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KJ-52 is, quite possibly, Christian hip-hop’s most polarizing figure. Some may not like his music or the way he presents it, but if you’re a Christian, it’s hard to argue with his heart for proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. His new album’s title, Dangerous, makes it obvious that he’s willing to take risks for that purpose.
As is fairly common on a KJ-52 album, Dangerous is a mixture of styles and techniques. Every song on the album, whether it be rap/rock (“Face Melt”), electropop (“It’s Goin’ Down”), a more traditional hip-hop sound (“Do the Bill Cosby”) or even an adult contemporary sound (“Dangerous”), every song is shot through with the KJ-52 sensibility that’s been there since 7th Avenue and Collaborations. His quirky and self-deprecating sense of humor combines with his particular style of evangelism is the basis of a familiar recipe that will please long-time fans.
Even if you’re not traditionally a KJ fan, there’s still a lot to like within Dangerous. My favorite track on the album, “They Like Me” is a funky but heart-felt collaboration between KJ and one of the most lauded Christian MCs in the scene, Grammy nominated Lecrae. Musically, the track is sound, but it also explores, as Lecrae says at the beginning of the song, “the elephant in the room”: race relations within the church. The two shine together as they expound upon their own backgrounds within the church, both as musicians and people.
One of my other favorite tracks is “Superhero.” This is what I refer to as a concept song. Similar to “47 Emcees” from Collaborations, KJ picks a topic (in this case, comic book superheroes) and wraps a Christ-based song around it using word play and name drops based on the chosen topic. It’s an effective technique, and there are even some subtle references that it might take repeated listens to grasp.
Some of the other tracks may be hit or miss depending on your musical tastes. Tracks like “It’s Goin’ Down”, “Brand New Day” and “Go” see KJ going in a synthesizer heavy, almost electropop (think “Party Rock Anthem”) direction. Guests have always been a big part of KJ’s modus operandi, and that doesn’t change here. In addition to Lecrae, he also features artists such as Canton Jones, Rhema Soul and Thi’sl. And, what would a KJ-52 album be without a bit of light hearted fun? “Do the Bill Cosby” provides that here, and is worth listening to, if only for KJ’s terrible, but amusing, Bill Cosby impression at the beginning of the track.
The title track is strong, but may not be everyone’s cup of tea. As I mentioned previously, the song has more of an “adult contemporary” sound. Lyrically, the song is about the challenges that we face as Christians in this life. KJ lives up to the title of the song by turning a potentially judgmental track about the failings of Christians into the type of self-examination that we’re all called to, even if we’re not all necessarily called to do it as publicly. Musically, the track combines strings and a clean guitar sound over a relaxed (in terms of both tempo and volume) drum beat, creating a solid bed for such an emotional topic.
Production on Dangerous is handled by Tedd T and Aaron Sprinkle, who KJ previously worked with in 2005 on Behind the Muzik (A Boy Named Jonah). The sonic presentation of this album is outstanding. Everything is produced, mixed and mastered extremely well. For some artists with a different sensibility than KJ, it might sound overproduced, and maybe a little too slick. However, the production fits extremely well with KJ’s more mainstream musical sensibilities. With the variety of styles on this album, Tedd T and Aaron Sprinkle were apt choices to produce. Both have had extremely varied careers, working in a number of musical spaces throughout their careers (check out each one’s Wikipedia page for the laundry list of artists that they’ve worked with). Sprinkle adds an addition to the songs that I wasn’t necessarily prepared for. He’s convinced KJ to sing. Instead of getting a guest to sing the choruses of “Face Melt” (I could easily hear Trevor McNevan from Thousand Foot Krutch singing that one) and “Dangerous”, he does it himself. I wouldn’t look for him to transition into an acoustic singer/songwriter career any time soon, but he proves to be capable enough. In particular, “Dangerous” is made all the more personal with KJ singing.
After 11 years and 7 solo albums, you’ve probably already made up your mind about how you feel about KJ-52. If you like his previous work, you’ll probably really enjoy Dangerous. If you’re not a fan, I’d urge you to step out on the ledge and give it a spin anyway. You might find a couple of tracks you really like, or you might just come away with a renewed spirit…either way, it’s worth the risk.
Release Date: April 3, 2012
Label: BEC Recordings
1. It’s Going Down (ft. Canton Jones)
2. They Like Me (ft. Lecrae)
6. Shake Em Up (ft. This’l)
7. Do The Bill Cosby (ft. George Moss)
8. So Far Apart (ft. Emily of Shine Bright Baby)
9. Brand New Day
10. Speed That Light (ft. Rhema Soul)
11. That Was My Life (ft. Dre Murray)