Top 5 Christian Hip Hop Albums of 2015
2015 was a good year. We got another Star Wars movie, another Bond movie and the Grammy nominations for Best Hip Hop album actually made sense (bar one project.) Add Steph Curry giving most of us another person to root for apart from that Cleveland guy and it was quite the eventful year.
In 2015, Christian Hip Hop grew not just in terms of volume and awareness but content wise too. Almost every theme has been touched upon this year. The Church itself has reached a stage where it has to look at the mirror and realize the society requires guidance on a myriad of social issues.
Outside the pulpit it’s become important to use the art to craft a better narrative. I was glad to see stuff from politics to sexuality and crime addressed beyond the usual “evangelical” scope of the genre.
There was also that controversial Rapzilla list that taught us we probably need to check our hearts. While it helped to spark dialogue, it showed there is still a long way to go for the Christians who want to engage in the arts. Then there were some really good albums.
As usual, we used relevance, originality, concept/theme & production as the criteria for judging each project. The following 5 came out on top.
The Upside Eternal – ALERT312
As far as crafting an album with a complete theme is concerned I think you will be hard pressed to find one better than Alert’s first album after leaving Humble Beast.
You can’t deny the fact that it is refreshing to hear more organic sounds as opposed to the canned stuff that’s obtainable today. Upside Eternal is by all means a beautifully crafted piece of art in that regard.
In terms of music it was a brilliant project that wove together some nice live instrumentation alongside other traditional hip hop elements to complement the story the duo from Chicago narrated.
The entire album tells of an alternate reality where this world in all its broken-down gloom is nothing more than a forgotten memory. If you are a student of the classic Alert sound the assists from Taelor Gray, Propaganda & Catalina Belizzi only helped to add gloss to an already glowing project.
Look out for: “No Holds Tongue”, “Haunt me Home” & “Kingdoms Falling.”
the Mocker vs. the Monarch – Taelor Gray
Sometimes having a brother who’s good at literally everything is really frustrating. Especially in a field where you need to get some respect. Perhaps that is what pushes Taelor Gray to be so good at what he does.
The former band member of the The Elevationists (alongside brother, Christon Gray) is fast becoming one of the most respected lyricists of the genre. His ability to infuse both “worldly” insights alongside his theologically sound lessons is a rare gift.
The balance he brings to his rhymes are not just comforting but a splendid tribute to a vital hip hop element; knowledge. His delivery was top notch and the production on the album exemplary. Simple beat selections and features that didn’t become noisy helped a great deal.
Gray took us on a trip from “Hollow Man” to “Hallow Man” in 11 tracks that tackled vanity, politics, love and of course redemption through Christ. If you were looking for a club banging set of songs, sorry, you dialled the wrong number.
The simplicity helped reinforce that famous belief that less is more. The indie nature of the project does a lot of good for ears yearning for some honest, intelligent music.
Look out for: “Hallow Man”, “Gorgeous” & “Famous.”
34 – Dre Murray
I’ve always maintained that Collisions Records rapper, Dre Murray pushed Christian Hip Hop into maturity or at least helped to do so with his Hell’s Paradise projects. Who else has his delivery, storytelling skills or his solid support Base (producers, cast of features etc)?
34 is short and sweet, you really can’t skip any songs as they are so brilliantly woven together. Dre documents a life of a Christian caught in the “real world” better than almost anybody else has before.
Again simplicity comes to the fore on this album. The production, especially anytime Wes Pendleton pops up (Family Tree) makes the entire anatomy of a living human tingle. Add that to the features and what we have is a project with high replay value.
Lyrically Dre Murray packs punches you don’t see coming till they’ve hit you. He doesn’t force the issue but he’s still dropping heavy stuff.
For instance “The sin master asking me why did I jump ship? /mayne I saw the living waters and did that front flip, don’t slip…” (DWB) is such a simple set of bars too weighty to ignore.
One of the last albums to drop in the year, it was almost a case of saving the best for last. Earlier in the year he dropped a joint project with labelmate Alex Faith. To be able to still push something this good out is a testament to Dre’s work ethic.
Look out for: “Family Tree”, “Turn It” & “1989 (Taylor Swift).
Soul Rebel – John Givez
Now into the top 2 albums, it was hard to separate and place Oceanside’s John Givez in second place. Between both cousins (yes, JGivens is his cousin) there must be some pact to ensure the people never starve of great music.
Maturity. That’s one word that defines Soul Rebel. If you are not growing you could easily get hung up on a few silly issues and miss the point of the project.
This album makes you ask the right questions while vibing out to some of the “trillest” sounds ever heard. A love for God is apparent on the project as well as a yearning for divine guidance to navigate today’s tricky world.
Real stories were told. While it is a common practice to tell gory tales that glorify sex, drug abuse and violence, on Soul Rebel you hear references to these things but not in a way you expect.
You don’t get the preachy approach for these topics with the Dream Junkies rapper. Instead you hear a man willing to admit shortcomings, willing to point to where the answers are and also willing to help you see life doesn’t have to be filled with pressure.
I had fun sharing this album with people who naturally wouldn’t listen to Christian rap just to witness their reactions. The album cover does enough to unnerve you while you wait for the comprehensive project to hit your ears.
Bar for bar there are probably only a handful of guys who can step to John. People often give passes to rappers within the genre who are not so good at rapping just because they are “Christian.” This trend is finally dying off.
This is a good chance for upcoming acts to realise they need to push themselves to deliver quality music because excellence doesn’t tick off God.
Look out for: “2004”, “Chapter 29”, “Get a Bar: Tha Side” & “Generation (Y)”
Fly Exam – JGivens
The album of albums, Fly Exam is the one album that deserves to be played over and over because the levels of depth seem endless. Simply put, JGivens has set the bar really high.
The Humble Beast rapper sounded anything but modest on some tracks at first. Then you listen again and boom! You realise the double entendres he littered all over the place would make a certain Cambodian dictatorship jealous.
Fly Exam is the narration of what happens when pride takes over. You get puffed up. You float. You get too close to the sun. Then you’re burnt and humbled. In a nutshell that was the plot the immensely talented rapper hatched and delivered.
If you don’t like to think then I’m sorry. JGivens said the idea behind this album was to make sure people actually took time to think. Brilliant! Enough of the watered down content the world is buffeted with these days.
Get ready to not get a lot at the first listen. That’s okay, hip hop needs a rewind factor. JGivens keeps it there, ensuring you exercise your brain while figuring out the concepts. You learn quite a lot along the way too.
From aerodynamics and plane references to Greek mythology, Dominos to Star Wars reference the full spectrum of creativity was utilised to craft this album. In all of this God’s Grace is emphasised upon as ever present regardless of man’s haughty nature.
Production wise it is great to see consistency much like the old DJ Premier/Guru collaborations. Beautiful Eulogy, Daniel Steele and JGivens locked into a formation that will be remembered for a long time.
The wholesale approach to quality art can be seen in a lot of the videos from the project, the album art and an outro at the end that weaves lines from across the album creatively.
There’s a myriad of quotables and dope verses. You get the feeling we might not another JGivens project because he knows this one will take a while to digest.
Going forward the genre needs more projects like this. Rapgenius would definitely appreciate the traffic this Las Vegas rapper has brought them.
Look out for: “Super Lowkey”, “Hummingbird Stance”, “Take Off With Me” & “So Fly.”
So it Ends – S.O
My Own Worst Enemy – Tragic Hero
The Fear of God – Eshon Burgundy
Marty for President – Marty (of SocialClub)
The Fall of the Lightbearer – Theory Hazit
P.S. There were a lot of good albums in 2015. Makes me even more excited for 2016.What were some of yours?