Ard Goes Hard | Posted July-13-2018 What You Need To Know:
When you think of places that your favorite rappers come from, the cities that immediately come to mind are New York, Houston, Philadelphia, and Atlanta. Rookie CHH artist, Cory Ard, may have been born in Washington DC, but was raised and still lives in Colorado Springs--not exactly hip-hop central.
What It Sounds Like:
Cory has a classic hip-hop sound. The Blackout starts with the worshipful piano vibe "Be Him" but then the sound switches to something more familiar with "Levels" and "Good Fight." Sonically, the album has several flavors of hip-hop, from boom rap to trap and everything in between. There's even the spoken word piece, "12:11," in which Ard gives his full testimony.
"Be Him" encourages us to be like Jesus and not necessarily just good church folk. "No Pain No Gain" gives us several scriptural references. Even though the album is not lyrical theology, it is still very much a Christian Hip Hop album and the gospel message is clearly presented.
Best Song On The Record:
The track that had the most impact for me was "12:11," but since it is a spoken word piece and not necessarily a song, the title on the album would go to "Good Fight." The track hits hard and Cory's talent as a rapper really shines as he stays right in step with the feature by Steven Malcolm.
Acoustic Reflection | Posted June-28-2018 What You Need to Know:
Folk worship artist Brian Campbell brings the church 14 new songs of worship and reflection on his latest offering, Born Again. The album is reminiscent of an early 2000's Vineyard Worship album. This is not a bad thing. There is truth and purity in the simplicity of Campbell's voice paired with rich, loving lyrics. The heart of the artist is on full display as he worships the first artist, the Creator of the Universe.
What it Sounds Like:
Born Again is a meditative worship album. It's not something that would be paired with a large stage show, but rather a simple get together of followers of Christ for an intimate night of worship. Campbell's voice is clearly matched with the prominently featured acoustic guitar. The lyrics are not overtaken by heavy electronic bass lines or other instrumentation. The use of strings is also prevalent throughout the album along with padded keys.
As a worship album, it does just as it is intended. There is not a big show here. It is something that can accompany a morning devotional with a nice cup of coffee. And as you sit down to your morning devotional, press play on "Speak." This song is a perfect prayer to sing just before diving into the word.
Best Song on the Record:
As soon as you press play on the album, Campbell's voice welcomes us with "Awake, awake, awake, awake my soul, take your place, my heart your home." In our Sunday services, we have become used to the cliched use of a fast, praise song to open up the set. With "My Heart Your Home," Campbell get's the start of the album right. Welcome God, prepare yourself for a meeting with the Holy Spirit and receive what God may have for you as we pour out you have to him.
Simple and effective worship are often overlooked for a bigger show; do not overlook Brian Campbell's Born Again. This reflective worship album will ensure that you don't miss the most important thing--the biggest show there is. God's power!
5ive continues his grind with his latest offeringMe Against The World, Vol. 2. This new album from the veteran artist furthers the gospel message to the lost world around us all while encouraging Christians to be strengthened in their faith.
What it Sounds Like
Me Against The World, Vol. 2 is an old school hip-hop album. No trap here. Just smooth east coast rap reminiscent of a simpler time. The project also includes smooth R&B vibes in "#MatW2 (feat. Victorious & Jordan Lucio)" and a nice gospel choir in "#StillWorship (feat. GHC Choir)."
Each song is filled with a focus on God's power to help us overcome whatever we may be facing. In "#DestinedForMuch (feat. Illuminate, Jordan Lucio & Omar)" the verses focus on the greatness in each of us thanks to the saving grace of Christ. On "#DontMissYou (feat. Dru Bex & Korbvn)" the lyrics speak to how the power of Christ helps us overcome sin in our lives. The thing we don't miss in this glorified life is sin.
Best Song on the Record
There is something about a feature from J. Carter that just makes me groove a little more. On "#iNeedYouMore (feat. J. Carter)," 5ive's bars mixed with J. Carter's lyrics, all combined with an honest prayer asking for more of God, gives the listener a hip-hop song that can easily become a worship song
Jackie Hill Perry is not your average CHH artist. First of all, she is a she in middle of the misogynistic rap game. The secular world is offering us Cardi B who, although making moves of her own, continues to personify women (at least outwardly) as something to look at rather than to be heard. Secondly, the Christian church can too often come across as a misogynistic culture in general where women are still fighting to be seen as equals. The mold-breaking Jackie Hill Perry is returning with her sophomore album Crescendo almost four years after her initial release, The Art of Joy. This new project re-acquaints us with a familiar voice as her first album was an instant classic, raising the game for all emcees.
What it Sounds Like:
Crescendo is a hard-hitting hip hop album. It harkens back to a day where lyricism was put above "getting turnt." Crescendo is not youth group rap or merely a collection of random songs that needed to be rushed in order to meet a contract deadline. The album tells a story, starting with a person in despair in "Lamentations" and moving along their journey of faith, which ends in a "Crescendo" of praise.
If you are familiar with Jackie's body of work, including her poetry and other feature verses, then you will immediately know that what is being presented is something that has depth and meaning. A clear example of her lyricism is on display on her collaboration with Ambassador, DA Truth, Shai Linne and Humble Beast labelmate Braille, titled "Hymn." Here she raps: "You can't afford the price for life, like you little rich with the keys / Between them black bars, lying flat, that's a major key. / He's the best, you can bet ain't no change in Him. / Penny pinching freedom / it ain't Lincoln that slaves needed, the grave beat it / and moonwalked when he raised. / Even the stars know his fame stays daily, it's reign season, His name's Jesus."
Best Song on the Record:
If albums were to have bonus levels that only get unlocked after listening to the whole album, then "Crescendo" is that track. I cannot remember the last time that a rapper spit such a strong verse. When Jackie got to the final 16 bars of "Crescendo," I found myself awestruck at each and every component: the beat, the flow, the lyrics, her breath control and her ability to just get locked in the pocket and go until the beat stopped.
When you ask most people at church about Australian Worship Music, their first reaction will be Hillsong, or maybe the brothers Smallbone of for KING & COUNTRY. However, if you want all of the depth of worship of Hillsong but with the stage presence of fK&C, you have to look no further than Planetshakers. This latest release, Heaven on Earth - Part One (Live In Asia), delivers on both the fronts of powerful worship and high energy praise. Probably best known for "The Anthem," which released in 2008, Planetshakers delivers a succinct little package with this 4 song EP.
What it Sounds Like:
Heaven on Earth is classic Planetshakers. The EP contains 2 high energy worship tracks which will have you dancing, and 2 worshipful tracks which will leave you on your knees before a mighty God. The theme is consistent throughout the 4 songs, which makes it an excellent worship set for a home group or even a time of personal worship. At 24 minutes in length, it is easily digestible on a morning commute or, with the high energy tracks, a fast 5k run.
The constant theme throughout is the faithfulness of God and His promise to never leave us or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6). High praise is reserved for "The Greatest." This song is pure praise and worship and all about lifting up the name of Jesus. The comfort of God is the core theme of "Not Alone."
Best Song on the Record:
"The Greatest" is just a great song to jam out to. Turn it up loud, gather the entire family together and have a worship dance party. Even have a contest to see who shouts "you're the greatest!" the loudest.
Stronger Than Ever | Posted April-03-2018 What You Need to Know:
Florida based artist Roy Tosh is back after almost three years with Above The Water. Tosh continues in his melodic hip hop ways with a ten track album released on the Reflection Music Group (Derek Minor, Deraj, Tony Tillman) imprint RMG Amplify. Tosh's execution on the record shows a new level of maturity for the artist and a definite growth and willingness to color outside any preconceived lines.
What it Sounds Like:.
Above The Water brings together a blend of melodic urban vibes and south Florida hip-hop. There is a depth to the layers of production throughout the album. The beat is always out in front, but when you lock yourself in to listen, the subtleties on the tracks "Never 2 Late," 'What A Year" and "Day 1" shine through and brings a new appreciation for the artistry on the album.
Although the album is not an exercise in lyrical theology, it does not fall short in the area of openly proclaiming the goodness and faithfulness of God. The opening track, "Never 2 Late," encourages the listener to trust God in the process and sow the talents we've been given. "Day 1" provides a biblical outlook on the relationship of husband and wife. The title track, "Above the Water," speaks openly of the daily struggle while confirming God's presence-- it is reminiscent of a modern-day Psalm, not unlike King David's many worship psalms when he was in the wilderness.
Best Song on the Record:
"Day 1 (feat. J. Paul)." Even though it has become cliché on many CHH albums for there to be a song about the artist's wife, this is a well-executed track melodically and lyrically, and J. Paul on the hook is never a bad thing.
Above The Water is Roy Tosh's strongest album to date. As he grows as an artist, he continues to build and solidify his own style and flow while paying homage to those that had the greatest influence on him.
Liberating Praise | Posted February-06-2018
With their much anticipated first full-length album, Zealand Worship has delivered with Liberated. The album they have presented is a perfect mix of anthems, heartfelt cries of worship and prayerful meditations. It has been almost two years since Zealand, led by former Newsboys bassist and vocalist Phil Joel, released their inaugural EP. That EP whet the appetites of many fans, and what Phil and the gang have delivered is worth the wait.
Studio worship albums are difficult to do well. There isn't the natural atmosphere of the venue and the people in the audience lending itself to the richness of the project. But production on Liberated did not leave me feeling empty as some studio worship albums do. The richness of the basslines, the well-placed harmonies and the use of different instrumentation and orchestration add a fullness of sound to the project.
This stage is set early with "Spirit Sing." This song is a perfect introduction to the project, welcoming the listener in to sing along. It truly exalts the Spirit of a mighty God who causes our own spirits to sing. The title track, "Liberated," is a ministry song. It is an encouraging anthem that speaks of our freedom in Christ. It is reminiscent of the Newsboys classic "We Are Free," and I can easily see it added to Sunday morning worship sets.
"Deeper Water" is a song of surrender, a song declaring that we are okay with the work that God has been doing in our lives, inviting Him to take us into something deeper and more meaningful with Him. There are times in our lives that we might complain about the pain of life or the stretching that happens. This song thanks God for those things and encourages us to fall into the loving arms of a Father.
Perhaps one of the biggest lies we fall into as humans is the need to be something we're not. To find identity in likes, views, shares, retweets, followers and friends. To have an identity judged purely based on the filter we apply to our lives. With "Beloved," the lyrics declare who we are according to the One who created us, allowing us to declare whose we are along with who we are. This is a song that many of us will turn up loud and sing out at the top of our lungs.
Each song on this project has moments that make me smile. It weaves through emotions of joy and pain and offers songs for every season of life. In the busiest of seasons, "Still" and "Sanctuary" can be the songs we sing. In times of thankfulness, there is "Land of the Living," and for times of surrender and desperation there is "End of The World."
The Bottom Line: Phil Joel and his Zealand Worship bandmates have given the Church a gift with Liberated, an album that will grow on you with each listen. Shut out the outside world and get alone with God and this album and let it speak to you.
A Soundtrack For Reflection | Posted December-19-2017
Many people say that Christmas is a feeling, a state of mind, that we can hold Christmas in our hearts year round. Although this is somewhat true, for the majority of Christians, it is one of the foundations of our faith. It is a time of peace and joy, tradition and wonder. Hillsong Worship's new album Christmas: The Peace Project evokes all of these emotions and more. This project is filled with both new takes and traditional treatments of classic carols and a few worship songs that deliver the gospel message and would be as much at home in July as they are during the Lenten season.
The album opens with new, yet respectful treatments of "Joy to the World" and "Hark." While "Joy to the World" sticks mainly to the classic rendition we all have come to know and love, "Hark" is a modern take on "Hark the Herald Angels Sing."
Along with these traditional carols, the team from Hillsong gives us a new rendition of "O Come All Ye Faithful" that builds from a simple acoustic guitar throughout into a large chorale ensemble. The drums build and draw us into the place of worship that we are so used to being in with Hillsong. Rounding out the updated carols is "Noel."
If Hillsong has become known for one thing, it is the ability to provide worship songs for the Church that are timely for the here and now. Whether it be the contemplative "Seasons," the worshipful "Prince of Heaven" or the radio friendly "When I Think Upon Christmas," the worship team at Hillsong has provided us with new music that will quickly become classics for the season.
A highlight on this album is the treatment of "O Holy Night." The song holds a special place in my heart as it was during this song 23 years ago that I first felt the presence of the Lord, that opened my heart to walk with Christ. I get offended when the song is mistreated or changed, so it was at this song that my heart rested and cemented Christmas: The Peace Project as an album I will replay again and again.
The album ends with "Peace Upon The Earth." A beautiful lullaby set to Chopin's "Nocturne op.9 No. 2." This new creation from something old is perhaps the most ambitious moment on the album. The lyrics are beautiful and endearing, however, I was longing for soaring vocals to match the composition.
The Bottom Line: Hillsong Worship has given us a very special project with Christmas: The Peace Project. It is the perfect soundtrack as you sit and reflect on the goodness of God at this time, remembering the most precious gift that we ever received: Jesus.
A New Royal | Posted November-04-2017
It's been three years since the last release from The Royal Royal. Their newest release, Rococo, is a step forward in the musical artistry of the Canadian duo.
"Rococo music" is defined as an 18th-century reaction against the baroque style. Less formal and grandiose in structure, it was a graceful rather than a profound style, more hedonistic than venturesome. I don't know about the hedonistic part, but the brothers Finochio have definitely moved on from a standard pop sound to something more ethereal, something more graceful.
We are welcomed into the album with the prelude, "I-90." It is here that the tone is set: we will be moving through the album on a journey, rather than merely through a collection of songs put together to tickle the ears of listeners. The prelude mixes seamlessly into "Water." After welcoming and preparing the listener with "I-90," this track welcomes God to the conversation. Although not a typical corporate worship song, "Water" could easily find its place as the opening song in a worship set. The pre-chorus alone could be sung on repeat to fuel a congregation with the simple refrain "Holy Spirit fill me / You are the water / Living, moving, cleansing / You are the water."
My ears sensed something familiar when "Champion" began. It took me a moment to flashback to the 80s and remember, but it was the homage to Toto's "Africa" in the instrumentation that caught me. The album takes a bit of a turn at "God Who Saves" as it moves from the earlier "high-art" feeling to something a little more standard. This is quickly recovered on "Everything," which returns us back on track to more thoughtful lyrics and the production style of the first portion of the album.
The final three tracks on the album, "King," "Perfecter" and "Love 3," focus on the character, spirit and nature of God, each containing incredibly moving sections. Even with the upbeat tempo of "Perfector," the cry of the heart can be heard.
The Bottom Line: On initial listen I was somewhat underwhelmed by the offering set before me. However, further listens proved that The Royal Royal has delivered a project worthy of such a title. In a world filled with so much noise and flourish, a musical landscape filled with so much sameness, Rococo puts the focus back on songwriting and on art.
For Fans Of: Citizens, Kings Kaleidoscope, Hillsong United
Space X Meets Jesus | Posted September-11-2017
Veteran CHH artist Derek Minor continues to release music at the speed of light. It seems like only yesterday that that the RMG artist released Reflection, perhaps due to his prolific single releasing throughout the period between albums. His latest release Your Soul Must Fly is the first in a series of four EPs that will be released in the Up and Away series over the next four months.
Your Soul Must Fly can be described succinctly as a smooth banger. The first track "Take Off" hits hard and features KB, Ty Brasel and RMG labelmate Canon. Minor introduces the flight theme early on the project in the most logical place: the runway.
"Astronaut" comes up next, featuring Deraj and the lesser known (but no less talented) Byron Juane. This track comes at you, and the beat gets you right in the gut. This is a turn up track with a smooth hook. It has a distinctive Derek Minor vibe that invites the listener to bob their head.
After more strong tracks found in "Anti-Gravity," "Jumpin" and "Level," the project closes with the introspective title track "Your Soul Must Fly." When Derek slows it down is when he is at his absolute best. His own voice shines on the chorus. If any track had the opportunity to be the radio single of the project, this would be it. Derek goes deep into social justice issues, but encourages the listener to follow Jesus and let their soul fly. What starts as a turn up album takes a turn at the end and wraps everything up in the arms of Jesus.
The Bottom Line: No one will ever question whether Derek Minor is a Christian rapper or a rapper that is Christian. He still carries the original mantra of being unashamed long after his Reach Records days, and as he prepares us for the rest of the Up and Away series, Your Soul Must Fly is a perfect launch pad.