008. He signed on as a producer; His most notable work with the label is Trip Lee’s Rise and Lecrae’s Anomaly. Then, in early 2016, he extended his presence at Reach Records as an artist to handcraft beautiful projects of his own. To date, he has released three EPs; Heathen will mark his third full-length album ahead of Panorama and We Belong.
The progression throughout his full-length projects leading up to Heathen’s release has been personal and transparent. Each track on each album standout. GAWVI keeps featuring artists to a minimum. Who he chooses are either close friends or iconic figures who have greatly impacted his life. Handling both sides of the art through production and artistry highlights his immense talent.
GAWVI has received a number of accolades since joining Reach Records. He's won six Dove Awards, including Hip-Hop song of the Year for his single, "Fight For Me" feat. Lecrae, and Hip-Hop Album of the Year for his production work on Lecrae's Anomaly. Moreover, GAWVI's music has achieved success on the charts: his Lost In HueEP peaked at number two on Billboard's Electronic/Dance chart and his single "In the Water" hit the top spot on the Christian CHR Songs chart. Also, Andy Mineo’s single, "You Can't Stop Me," which GAWVI produced, received an RIAA Certified Gold certification. GAWVI strives to push limits regardless of the numerous often-faced obstacles.
For Heathen, GAWVI enlisted a few friends to join his story in album form. Five tracks contain featured artists ranging from music legend Israel Houghton, label mate Trip Lee, long-time friends Aklesso and Tommy Royale, among others. If you listen closely, you’ll hear a few other recognizable voices on track adlibs and supporting vocals.
Standout tracks include “Vanity,” “I’m Fine,” “Jesus You Are,” the lead single “Not Too Far,” and “Who You Gon’ Be” featuring Israel Houghton, and Trip Lee.
For our current exposure to a global pandemic, “Not Too Far” was quite timely as GAWVI reminds us that we’re never too far away from God and His love. Regardless of our struggles and our faith, He’s always present. The whole feel of “Vanity” just puts you in a good mood while simultaneously juggling some heavy topics, such as divorce and idolizing money. “Jesus You Are” blends worship and hip-hop, two of my favorite genres. Also, GAWVI puts his spin on a worship track over beautiful piano chords with "Jesus You Are." I’ll get to my infatuation with “Who You Gon’ Be” shortly.
Sonically, the entire album is pleasing to the soul and mind. A barrage of sounds exists, escaping the typical electronic dance music (EDM) model. Listeners' ears will be perked by the guitars, piano, and choir. The music makes it nearly impossible to keep the body from moving.
The content on Heathen speaks to GAWVI’s secure and longstanding faith in God. Between the worship feel of “Not Too Far” and “Jesus You Are” to the transparency shown on “Sin” and “I’m Fine,” listeners don't have to wait long to be exposed to God’s presence in GAWVI’s life. Even though some tracks hit the topic of faith harder than others, the entire album centers around God’s mark on GAWVI. Heathen is based around being different. Standing out in confidence. Affirming self in Christ. Once you listen to the album, you'll feel encouraged to strive for excellence.
Best Song on the Record
“Who You Gon’ Be” is the album's standout track. This isn’t solely due to the fact that a legend is featured. Honestly, Israel Houghton’s contribution to the song is small in comparison, yet profound. Houghton’s addition to the track was due to GAWVI’s appreciation for the icon. Trip Lee was the other featured artist on the song. What's great is that GAWVI, Trip, and Isreal mesh well together. I believe fans are going to love this track just as much as I do. I keep on repeat most days.
Any project over 12 tracks is unheard of anymore, especially one with 17 tracks. At first listen, you may think a state of repetitive sounds may follow such a tracklist. However, the opposite applies. Listeners will feel more of a sense of completion. Although a few tracks have similar components, the content renews between tracks. A buffet of sounds appeases the ears. Finding his true sound along with strengthened confidence, the end product is one most listeners will enjoy. Heathen is one of GAWVI's best full-length projects. The albumsets itself apart from the mundane, recycled sound too many artists tap into. Well done.
Dyl. Puts Industry on Notice | Posted December-01-2019 What You Need To Know:
Dylan “nobigdyl.” Phillips has only contributed to the Christian Hip-Hop (CHH) space for the past five years; however, his sound, confidence and influence resembles more of a seasoned veteran. From his early beginnings as an intern at Reflection Music Group (RMG) and serving as Derek Minor’s road manager, Dyl. has created six strong projects with November’s release of LOWERCASE TAPE. as his latest. The mixtape already eclipsed a million streams on Spotify in less than two weeks since its release on November 8.
Phillips headlined his first tour in 2018 (The Solar Powered Tour) and currently wrapped a tour with label mate Canon and 4 Against 5’s Steven Malcolm.
Dyl. set out to provide the true mixtape experience all around. On the day before its release, LOWERCASE TAPE. was leaked on one of mainstream’s most popular website’s, datpiff.com, as a free download. To date, the project has nearly been downloaded 700 times and has garnered almost 6,900 streams.
What it Sounds Like:
The mixtape kicks it off with DJ Mykael V speaking highly on behalf of nobigdyl. and his influence on the culture. The hype throughout never stops.
Standout tracks include the opener “Catch Up,” “Fieldhouse Freestyle,” “Discrete,” and “Two Week Notice.”
“Catch Up” spotlights Phillips brilliant wordplay, metaphors, and his signature flow bar after bar. It’s a wonderful opener showcasing he’s not playing any games this time around. Dyl.’s here to display his talents and rightful place as an elite emcee.
“Fieldhouse Freestyle” featuring 1K Phew competed as one of my favorite tracks. The popping drums, the whistle, and infectious high hats coupled with some of Dyl.’s strongest flows to date combined for a street anthem.
“Discrete” featuring Ty Brasel hits you with a level of smoothness geared for those after work on a Friday night vibes. Brasel and Phillips trade-off bars like an alley-oop into a monster dunk. Each quite seamless without any flaws sonically.
“Two Week Notice” featuring Aaron Cole is a statement track. A beautiful mixture of harmonies, an acoustic guitar and 808 drums craft into a recipe for a standing ovation. Dyl. throughout the project, but prevalent on this track, voices his departure from a former label (Capitol Music Group) returning to a familiar ground of independence. The same independence he birthed through indie tribe. And helped fuel his recognition in hip-hop overall.
Dyl. delivers excellence in the form of a mixtape. Sonically, everything is clean, crisp and stitched together effortlessly. Lyrically, listeners are left with material to digest for months to come.
Phillips has never been muted about his faith and the influence Jesus has imprinted on his art in music. “I put God in my verse,” is heard in “Two Week Notice.” On “Daydreams,” he states “that’s why I wear this cross like a bowtie.” Phillips has always given God his glory for the stage he’s been given and the blessings which have followed.
Best Song on the Record:
“Write My Wrongs” featuring Tim Gent snags the title of my favorite track from the mixtape. The honesty expressed and the relation to some of his own past struggles hits a personal space within. It’s this level of honesty and transparency which has always drawn me to Dyl.’s art.
LOWERCASE TAPE. is a buffet of refreshing sounds, an all-star roster of features, and smothered with some of nobigdyl.’s best art to date. Dyl. is expressive, candid, raw, and refined throughout the mixtape. His personal excitement to be free from label restraints and free to create art at will are blatant. Listeners get a snapshot of a focused, driven artist ready to inspire and encourage either from personal reflection or future declaration. Some say the best is saved for last and this example is no different. It may be November, but Dyl. has heads turned to reconsider their inclusions of Albums of the Year.