A Milestone In Derek Minor's (fka PRo) Career
Posted September 10, 2013
Minorville may have had something working against it from the start: It's been framed as a concept album. For that to be, it would have to have an arc, either as a progressive theme or with a story. It has neither. However, that may not be Minor's fault, and it may not be a bad thing.
In a recent promotional video from Reach Records, Derek Minor talks about Minorville: "I wanted to stretch my music content wise, as far as [...] there's a lot of topics that I think become dead horses, and what I wanted to do is approach different topics from different angles. I also wanted to say things that [...] we don't think to talk about. The goal is not to make a controversial album, but just to make an album that's real and connects with every day people. [...] It's a very organic, real, authentic, honest record."
That's closer to what "Minorville" actually is: random stories and narratives taken from denizens of a fictional city. It's a bit overreaching as an overall theme, but it does work, as long as the listener doesn't expect any kind of arc or progression from song to song.
The album starts off not with a gang-banger (as most CHH albums (including those by DM's former self, PRo) do these days), but with a light, smooth, bluesy, 1970's-styled joint reminiscent of Lenny Kravitz' "It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over." While listening, I can already picture a POV video with DM walking down the street of a suburban neighborhood and talking right into the camera, because that's the vibe he immediately gives off: His rapping is so natural, his flow so elevated and subtle, that it seems to be nearly conversational.
Minorville, DM tells us, is the happiest place on earth (presumably second only to Disneyland):
"No political parties; the government's fair, right? /
It's illegal for fathers not to be in their kids' life. /
Marriages are happy, women are not objectified /
And rappers tell the truth..."
After a minute of rapping about this supposed idyllic lifestyle, Minor begins the album proper with "IGWT (feat. Thi'sl)," and, in one narrative after another, shows us what the world is truly like:
"High schools have armed guards because teenagers bear arms /
And they'll crack your head and put that video on World Star /
We look at [the] third world to turn up our nose /
Got the nerve to tell God we got it on our own"
Thi'sl brings his A-game to the track, growling out "In God we trust" as a sarcastic accusation instead of our nation's creed, following it up with a pleading "please take the government and put it in His hand."
Throughout Minorville's 54 minute running time, Minor covers topics as diverse as child pornography, drug abuse, social isolation, unwanted pregnancy, and the (presumably secular) world's obsession with money, fame, and power. Along with the album's varied themes, Minor skillfully utilizes varied rhythms; in a microcosm of the entire album, "Ready, Set, Go" starts off with an almost half-time feel, but by the time the chorus drops, Minor is spitting lyrics as fast and clean as anything label mates Andy Mineo or KB have ever done.
Musically, the Tennessean is relying less heavily on his Southern roots than in the past, while adding increased references to crunk, as well as elements of east and west coast ("Respect That" even features a middle-eastern influenced introduction). While previous albums The Blackout and (to a lesser extent) Redemption found him genre-jumping, the music here flows together in a cohesive sound that is distinctly Derek Minor's alone. The single misstep may be the inclusion of an ethereal, beautiful track called "Heaven's Little Runaway" which, while serving as an intro to the next song, feels slightly out of place here.
With the smooth flow of tracks such as "Hot Air Balloon" and "We Gone Make It (feat. Canton Jones)," and the slowly-get-under-your-skin hooks of more uptempo joints such as "Gimmie," Minorville is an album that demands repeated listens. There is nothing here that will grab and shake you into submission (such as "A Life Worth Dying For" or "Full Court Mess," both on DM's previous album Dying To Live). Rather, this is the kind of album that plays more like Memphis barbeque: cooked low and slow and tastes so much more satisfying.
The opening is so good, that I wish it had been a full track instead of merely an intro.
Minor's passion for his lyrics can be not only heard, but felt.
The album's high point, "Homecoming," mixes storytelling, music styles, and voice samples into a aural play. Listen to how Minor's voice actually changes through the song to fit the story; at times, it barely sounds like him. This isn't just a song; it's art.
"Dear Mr. Christian," "Gimmie," "Ready, Set, Go," "Respect That (feat. Deraj & Rmg)," "Sweet Dreams," "Homecoming (feat. Isaac Carree)"
"IGWT (feat. Thi'sl)" does have some musical cliches in it, and the ending detracts from the song's urgent message.
The album's first few tracks, with their "life sucks" barrage, get a bit wearying and, **at times**, the album feels like it is centered more on worldly problems than on Christly solutions.
The Bottom Line:
This will be an iconic album for Derek Minor. I'm not certain it will be his personal Rebel (the album that Reach Records' head Lecrae is known for), but it certainly puts him in the position to make such an album. While that may sound like a dig, it actually means one thing: This man continues to get better with every recording he puts out. Minorville is a place you definitely need to visit. 4.5 stars from me.
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