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If you’ve listened to Christian hip hop for any length of time, chances are you remember, or at least have heard of, Uprok Records. For the uninitiated, Uprok was a hip hop based sub-imprint of Brandon Ebel’s Tooth and Nail records, and was responsible for releasing several landmark Christian hip hop albums, including Tunnel Vision by the Tunnel Rats. The Tunnel Rats were a huge crew, and some of their members had a tendency to get a little bit lost in the shuffle. Luckily, Uprok was good to the Tunnel Rats posse, and put out numerous solo albums from Tunnel Rats crew members. In 2002, one of those albums was Stop the Music by New Breed, a group consisting of brother and sister Macho and Elsie Ortega. Based on that album, and his contributions to Tunnel Vision, I knew that Macho Ortega was someone to watch. Taking center stage on his full length solo debut, Remember, Macho demonstrates an intense recorded presence. His flow and voice are smooth, but his vocals carry a fervor that serves to underscore the faith omnipresent in his lyrics. The opening track, “Ready” illustrates this point perfectly, as he assures us that his mission is not be a “corny Christian emcee gone pop”, but to make “music you can live to.” This is definitely “life music”, and I believe that even the most ardent of Christian hip-hop’s antagonists would have a hard time claiming with any kind of credibility that Macho is corny.
Just let anyone with an affinity for hip hop listen to my favorite song on the album, “Don’t Listen to Your Heart”. The combination of Macho’s effortless flow and excellent lyricism, guest MC Griff’s brilliant verse, Estee Bullock’s soulful chorus and Raiden’s killer production featuring sick, hard hitting drums and a horn and guitar sample that’s funkier than my 12 year old son’s basketball shoes, create a sonic landscape that melds perfectly with the gritty cautionary tale that the lyrics present. This is not corn. This is not cheese. This is straight up quality hip hop.
That one song is a microcosm of the rest of the album. Macho combines his smooth vocals and fantastic writing over a series of mostly excellent beats from a number of different producers, including Dert, Peace 586, Donavan Luke Henry and Dski the illeagle. Add in a number of great guest spots, including a bunch of the Tunnel Rats members, and his New Breed cohort Elsie (on the fantastic closing number “Give Me Strength”), and you get about 50 minutes of high quality music that uses the power of the Gospel to communicate its application in our lives.
Even with a consistency of quality, there are some tracks that stand out. The aforementioned “Don’t Listen to Your Heart” definitely fits that bill, as does “Persuaded.” “Persuaded” features some killer electric guitar work, with R-Swift dropping a very welcome guest verse, and Macho flexing his r&b muscles on the chorus. We get to hear Macho sing some more on another track that turned my head, the highly introspective “Run to You”.
Nine years have passed since I first heard Stop the Music, and Remember proves that I was right to keep Macho on my “MCs to watch” list. He should probably be on yours.
Release Date: October 4, 2011
Label: Macho’s Music
2. Persuaded feat. R-Swift
3. Remember feat. Donavan Luke Henry
4. I Am
5. Don’t Listen To Your Heart feat. Griff & Estee
6. Live Your Dream feat. Dax
7. Do It Right feat. Shames Worthy
8. Run To You
9. No Greater Love
10. Dear God
11. Up in your system feat. Jurny Big & Zane
12. Ain’t My Life
13. Give Me Strength feat. Elsie & Ashley Rodriguez