Review – W.L.A.K. ‘W.L.A.K.’
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In a genre where an iconic figure has referred to himself as the “God MC” for over a decade, another has referred to himself as “The King of the South” for nearly the same period of time, a legendary duo from Port Arthur, TX elected to name its collective effort “Underground Kingz” over two decades ago, and a budding superstar refers to himself as “King Remembered in Time,” it should come as no surprise that a rising cadre of artists would boldly declare they “live as kings.” In short, bravado and braggadocio have long since been acquainted with the musings of rappers, it is almost a prerequisite for ascending to a certain stature. Nevertheless, Collision Records’ boast is not of themselves or their collective output, but rather their boast is in the Lord. As Alex Faith states on the album’s first song, “He only gave us crowns so we can put ‘em at His feet.” “We live as kings,” then has become a declaration of joint inheritance with Christ and the rallying cry of their chart topping album bearing the same name.
As David Daniels noted in his article for Wade-O, the kings came together serendipitously. In short, with a series of seemingly coincidental meetings, mutual admiration for each other’s work, along with a few key introductions from colleagues, God wove together the lives of four men from divergent backgrounds to forge a common path in fulfilling His greater purpose—to live as kings. At times they could be no more different, but with WLAK, they blend their contrasting sounds and differing personal narratives to present a resounding reminder of God’s plan of redemption. Only God’s providence coupled with a relentless desire to influence the culture could create such potent art.
WLAK begins with the Wit and Swoope produced Intro. Its instrumentation begins with rhythmic, crescendoing voices singing “Oh, oh, oh, oh oh oh,” that is suddenly met by crisp drumming, only to be concluded by an elegant piano solo that fades in the rustling of the wind. The Intro is emblematic of the album’s overall tone; it is compelling, it is thoughtful, it is deliberate, it is inspiring. In sum, it subtly alludes to something greater to come.
Imagine is WLAK‘s first song, and is the only song to feature all four artists. Christon begins it by singing, “Today I can see a fallen world, and I can only imagine them falling in love with You/Falling in love with You . . .” over a piano-laden track that features a bed of strings and a pounding bass drum. With a growl from Dre Murray, the song’s instrumentation swiftly changes to a furious headbanger of a track that the four emcees use to trade verses depicting a fallen world’s precipitous decline into depravity juxtaposed with the realization of what it can be, what we can be, if and when we accept our roles as kings in the earth. The song is a great introduction to what the four label mates offer as a collective: outstanding singing, seamless flows, sharp lyricism, an unapologetic love for God, and a hopeful worldview.
Long Way Down follows. Christon begins the song with a bitter confrontation with the adversary of his soul, where he sings, “I know who you are, skip the introduction (yeah, yeah)/Tell me what you’re doing here, did you come just to put me in the dungeon (no, no)/Do you know who I am, look at me/Do you know who I belong to . . ?” He then speaks of the perils of dancing with the devil, where he sings, “Same old music, new genre/Same old phantom, new opera/I’m dancing with you, whole lotta drama . . .” He finally banishes the enemy in telling him that “It is a long way down, it is a long way from heaven” in a falsetto that at times is eerily reminiscent of Usher. All in all, it is a stellar performance. Dre Murray follows with a solid verse detailing how the enemy’s deceitful tactics were ultimately futile because of God’s unfailing love towards him. The two chronicle this cryptic waltz and the spiraling descent over deft synth chords and electric guitar riffs for a song that will stay with you long after you listen to it.
WLAK continues with strong offerings until it lands on ABNY (Marty McFly). Swoope and Alex Faith use a rowdy Dirty Ric e, Joseph Prielozny and Swoope produced track to discuss the desire to see the day when they hear the last trump, then become changed. In the chorus, Swoope declares, in a cadence that will remind you of Kanye, “Ah, I wanna leave, but I gotta wait/Ah, the world’s sleep, but I’m wide awake/Livin’ here screwed up, I’m outta my mind/I’m livin’ in the future, Marty McFly.” The triumphant handclapping and pounding drums make for an infectious track that will have us all clapping along and clamoring for the day our Lord returns. The album continues with Broken Kings. The song is smooth, but hard-hitting, pensive, but still emotive. On it, Alex Faith, Christon Gray and Swoope cleverly discuss the vanity of focusing on things that will eventually pass away (e.g. “Try to tell ‘em/They eyes would well up/But they some modern day Helen Kellers, only go by what they feel;” “This hocus pocus that we notice in the culture will fall/If our eyes ain’t on the King is off”). It is a song you are destined to repeat, as you ponder the pervasive vanity of this world as King Solomon once did thousands of years ago.
Throughout the album, Swoope, Christon Gray, Alex Faith Dre Murray, throw aside egos, personal agendas and at times industry norms and accepted songwriting conventions to produce genuine, purposeful art. If that means an artist may not appear for a few songs (i.e. Swoope appears on Imagine, but does not appear again until Reign Coming, four songs later), or a song having extended intros and outros (e.g. Reign Coming, YHWH, King in Me) or instrumentation making dramatic shifts (e.g. Arena), so be it. It is what a collaborative effort from several God-fearing artists should look like. This becomes evident in arguably the strongest song on the album, WLAQ.
WLAQ is an ode to the women who are help[s] meet unto Christon Gray and Swoope while simultaneously encouraging other women of virtue to “Live as queens, with your living kings through the Living King/What a trinity . . .” The Swoope produced song dexterously fuses elements of the song preceding it (Only Have Eyes For You) with pulsating drums, a thumping bass line, and an unforgettable piano riff to set forth a soulful anthem for “[T]he queens, [who are] beauty personified/And your beauty blooms from the God inside.” In it, Christon and Swoope detail the beautiful triangle that forms when two people come together in marriage and honor God as the head of their union. In speaking on this, Christon states, “He honors me as the weaker vessel, so I honor you” and Swoope adds, “You’re in love with another man, and I don’t feel cheated—Jesus/You honor me when you honor Him/It’s a crazy love, it’s like I have no common sense.” It is a fitting tribute to godly women, and should be a staple of your playlist.
Suffice to say, WLAK is a gem from beginning to end, and acts as an introduction of sorts. While most people familiar with Christian Hip Hop have regularly come across the names Swoope, Christon Gray, Alex Faith and Dre Murray to varying degrees over the past few years, WLAK demonstrates the fullness of their capabilities. Much of CHH has noted Swoope as one of the genre’s more celebrated lyricists since his thunderous, scene-stealing verse, on Da’ T.R.U.T.H.’s Suitcase. Nevertheless, while Swoope maintains that reputation on WLAK, he also solidified a newer one as a remarkable producer. It is as Collision Records A&R Elvin “Wit” Shahbazian said shortly before the album’s release, “WLAK will make Swoope one of the more sought after producers in Christian Hip Hop,” considering he produced or co-produced more than half of the albums’ exquisite instrumentation. Christon Gray continues forging his legacy as one of the genre’s more versatile artists, as he effortlessly sings mesmerizing melodies throughout while also regularly spits rapped verses that would put many an emcee to shame. Alex Faith and Dre Murray follow up critically acclaimed releases of their own to further display their ability to provide clever, poignant, transparent and insightful lyrics. In so doing, WLAK is not only a counter cultural rallying cry for disciples of Christ, it is also a grand introduction of Collision Records’ as one of, if not the premier roster, in all of Christian Hip Hop and potentially hip-hop at large. If you have not done so already, do yourself a favor and get a copy.
1. Intro (Produced by Wit and Swoope)
2. Imagine ft. Christon Gray, Dre Murray, Alex Faith, & Swoope (Produced by Swoope & Wit)
3. Long Way Down ft. Christon Gray & Dre Murray (Produced by Swoope)
4. All In ft. Alex Faith & Dre Murray (Produced by Dirty Rice & Joseph Prielozny)
5. Coward ft. Alex Faith & Christon Gray (Produced by Swoope)
6. Reign Is Coming ft. Christon Gray, Swoope, Dre Murray, & Alex Faith (Produced by Wit, Joseph Prielozny, & Swoope)
7. YHWH ft. Swoope & Dre Murray (Produced by Dirty Rice & Swoope)
8. ABNY (Marty McFly) ft. Swoope & Alex Faith (Produced by Dirty Rice, Joseph Prielozny, & Swoope)
9. Broken Kings ft. Alex Faith, Christon Gray, & Swoope (Produced by Dirty Rice)
10. Eyes For You ft. Christon Gray (Produced by Swoope)
11. WLAQ ft. Christon Gray & Swoope (Produced by Swoope)
12. Arena ft. Dre Murray & Christon Gray (Produced by Wit)
13. King In Me ft. Swoope & Christon Gray (Produced by Swoope)
*Art Direction by Adam Thomason
All Songs Mixed by Wit for I Qwit Music
All Songs Mastered by Pete Humphreys for Masterwork Recording