Life is a beautiful thing. It truly is a gift. Errrrrr ummmm that wasn't how I planned to start off this blog and I am not going to go back and delete it. I guess those have been my thoughts lately. Anyway a lot has been going on. Brace yourself because this could be a long one.
So recently I released a single. I made the beat on Monday, wrote the lyrics the next day, recorded it on Wednesday and it was out on itunes and all digitalstores by Friday. It is called "Hidden" and it was just how I was feeling at the time. Listen below and download it from iTunes or Amazon
Thankfully in London at this time we are properly in Spring and I can feel Summer very close around the corner. My increase in sneezing has fully alerted me to this fact and we have been having some very beautiful weather. Ok this blog isn't supposed to be me giving you a weather update, there is something I really want to talk about but I don't know how to start.
So Chance The Rapper has dropped his brand new mixtape (OK call it an album or whatever) "Coloring Book" and the sound is very gospel genre influenced. In fact some songs are just straight up gospel songs. I mean Kirk Franklin even shows up one of these songs that could have been on a God's Property album. Now there is still cursing/swearing all over this album so I wouldn't call this a straight up gospel rap album (in the traditional sense) but it definitely is dipped in traditional gospel sounding music. There are choirs all over it, there are soaring harmonies, you hear that organ play those chords associated with gospel music. You also hear lots of themes of faith, praise and redemption. I have fully enjoyed jamming this album. It's that feel good music I like, I have attempted to make this kind of music before. Just press play on some of my throwbacks below:
The moment I heard this project I knew there was going to be a strong reaction online especially from his fans and from fans of Christian Hip Hop (ugh I still struggle with calling it that but I understand why it is) In fact this is part of an ongoing conversation that has been going on for a while but I think at this present time it has intensified because of certain American mainstream rap music releases. (just like when Kanye West dropped "Jesus Walks" back in 2004) Kanye West announced before his last album "The Life Of Pablo" dropped that it was going to be a "gospel album" but apart from "Ultralight beam" and "Father Stretch my hands" Pt 1 & Pt 2 and "Low Lights" I can't say it fully fulfilled that vision but Chance definitely took that vision further and fleshed it out better with this release "Coloring Book". We've already had Kendrick Lamar dropping "Untitled Unmastered" which has some biblical references and themes (I mean his album "good kid, m.A.A.d city" is his salvation/redemption story from top to bottom!) So we're in a season where we will see more and more of this because you know how people are followers and hop on any wave that is poppin'
I immediately started seeing tweets saying things like "Chance the rapper is more of a Christian rapper than Lecrae" I read all kinds of tweets from Christian Hip Hop fans taking indirect shots at Lecrae (and others) all saying something to effect of "Chance The Rapper has made an album that is more gospel than certain gospel artists" or "Chance the rapper is more of a Christian rapper than actual Christian rappers" Along with the fact that Lecrae recently signed a deal with Columbia Records and the normal moral panic from a lot of CHH fans that follows any mainstream move he makes, these snarky remarks are bound to increase. I understand why these things are being said but the truth is when an artist has been first been introduced to the world as a Christian rapper who basically preaches their faith explicitly with all their songs, apart from the fact they hardly reach mainstream platforms, if they do they are normally dismissed as cheesy, preachy and corny if they come with songs dipped in traditional gospel sounds, especially if they are rappers (unless you are Kirk Franklin in the "stomp" and "revolution" days). I will get into this later, stay with me.
Days before Chance The Rapper had dropped this mixtape he appeared live on Fallon's tonight show and performed "blessings" and gospel artist Byron Cage even showed up to sing. (i don't know if he is on the album version, I don't recall seeing his name or hearing his voice on it so must have just being a special one off appearance)
If you listen to "Coloring Book" by Chance The Rapper you will hear profanity scattered all over it even though the sound is dipped in traditional gospel sounds and even sentiment. I have no problem with anyone calling this a gospel rap album per se but I ask, if an artist like Lecrae made this exact same album exactly like this would it be acceptable? I doubt it would be received warmly. Earlier this year, Andy Mineo an artist signed to Lecrae's Reach Records asked questions about the use of profanity via twitter and he got butchered for just ASKING and trying to have a conversation about it by a lot CHH fans. I am willing to bet that some of the same people who wanted to crucify Andy Mineo for trying to have an online conversation about profanity are rocking Chance's new album hard and calling it a "great gospel rap album"
If Chance had dropped this as his debut I doubt it would have this much buzz. He has a huge Kanye West co-sign at this stage, lots of high profile features on this project (Kanye West, Lil Wayne, T Pain, Kirk Franklin, Young Thug, Justin Bieber, 2 Chainz, Jeremih, Jay Electronica, Lil Yachty, D.R.A.M) so of course he is going to have attention. He had ears waiting eagerly for this. He was just coming off being on "The Life of Pablo" by Kanye West which was a HUGE look for him. I mean "Ultralight beam" is a HUGE song, so even comparing him to a Lecrae who has had to graft for over a decade to even begin to get to where he could access the same kinds of platforms Chance has isn't really fair.
The truth is if Chance had started his career as a Christian Hip Hop artist in the American Christian Hip Hop scene and had become big in that scene, he would have had to follow the same kind of path Lecrae has taken to breakout of that scene into the mainstream. Chance The Rapper never had that stigma of being a "Christian rapper" from the get-go. Not only that this actual "gospel rap" album Chance has dropped isn't held to the same standards a Lecrae album is held to because of his track record and history. So he can get away with swearing and making certain choices in sound that if Lecrae maybe had made when he was first trying to break into the mainstream would have come off as "corny and too religious" I mean the the last couple of songs on "Anomaly" by Lecrae were heavily criticized by many for being too religious and schmaltzy even though they loved a good deal of the rest of the album. One could argue maybe Lecrae should not have added those songs which seemed designed to cater to his CCM fanbase/radio/circuit goals (He ended up with a Grammy for one those songs "Messengers"). Chance The Rapper doesn't run the risk of being placed in that corny religious rapper box because he has no history of being a gospel rapper that first had his audience and come up in a scene where you have to be sanitized, squeaky clean, theological and super explicit about your faith to even have an audience or be that popular in that scene in the first place. This is a fact, I dare anyone to challenge me on this point.
What I always wished Christian Hip Hop artists would do more is mine the rich sound of traditional gospel music and fuse it with Hip Hop just like Kirk Franklin did that made him explode in the 90s. Chance The Rapper uses that sound beautifully on this mixtape. I mean listen:
It is so beautiful when that uplifting, soul moving, authentic gospel sound is done well in rap. I don't recall it is ever being popular in the CHH scene (correct me if I am wrong people who know better than me) the only example I can recall of this sound being used is when BB Jay did this song "word iz bond" on his album "Universal Concussion" (I'm sure there are others, if you know any let me know I would love to hear them)
BB Jay represents what people probably hated the most about Christian rap, he was basically a Christian Biggie Smalls. Since you're always preached at about the "evil's of secular music" here is BB Jay with a sanitized, christian version of an actual artist that existed (LOL!) He bit Biggie's flow and cadence so bad I bet Christopher Wallace felt it in the grave. Even though that was the case, this song is actually ok, it sounds nice. I remember liking it. I always wanted to see more of this kind of sampling of the traditional gospel sound and that is why I tried it myself.
The thing about gospel music is it has it's own sound and therefore it's own identity. Christian Hip Hop lacks it's own sound and piggie backs off any hot sound in mainstream rap that is currently poppin'. This isn't necessarily bad or good, it just is what it is. Even when people come along with innovations like Andrae Crouch, The Winans, Commissioned, Fred Hammond, Kirk Franklin, Tonex etc etc gospel music still has that thing about it that makes it sound unique and identifiable. You hear it and you know it, so much so that even if the message in the music isn't THE gospel of Christ you associate the sound with it being about faith, upliftment and inspiration (this is why I personally separate gospel as a genre and THE gospel of Christ even though they intersect at it's best) I mean this song below from the new Chance tape isn't a faith themed song, it has loads of swearing/cursing in it but be honest you would still call it a "gospel" sounding song even though I don't think any choir will be singing this in any church service on Sunday morning:
The point I'm making is simple, while people are going crazy over this beautifully sounding album/mixtape whatever you wanna call it from Chance (and rightly so because in my opinion it is dope AND sincere too) understand it isn't just about what the music sounds like, it is who is making it. The reception of music is subject to the personal preference of the listener and their perception of who the artist is. You can't escape this fact. Position affects perspective, perception affects reception.
Yeah, yeah, yeah I know this has been a long blog, but I have to sign off by saying my new project "PLTFRM SE7EN (SIDE B) is OUT NOW. You can buy it from iTunes and Google Play NOW. You can also stream it on Spotify, Apple Music and all streaming platforms. Check out a lyric video for "Get Up and move (flash mobbing) below: