By Peter Akinnusi
There is a massive difference between crafting good music and making hits. We are tragically firmly stuck in an era where the gap between the two is wider than ever and keeps increasing with the latter more obtainable than the former too easily. Trip Lee did say with his fifth studio album Rise the aim was to make good music while changing the world with every second of every song on the project. That may be an unrealistic target but he did pretty well to come close. Trip’s hiatus perhaps shocked most of us but his return indicates he didn’t miss a beat (pardon the pun) at all. The Rise concept is a simple one as the aim is elevating from one’s current state, being raised from the dead as it were to vibrant life. Great care was taken not to stifle his voice with excessive features but rather to create a supporting all star cast that helped complement Trip’s skills as a rapper and musician.
The first thing that struck me about Rise was the fact that the songs could effortlessly form the soundtrack for one of the recent dystopian movies we’ve seen like Transcendence or The Hunger Games not just sonically but thematically too. The album’s title song/intro could just as well have been done with assistance from artistes as varied as Kanye, Gungor or Ellie Goulding providing the first obvious nod to musicality the listener experiences on the album. Then a look at the length of the songs shows a level of disregard for hit radio with each one clocking in at about four minutes averagely. For this generation that can barely sit still that’s a pretty brave move.
From the leftover freshness off Anomaly that Lecrae provided on his guest spot to a flawlessly delivered hook by Elhae or even Dimitri McDowell’s very superb singing to Thisl’s ever gritty yet honest delivery the features on Rise ought to be appreciative of the fact they were given the chance to contribute to such a musical experience. Leah Smith deserves an endless stream of compliments for her singing which seemed to occur far too little on the album.
The continuity and faithfulness to the theme of rising up was executed with much aplomb. Starting things off with “Rise” and ending with “Sweet Victory” was an admirable tribute to the lost art of track arrangement. “Lights On” comes right after “Rise” and both begin the album with a sort of epic or theatrical feel. “You Don’t Know” is an uplifting testimony where Trip literally boasts on the Lord’s freedom and how He makes us holy as well as the benefits it has brought, watch out for the nice sample of Christon Gray’s “Even With Evil With Me” at the beginning. “Shweet” is another song where Trip “brags on the Lord” buttering you up for the rest of the album. What is a Reach Records album without a turn up anthem? That is where “Manolo” comes in, being the Spanish equivalent of the name Emmanuel or “God with us” Trip and Lecrae take turns to rap about dwelling in God’s Word while dropping so many references to weapons; “I tell them boys to never leave the crib alone/’cos I keep one in my car and I got two at home/they’re different kinds but they do the same thing/double edged, double barrelled-bang-bang!” Trip spits that before Lecrae keeps chanting “I’ve got a cabin in Manolo” before dropping a memorable verse to provide what will be remembered as yet another beautiful Reach anthem. Another banger is the song “Lazarus” which from the title alone indicates that the possibility of the reversal of the effects of death is more than feasible thanks to the Christ. Thisl features here to talk about being raised from the dead to new life. Gawvi making the decision to start off the song with an eerie, almost “frankeinstein-esque” interlude that gives way to a well layered trap beat is a winner. Trip Lee albums are not complete without him weaving a tale or two and that is catered for on both the song “All Rise Up” and the song interlude with Trip chronicling his 116 Clique journey and how far God has brought him and the crew from days of “bootleg concerts” to properly planned and crafted shows and sets before going on to encourage the listener to stand for the King. On “All My Love” he tells the touching story of a man who grapples with marital infidelity, reconciliation and redemption as Natalie Lauren delivered another good chorus (do you remember “Killa” from Lecrae’s Rehab?). I expected that the song “Beautiful Life 2(Mine)” (a sequel to “Beautiful Life” from his last album) would be a corny number but on the contrary it was a beautiful declaration of love for his child that warms the heart.
As a pastor I’m sure picking and sticking to a theme doesn’t come as a difficult task for Trip Lee and he showed this on the album. His honest and almost vulnerable approach too is ever refreshing. He declares “rap doesn’t need me, Reach doesn’t need me, Christ doesn’t need me…”wow. It must be said that one of the biggest highlights on Rise is the synergy with his producer Gawvi (formerly known as G-styles) who is the in-house Reach Records producer and has produced on every Trip Lee album except his debut effort. The way both of them dove tailed on Rise is as undeniably admirable as the famous duos over the years like DJ Premier/Guru, Eric B/Rakim or even Justin Timberlake/Timbaland. The album is soaked in proper instrumentation and good music was made whether it was the piano riffs, drum selections, samples or thos adlibs Gawvi kept dropping here and there. Gawvi did well to create the right atmosphere for Trip’s lyrics to flow. It is nice to see an artiste brave enough to stick to one producer for an entire project (even though Alex Medina helped a bit).
The Reach Marketing team keeps pushing the bar with every successive release; this time around the listening sessions, customised t-shirts, album art and design as well as collaboration with media outlets almost fooled us into forgetting Reach is an indie label! The organisation behind the scenes at Reach is commendable and an example to others within the genre. As a writer, preacher and rapper Trip keeps pushing the envelope and always goes a notch higher with each album. There’s a book set to accompany the release of the album too. He sure does practise what he preaches as he shows us that is what God expects of us by walking the talk, challenging us to live the way we were made to live. Rise is a beautiful album, one of the shining lights of an already album heavy 2014.