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Careful. While music is, by definition ‘an expression of emotion’, we must not be so ignorant as to give such creative leeway to a Christian artist. And God forbid giving it to an entire GROUP of such musicians.
Enter stage left Sho Baraka, Swoope, Suzy Rock, J.R, collectively known as High Society. Their first album, Circa MMXI: The Collective’is as expansive as World Music or a Phil Collins record. In a genre that has pigeon-holed itself as extremely methodical and predictable, High Society has managed to build an album that can easily be listened to from beginning to end. In fact, it would be an injustice to oneself to skip even a single track on this album.
‘This is High’ & ‘One Moment’
Circa MMXI kicks off with the spoken word intro ‘This is High’ and ‘One Moment’, a pairing of tracks that give light to High Society’s mission statement. Swoope sets the stage spitting “I will not be crippled. Cast loaves in the ocean, gotta see ripples.” Likewise, Suzy Rock follows the Great Commission with “Intrude your embassy and sneak food to your listeners.” The dire situation of being in a position to minister to souls is a common theme throughout this track.
In any other context, such an angst filled beat as ‘High’ would come off as a dance anthem for the secular realm. But High Society flips the idea on its head and uses the track to boast not of themselves, but of the One who gives them their talent. “Live under the law of not your honor but Your Highness” Swoope says, while Sho takes a few stabs at secular artists “When they open up their mouths, we are not impressed. They have no direction, why is this not addressed?”
The precariously titled ‘Devil’ jumps off with a soulful female vocal sample and an eight-bit sounding harpsichord. The song is essentially a dissertation against those who would say taking creative chances is an affront to Christianity. After giving the summation of critic’s arguments, Swoope states the Collective’s stance with lines like: “Say I teach ‘em wickedness, label me a hypocrite, [they] cancel each other out, that’s common sense arithmetic” and “ If you make the laws then what we need the Lord for?”
‘Devil’ is easily the most risky and creative song on the album.
‘Mad About’ & ‘Press On’
The influence of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on High Society’s worldview is apparent, as he is mentioned numerous times in the next couple of tracks. In ‘Mad About’, the group touches on a wide range of subjects such as racism, pedophilia, and sexism. The entire latter half of Sho Baraka’s ‘Press On’ is given to the activist’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. In the song, Sho expounds on those who he does ministry for – in short, all of God’s children. Sho refers to some of mankind’s chief sins, including his own with such lines as “I tried to eat but I dare not cleave. Exploring Eve’s garden knowing that I would leave.”
In today’s commercially driven society, many people look to money and possessions for identity. But as Suzy Rock’s solo work explains: “We want applause cuz we flawed but we need the Lord.”
‘YDLM’ begins with a spoken word interlude of Suzy Rock interrogating what would seem to be a deceitful partner over the exploitation of her love and her money. But as with most of the songs on Circa MMXI, one should not take this at face value. The song could easily be interpreted as a Christian’s divorce papers for the World, as J.R. sings: “All this time you were only a distraction from the main attraction.”
The innocent stumbling drums of ‘Before Goodbye’ are the perfect backdrop for a look into the confusion that can be result from love. Lines like “I ain’t ready for morning sickness throw up. Nine months later a little me the stroller” and “Before I can look at my wedding ring she rolls over to me and sings” show what a temptation women can be for men in premarital relationships.
‘Dedicated’ & ‘Take Off’
Next are the album’s second pairing of solo tracks. J.R. gives a polite love letter to a lucky lady with ‘Dedicated’ followed by Swoope’s “in the world but not of it” outer-space metaphor ‘Take Off.’ Both tracks highlight each artist’s abilities and demonstrate them as fully capable of solo work.
‘Winner’s Circle’ & ‘TGC’
The album concludes with one-two punch of ‘Winners Circle’ and ‘TGC.’ The latter (an abbreviation for True, Good, Creative) is a barrage of clever wordplay by Swoope and Sho Baraka. Rhymes like “Hungry as a plastic hippopotamus. Headed straight to the opposite of where the bottom is” secure a spot for Swoope as a supreme wordsmith capable of hanging even with the best battle emcees.
Comparisons are sure to arise from each of the artist’s styles but in the end, Circa MMXI: The Collective showcases talent and skill that cannot be imitated. It is a rare treat for music as personal as what High Society has presented with this collection of songs. The musical canvas (provided largely by Swoope and J.R.) is like a trip through time and space; excelling at the cinematic feel of a beginning, middle and ending. This is not just another rap album. It is music that takes chances, and in the process, gets most of it right. In the precariously titled ‘Devil’, Swoope raps “What I’m supposed to tip toe all around their laws for? You are not my Judge or my Lawyer.”
Buy on iTunes
1. High (Intro)
2. One Moment
5. Mad About
6. Press On (SHO) feat. Jaime Portee
7. Applause (SUZY)
8. Y.D.L.M (You Don’t Love Me) – Intro
9. Y.D.L.M (You Don’t Love Me)
10. Before Goodbye
12. Take Off (SWOOPE)
13. Winner’s Circle (We Major Remake) feat. Propaganda
14. T.G.C. (Truth Goodness Creativity)