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.
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.