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Lecrae’s Gravity is the most important album in the history of Christian Hip-Hop.
When Lecrae, who without question is the poster boy of Christian Hip Hop, began consistently appearing in XXL Magazine write ups, BET specials, prominent hip-hop festivals and alongside rap heavyweights such as Lupe Fiasco, Bun B and Talib Kweli, a myriad of emotions were evoked from the CHH purists. Some cried tears of joy; they believed that the genre was beginning to receive the recognition, legitimacy and acceptance that had been elusive for so long. Others cried compromise; because, you know, you can’t hang out with people who may not share your beliefs unless you’re trying to “save” them from impending doom. Then came the announcement of ‘Church Clothes’. A different approach you say? He’s working with Don Cannon, Boi-1da, and 9th Wonder? You mean this won’t be ‘Rebel’ part 2? “Stone him!” they demanded. Now admit it, you were ready to throw the baby out with the bath water; along with its parents, crib, toys, everything. It was all over for you, and you thought Lecrae had sold his soul and joined the ranks of the Illuminati. Ironically, what 'Church Clothes' ended up being, for the most part, did not live up to the speculation it received. Let the hype tell it and it was supposed to be a complete 180 from the Lecrae we all knew and loved. From the “looks of things”, he may have even began to shed his “Jesus skin”. But…be honest, you always liked 9th Wonder and Boi-1da’s beats and now you had a reason to express that publicly because your favorite rapper for Jesus was on them and not MC Heathen whom you’ve already condemned to hell. Crae didn’t compromise, you heard from a few familiar faces and all was right in the world again.
Now that your guard was down and your faith in Lecrae had been restored, you were prepared for the roll out of the album, ‘Gravity’. First? “I Know”. The response? “Nope, it sounds like a Big Sean record”. Then, “Lord Have Mercy” with Tedashii and No Malice. You said it was generic, lazy, and forced. More recently, “Tell the World” with Mali Music. Easily the best of the three (even though I like “I Know”, it’s a grower, you guys were buggin’). But still, how can an album with such high expectations produce such seemingly mediocre results? What I can say is, those three records are not at all a representation of Gravity as a whole.
Stop and ask yourself if your expectations of this project are achievable by any stretch? What do you expect Lecrae to do? Could you personally handle the weight that you’re placing on him and this album if the roles were reversed?
In spite of all of that, in short… Lecrae did it.
Let me first get the low points of the album out of the way. Because they are few and far between. Yes, “Lord Have Mercy” is generic. “Jesus turned me around, you would swear I was dizzy”? I Mutumbo that right now in the name of Jesus. “Fakin’” featuring Thi’sl falls in the Fisher Price - My First Reach Records Kit. I was expecting The Weeknd to yell incoherently on “Buttons”. The song screams YMCM-Reach, or O-Reach-O, or one of those monikers. However, in all honestly, that’s it. Replace those three records with “Sacrifice”, “Inspiration”, “Black Rose”, or “The Price of Life” from 'Church Clothes' and you have yourself a great album.
There are two glaring factors that make this album a success. For one, the production is phenomenal. This is the major debut of the production team The Watchmen (J.R., Wit, and Alex Medina). They have the potential to join the ranks of Puff Daddy’s Hitmen and No Limit’s Beats by the Pound to craft a sound that defines a period. “Walk with Me” featuring Novel, “Lucky Ones” featuring Rudy Currence and especially “Fallin’ Down” with Swoope and Trip Lee do a great job of standing out sonically without alienating themselves from the totality of the feel that Gravity gives. Other production standouts include “Violence” (produced by Tyshane “Elite” Thompson and ThaInna Circle), which is like “Black Rose” on steroids. I have a great concept for the video (tell Reach to holla at me maaaan) and I’m positive this will be an early fan favorite. “Confe$$ions”, “Power Trip” with Derek Minor fka PRo, Sho Baraka and Andy Mineo, “Gravity” with J.R. are also extremely strong, but the best song on the album sonically, lyrically and conceptually is easily “Mayday” featuring Big K.R.I.T. and Ashthon Jones. For those of you who are familiar work DJ Khalil’s work with everyone from Eminem, Drake, Jay-Z, T.I., and The Game, he provides the perfect backdrop for K.R.I.T. to walk into your church in the middle of service and express his frustrations with hypocrisies and for Crae to walk in behind him and calm the mob down while still co-signing K.R.I.T.’s verse. You have no soul if you don’t get goosebumps on your first few listens.
The lyrical content of this album is definitely worth noting. The complaint of Lecrae has long been that he was facetiously transparent in his music. There was talk of a struggle, but never the details of it; what he did, how it made him feel, what it drove him to do, etc. With understanding that there is a thin line between noting your struggles and glorifying them, people always said that Crae seemed to play it safe in that arena. He’s shown glimpses on songs like “Praying For You” and “Just Like You”, but there was room for him to go into further detail. Gravity exposes those details. Think about it, it seems as if Lecrae has the entire future of Christian Hip-Hop on his shoulders. Of course God gets glory and accomplishes His mission anyway He so chooses, but with that said Gravity can potentially break down doors for every Christian artist you know to be featured in major publications, prime time television, and prominent stages for the gospel to go forth. And he knows it. There are many underlying stories being told on this album. The transition from top dog of his genre to sort-of unknown in the larger hip-hop scope (“Walk With Me”). Considering himself first and showing mercy and grace to people that a large number of CHH fans have deemed demonic and unworthy to shine their shoes (“Mayday”). Dealing with the larger picture of what this album may not only do for the genre and for the spreading the gospel, but for Lecrae’s life personally and being scared of the weight, elevation, and potential doorways for pride to creep in (“Lucky Ones”, “Power Trip”, “Fallin’ Down”). And I applaud him for talking about it in a greater detail.
Two of the most overlooked factors in creating an album is the mixing and the sequencing. Obviously the mix has to sound great (and Gravity excels sonically), but let me talk to you about sequencing. The sequencing of an album is basically the order of the songs; do they tell a clear and concise story? Do the songs start and stop at the right time? Is a song too long or too short? Are there too many tracks? Gravity is sequenced very well, aside from the replacement tracks I mentioned earlier. It doesn’t feel smashed into a 30 minute sitcom, nor does it feel like a 5 hour movie with no bathroom breaks. The guest appearances are all solid, in addition to K.R.I.T., Novel, Andy Mineo, Sho Baraka and Swoope all give amazing contributions and add to the overall scope of Gravity.
I understand that we live in a new age where any review less than 4.5 is considered to be “disrespectful”. But I come from an era where The Source Magazine truly was the hip-hop Bible. Snoop Dogg’s ‘Doggystyle‘ received 4 mics (NY bias, but still). Jay-Z’s ‘Reasonable Doubt‘ received 4 mics. Gangstarr’s ‘Step In The Arena‘ received 4 mics. GZA’s ‘Liquid Swords‘ received 4 mics. Those are all indisputable hip-hop classics. Albums that received 4.5 mics? Boogie Down Productions ‘Sex and Violence‘, Redman ‘Whut? Thee Album‘, Dr. Dre ‘The Chronic‘, Wu Tang ‘36 Chambers‘, Outkast ‘Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik‘, Mobb Deep ‘The Infamous‘, and Raekwon ‘Only Built 4 Cuban Linx‘. I referenced these albums because in order for CHH to be taken serious, it has to be graded on the same curve as the peers it desires to sit alongside. No more “it’s good…for a Christian album”. Good is good, right? Great is great, right? Is ‘Gravity‘ good? Absolutely. In fact, it’s really good. It could be argued that it’s the best work of Lecrae’s career. Is it great? Does it deserve to sit along that upper echelon of albums I listed earlier? Time will tell; albums need years to be digested and fully processed. It is disrespectful to artists who spend months or years on a project only for you to judge it within 15 minutes of listening to it. But without question, I believe that Gravity has achieved the goal of being a definitive statement for the genre and along with albums from Hi-Socities, Swoope and Eshon Burgundy, help present a solid case that Christian Hip-Hop, in the immortal words of Andre 3000 “has something to say”. So now that the door’s open, who’s gonna walk through first?
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1. The Drop (Intro) - Produced by Heat Academy and Joseph Prielozny
2. Gravity feat. J.R. - Produced by J.R.
3. Walk with Me feat. Novel - Produced by The Watchmen
4. Free From It All feat. Mathai - Produced by Dru Castro and Uforo Ebong
5. Fallin’ Down feat. Swoope and Trip Lee - Produced by The Watchmen
6. Fakin’ feat Thi’sl - Produced by Heat Academy
7. Violence - Produced by Tyshane and ThaInnaCircle
8. Mayday feat Big K.R.I.T. and Ashthon Jones - Produced by DJ Khalil
9. Confe$$ions - Produced by Zach Crowell, Joseph Prielozny and Dirty Rice
10. Buttons - Produced by Heat Academy
11. Power Trip feat. PRo, Sho Baraka and Andy Mineo - Produced by DJ Official
12. Lord Have Mercy feat. Tedashii - Produced by Heat Academy
13. I Know - Produced by The Watchmen
14. Tell the World feat. Mali Music - Produced by Heat Academy
15. Lucky Ones feat. Rudy Currence - Prod. by The Watchmen, Rudy Currence & Joseph Prielozny
A&R by Torrance "Street Symphony" Esmond and Joseph Prielozny
The Watchmen are Wit, J.R., and Alex Medina
Follow Armond Goss on Twitter @armondwakeup