Review: KB – Tomorrow We Live
In the world of Christian hip hop, 2012 shall forever be known as the year of Lecrae. As well it should; in quick succession, the Reach Records general dropped the most important mixtape and album in the subgenre’s history, rewriting the rulebook on God-fearing emcees’ relationship with the secular music game and blazing a path his peers could follow to mainstream acceptance and cultural influence.
Sandwiched between Church Clothes and Gravity on the Reach release calendar was Weight & Glory, the debut solo album from St. Petersburg, Florida representative and HGA frontman KB. Weight & Glory was highly anticipated in its own right, and it delivered on the hype, achieving critical acclaim as well as chart success. It was less of a capital-E Event than Gravity, but I found it a more enjoyable listen.
My reasons for preferring the former aren’t especially “critical” or sophisticated; it just rubbed me the right way. I dug the élan and audacity KB exhibited on the mic. I liked that he opted to provoke more often than sermonize. I loved the way he foregrounded the vivid and everyday rather than the abstract and melodramatic.
The world described on Weight & Glory isn’t full of angels and devils or vicious gangsters who suddenly fall to their knees in the pouring rain and accept Jesus into their hearts. It’s populated by apathetic preachers and church ladies sweating out their weaves, young women struggling with pornography and men unsure if they can hold out until wedding night.
But KB’s got a grander vision for Tomorrow We Live, his eagerly anticipated sophomore set. This shouldn’t come as a surprise given the sweeping vibe of 2014’s 100 EP, one of the tracks on which found him rapping from the perspective of God himself. Right at the jump, he makes clear that the stakes have increased by making a statement about secular rap’s favorite topic: money.
On “Rich Forever,” he tells us that currency and the comforts it brings, while nice, pale in comparison to the spiritual treasures that await in the hereafter. His easy-come, easy-go outlook on worldly wealth sounds like it came from the pages of one of the Greek Stoics rather than those of the New Testament (I recall Jesus having some choice words for the wealthy of his time.), but even if KB passes up a prime opportunity to rain fire and brimstone on the one percent, his wordplay sizzles: “In the face of heaven’s gates, Mr. Gates’ estate’s debased and breaks to paper plates.”
The opener’s jazzy slow-burn gives way to two of the project’s strongest tracks: Lecrae-assisted lead single “Sideways” and “I Believe.” The former isn’t as irresistibly catchy as Weight & Glory’s “Church Clap,” but it isn’t trying to be. It’s a banger, and bang it does. Featuring a stripped-down beat by Cobra and relentless triple-time bars from both KB and his label boss, it oozes whip appeal without sacrificing lyrical substance. The same can be said of “I Believe,” on which tweaked vocal samples and stadium-ready chants accompany the artist as he celebrates God’s impending triumphs over racism, cancer and other ills.
Then comes “Fall in Love.” Late in the track, a reggae-tinged ballad dedicated to his young son, KB ad-libs, “All my fathers can relate.” Now, I’m not a father, and I don’t have nine months to become one before this review is due, so you can take my opinion with a grain of salt. But I’ve got to say it: this song is corny.
I don’t have a problem with the premise (I liked Kanye’s “Only One” as much as the next guy) or with KB showing off his singing voice (which isn’t bad). My beef is that it’s totally generic. Its lyrics are vague enough to apply to any relationship between a son and a loving father, and it sounds like something any popular artist might have recorded.
Before we’ve had time to recover from our disorienting journey from the whip to the nursery, KB whisks us off to the discotheque. The romantically-themed “Always & Forever” isn’t bad at all. It feels like a lighter, less funky take on Kendrick Lamar’s “i,” and its half-time, horn-laced coda is one of Tomorrow We Live’s dopest surprises. But, like “Fall in Love,” it comes out of left field, and the decision to place the album’s most atypical cuts side by side destroys all the momentum built up over the course of the solid opening trio.
Fortunately, this sequencing blunder isn’t a fatal one. The strong, well-matched material that makes up Tomorrow We Live’s latter half will ensure fans don’t leave the album with a bad taste in their mouths. “Cruising,” a hazy, downtempo selection you can enjoy with your favorite herb (I’m drinking Linden flower tea; what did you think I meant?), dovetails smoothly into “Call Me,” whose harrowing verses depict a traumatized Iraq War veteran’s attempted suicide. Second single “Crowns & Thorns (Oceans),” featuring a captivating 808XEliTE beat sampled from popular worship song “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail),” is an appropriately grand finale. The only minor misstep occurs on “Lights Go Out,” where too much baroque wordplay gets in the way of a potentially poignant concept.
Whereas the artist we encountered on Weight & Glory was confident, cocksure and comfortable in his lane, Tomorrow We Live’s KB has more to prove. His ambition to bring his music and message to a larger audience seems to have smoothed down some of his rough edges, at least for now; his rhymes here aren’t quite so confrontational, and his down-to-earth observations of Christian life have given way to more broadly relatable themes.
More problematically, the odd sequencing and incongruous forays into pop territory give the album a somewhat schizophrenic vibe. With that said, KB’s delivery, flow, lyricism and beat selection are still very much on point. Even if Tomorrow We Live adds up to slightly less than the sum of its parts, the parts themselves are well worth your time.
1. Rich Forever
2. Sideways (ft. Lecrae)
3. I Believe (ft. Mattie of For Today)
4. (9 AM)
5. Fall in Love with You
6. Always & Forever
7. Ima Just Do It (ft. Bubba Watson)
9. Calling You
10. Save Me
12. Lights Go Out (ft. Blanca & Justin Ebach)
13. Crowns & Thorns (Oceans)
14. Bonus: Find Your Way
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