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Promise - More Than Music

With the rise of affordable production, there is a lot of decent independent Christian rap artists hitting the airwaves and the shelves of your local or digital music store. Promise is one of those Christian rappers. Dropping his socially-minded, politically-charged "More Than Music," the album's title is certainly appropriate. Promise proves himself an intelligent emcee as well as just an intelligent, informed man who happens to serve Jesus as Lord. He may be one of the most underrated rappers of the moment.

First things first, if you're looking for your run-of-the-mill evangelistic Christian rap album, that's not what you're going to find here. Actually, you could easily characterize "More Than Music" as "social gospel." Some might scoff at this, but I for one think this is the kind of thing that is missing in holy hip-hop. There's lots of evangelism and questioning of societal norms by the top Christian rappers, but there tends to be very little social engagement or activism considered. And, while a social gospel should not replace the gospel of Jesus Christ, there is no reason they cannot run in tandem and inform each other.

"Change" kicks off the album and, given the world's economic, social, and political climate, the title is appropriate. Right out of the gates this track challenges all of those things in our world that we just accept as "the way things are," and implores listeners to be brave enough to change how they think and defy convention and accepted norms. The beat is an old school boom-bap, infused with sensible jazz undertones, establishing a decidedly underground vibe for the album.

"Brotherhood" continues the slowed down, jazzy theme and features guest spots by emcees Rhymefest and Mickey and spoken word artist, Malik Yusef. Actually, Yusef's inclusion will have you thinking "Brown Sugar" and "Poetic Justice." It's the best part of the track.

"In God We Trust" is pretty controversial, in my book. With lines like, "America's screwed/No way that Lady Liberty chick's a virgin…" this song hits the listener right between the earlobes.

"Girl" is one of my favorite tracks on the album. The lyrics are deep but the beat recalls a more innocent time of stickball in the street, barrettes, jump rope, and getting doused by an open fire hydrant on a blistering summer day. It's a nice mix and show's Promise's skill on both sides of the production board. Probs, John Hope, and Famous join Promise on the track.

"True Love" is the first "Christian" track on the album in the classic sense, but it could easily be misconstrued as love song to a woman. So, it nebulous, but the point is there if you're looking for it.

"Whatever Girl" is a step away from the overall vibe of the album, boasting a solid electric guitar line. Here, Promise, Soul P. and Nemesis tread closely to the thuggish rap genre. They never quite fall in completely, but this one doesn't seem to fit the established sound on the rest of the record.

There are a lot of other notable tracks, however, such as "Spend Some Time," "Black Woman," and "Maverick," which featured the iconic Tonex.

What is problematic about the album is Promise's choice to associate with various guest emcees on the album. While it gives "More Than Music" and Promise quite a bit of credibility in the mainstream rap community, something in me kicks back. Promise raps with Royce Da 5' 9" (famous for his beef with Eminem, D12, and 50 Cent), Rhymefest (a Muslim-American rapper most famous for penning the lyrics to Kanye's "Jesus Walks"), Elzhi of Slum Village, and a number of other artists whose background might give a few people pause. What is Promise's purpose for associating with these people? To shine the light of Christ? Awesome. That's what Jesus did. But, if he's just gathering hit-makers around him to pad his resume or attempting to be a bit more ecumenical, then I have a problem. Given that Jesus' name is never once mentioned (that I recall) on the album, I can only wonder what Promise's motives are and hope for the best.*

Promise couldn't have picked a better title for his album. What he has given listeners is far more than music. This is a treatise that challenges the status quo—whatever status quo you can come with—and stands it on its head. "More Than Music" is some of the most intelligent rap I've heard out of the holy hip-hop sphere. And make no mistake. This is hip-hop, not rap. Those looking for a return to form, for the days when the music meant something, then look no further than Promise's project. Good stuff that you should definitely pick up.

*Please do not hear a narrow-minded individual trying to hide himself within the safe confines of the church. The truth is, there is a lot of theological confusion in the urban community as it is. And while there is theological confusion, everywhere, it works itself out in particularly troubling ways in the hood. Thus, Promise's chosen associations may, in fact, be Christian in scope, but may communicate the idea that one can be a Christian and live un-Christian or that all religions are equally valid.

Label: Independent

Release Date: 2008

Track Listing
1. Intro
2. Change ft. Probz, Supastition, & Royce Da 5' 9
3. Brotherhood ft. Rhymefest, Mikkey, & Malik Yusef
4. Shy Guy ft. Shad K & Olskool Ice-Gre
5. In God We Trust ft. J. Ivy, Elzhi (of Slum Village) & Calvin Richardson
6. Could Be You
7. Girl ft. Probz, Jon Hope, & Famous
8. True Love ft. Ray Robinson
9. Spend Some Time ft. Melanie Durrant
10. It Ain't You ft. Lathun
11. Black Woman ft. Prestege, Sy Scott, & Montell Jordan
12. Whatever Girl ft. Soul P. & Nemesis
13. Much More ft. Darien Brokington & Prestege
14. Maverick ft. Tonex
15. Outro

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