The year 2014 has come and gone and what a year it’s been especially for the CHH genre. Yes, the “I’m a Christian who raps” vs. “Christian Rapper” debate still rages on but we’ve seen the quality and even the frequency of projects put out cranked up.
In a year that saw the entire hip hop culture challenged to speak more to social issues we saw the CHH genre offer up more albums aiming to do just that. Kudos to the rappers for reaching out and trying to make more than just “church music”, the genre grows daily.
This year’s list of top albums was a pretty tough one to come up with but each project was considered based on its relevance, originality, concept or content as well as production.
Of course, as with almost all Top 5 lists there will be expressions of dissension ranging from wry smiles and head shakes in disagreement to proper aneurysms. Worry not, at Yada we’ve created a way for you to get in on the conversation with your recommendations or queries. Simply tweet at us with the hashtag #2014CHHTop5 or reach us on the various other social media platforms with your list.
I hope this little suggestion keeps those of you hatching kidnap plots pacified for now, at least.
- Sinema – Swoope
The “Christopher Nolan of rap” finally made a solo return and he tried to pick up where he left off. Crafting an album that wove the tale of his grapple with temptation, his trademark storytelling, amusing wordplay and various pop culture references was once again put to use.
Just like the epic 2012 album Wake Up, Swoope used his skill to put us in some sort of audio movie (the cover evokes memories of Hitchcock) and he did a pretty decent job. We see the journey from temptation, seduction all the way to repentance via Swoope’s flow and quite a number of voice messages from “Mya” the source of the entire hullabaloo. That’s all before it is revealed that it was just “a bad dream”.
While the theme of the album isn’t an exactly new one you sense a more personal tinge as you listen to “LSD”, “Bow Down” and “Before Goodnight”. The album climaxes in theatrical fashion with “Sin in Me” and a submissive plea to God on “Fix My Heart”. The track “#Sameteam” did feel out of place thematically but some of the heaviest bars you will hear anywhere were dropped (I actually mean the John Givez/JGivens duopoly).
The production as you would expect from someone of Swoope’s calibre (he’s a much sought after producer) is splendid. Fitting instrumentals were coupled with the Ohio rapper’s natives to convincing effect mostly.
The features were superb and did nothing to stifle Swoope’s abilities rather they all ended up complementing him well.
It is tragic this album is that it will struggle to break out of the shadow of its predecessor Wake Up. That was a revolutionary album style/content wise but it shouldn’t take away from the legacy Sinema will leave over time.
- Below Paradise – Tedashii
As popular as Tedashii is, you get the feeling that he doesn’t get enough credit for his work. His skill is hard to match, his heart for God is obvious and even his willingness to experiment leaves a lot to admire. He has quite the knack of making really good albums and Below Paradise took the bar a little higher again.
After enduring one of the most difficult periods of his life since Blacklight was put out it would have been understandable if he retired. Losing a child is something nobody should experience and you can see that Tedashii took the pain from such an awful experience and crafted a beautiful project.
Clocking in at exactly an hour Tdot tells us what it’s like to leave in a world yet to experience the Lord’s 2nd Coming. Like a modern day Job he tackles real issues and doesn’t hold back at all. Below Paradise is a seventeen track project that doesn’t sadden listeners but encourages them to hold on to the Lord as life’s treacherous waters are navigated.
For such a long album we find as many features (ranging in diversity from Bizzle to Crowder) which I find impressive because you go away only remembering this as a Tedashii album. His deep voice remains long in the mind no thanks to some of the illest beats ever (“Complicated”, “Below Paradise” for example). Guys like Tyshane and Gawvi produced literal bangers ensuring this album will be a pacesetter for a while.
It’s quite a brave thing to take personal hurt and make such good art but then again we often are told that the best of art is often created from some of the most ugly and chaotic scenarios.
P.S. The burning car you see on the cover is not a Photoshop gig. It actually happened, so yeah, creativity leaves little or no room for excuses.
- The Art of Joy – Jackie Hill Perry
Rap has been accused of misogyny for as long as I can remember. It hasn’t done much to respect the woman in her beauty and splendour and I can honestly say that despite the various lessons the rappers have taught all my life I really didn’t learn how to treat a woman from them.
CHH has subtly created a “men only” club even if inadvertently but that’s changing gradually. There are quite a number of female emcees doing it right now with considerable aplomb. Jackie Hill Perry is perhaps the best currently.
You dare not judge her debut offering The Art of Joy on the basis of gender as you would be doing this fantastic music a big disservice. This is an album that is a proper road map to finding the Joy and Peace of God. The Humble Beast rapper takes no prisoners on this one and knowing her story you can tell why.
Right from the intro of the album “The Argument” Jackie hits you with her firm delivery of bars dripping with logical Biblical truths and your attention is held. Features are kept at a minimum and the length of the album feels just right.
If she’s not admonishing the “Educated Fool” she’s asking “Where’s Love?” There’s an “Ode to Lauryn” that doesn’t just spark nostalgia but offers the answer to a life of painful questions too. You get nothing but pure hip hop (if there is such a thing) on this album. With Beautiful Eulogy producing alongside Daniel Steele the album certainly has so much replay value.
Debut albums always show us where an artiste is heading and quite frankly with The Art of Joy it’s obvious that the sky is the limit for Mrs Perry. Be on the lookout for her on features elsewhere.
- Rise – Trip Lee
William Barefield the Third has come a long way. He’s a Rapper, Pastor, Father and a sneaker head. He has a southern drawl that’s made people compare him to certain rappers over the years (not cool). He keeps dropping hot albums and even said he would retire once because of a health issue. He hasn’t, and he keeps surpassing the limits we often set for artistes.
Rise is one of the best albums in recent times without having to do much or so it seems. The stories of his constant tiredness, lost voice and crazy travel schedules didn’t stop Rise from hitting our ears and giving us all the right kinds of chills. If you listen closely you will see a man who has decided to focus on God regardless of current and existent problems.
Gawvi laced the album with his wizardry, providing production from on high and Trip did the rest via some of the most encouraging lines you will hear anywhere. No arrogance or haughtiness, just pure celebration of the status of the Believer in Christ as he “bragged on the Lord” see “Shweet” or “I’m Gone” for example.
The fourteen track project is like the perfect football team, adorned with several stars and honestly I must say that “You Don’t Know” and “Lazarus” are like the Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo of the lot (sorry, I just had to).
Reach Records cracked the code of making good albums a while back and Rise basically continues the tradition. If you listen to Rise and don’t come away feeling encouraged then I ought to buy you lunch or something. You need to lighten up, really.
- School of Roses – Christon Gray
In school, at the top of the class is always the fellow with the best grades. Christon Gray passes practically every exam with flying colours especially as far as 2014 is concerned. Since Drake caused stirs with the rapper/singer label I don’t think there’s been an album from that sort of musician this good. Mind you, it’s hard to tell if Christon is a better rapper or singer. The excellence with which he takes on both labels is astonishing.
The perfect blend of crooned notes and delightful verses ought to sweep you off your feet. This is an album for grownups and the not so grown up can also rock to it too. The aim of showing what Love is and how to deal with it is perhaps a familiar concept but the way Christon tackles it is refreshing.
Speaking from different perspectives throughout the album on the subject you find there are no gimmicks at all. The switch between singing and rapping seems so effortless you’re not sure what’s coming next and yet you look forward to it.
The production was flawless and it’s not hard to see why this topped charts for so long earlier this year. Swoope, Wit, Wes Pendleton and B.Reith added weight to an already heavy album with not just their hands but their voices too. The versatility on display throughout the project is truly mind boggling.
Look out for “Nostalgious” the Fugee-esque track with a delightful Easter egg (the veteran Jurny Big made a cameo that is not in the album credits) or even “Convenient” another mighty track with Wes Pendleton providing a delicious hook and beat reminiscent of 90s classics. These are just two songs out of a bevy ridiculously tracks.
Some might ask how an album that is 50% R & B is topping a compilation of rap albums. Especially in a year that witnessed the release of so many albums. Well, to them I assert that without a doubt it is just that good. As close to 5 stars as an album can get I tell you.
The School of Roses is one that we all need to go to, no questions asked. This is the sort of album one can recommend to upcoming acts willing to learn.
Worthy shouts out include Andy Mineo and KB for their Neverland and 100 EPs respectively. They were not full albums or they would most likely have made an appearance in the Top 5 as being excellent projects.
Of course the Grammy nominated Anomaly from Lecrae cannot be overlooked. Although it didn’t get a place in the Top 5, it did have some recognisable strengths proving that Reach Records and their assault on greatness might not be relenting anytime soon.
For the Misfits out there screaming “blessings” at me, I’m sorry. Lol
Have a fantastic year brethren. Cheers.