Bar Exam: Tedashii – Never Fold (First Listen Review)
Tedashii is that dude. Since his release of Kingdom People in 2006, he’s been a rock in the Christian hip-hop culture, and a consistent force on the microphone. He just dropped his newest project, Never Fold. It’s 17 tracks and if it’s like anything he’s done in the past, it promises to be a journey of emotional depth packed with memorable performances. How does it stack up to the bar?
For those of you unfamiliar with my bar exams, I am sharing all of my notes from my true first listen to the project. I provide in-depth thoughts and commentary on anything from flows, rhymes, beats, creative direction, track placement, and concepts.
There’s A Heaven – Immediately a melody comes in. The vocals are a bit distorted, singing “There’s a heaven for us, there’s a heaven for me.” Tedashii is opening his heart up on the track, and the album is beginning from a tender spot.
God Flex – There is so much going on in this instrumental it baffles me how it all works together. Daramola comes in at the top, matching the hype of the soundscape. Tedashii gets into a pause-heavy flow that employs numerous ad-libs and actually relies on these ad-libs for glue throughout. It’s always interesting for me to imagine flows like this without the ad-libs, and I wonder if the flow would still hold up without them. Man, I love hearing Trip Lee spit. I really feel like he could rap “row row row your boat” and it would sound dope. I just dig his vocals, and the perspective he brings to a track. The feel of this song doesn’t really switch up until this interlude “yeah he got it” and then it’s a big left turn to a piano outro at the end.
Get Out My Way – Another hyped song that sounds like “I Ain’t Done” pt. 2. Lecrae gets gritty with the vocals and digs in for a very solid performance in verse one. But as far as lyrical content goes, it seems like more of the same stuff from ‘crae. “You don’t know about the fast life/ I got scars from my last fight/ Ice water in my bloodstream from some old things in my past life.” Tedashii takes the rest of the song from here and keeps the performance firing at a high level, but fully steps up the content by bringing some originality to his verse.
Son Of Sam – The beat here is simple but it’s strong. The layers that add and subtract throughout are subtle but enhance the performance in ways another similar beat would not. Tedashii is coming at the beat with his heart, sharing about his identity, his doubts, his struggles with depression, and a hardened heart. In the second verse, he talks about repentance, reconciliation, getting accountability and not walking through life alone. Even after these instances of clarity and intentionality from close friends, T-dot still feels anxiety and doubt. The truth is that the isolation we can sometimes feel in life can be overbearing. This tune is deep and honest, but it shows how Tedashii has a group of people around him who are looking out for him when he’s in a time of crisis.
Home – The handoff from that last track to a track like this one is perfect. David Crowder croons a Chorus at first, setting the tone for the overall mood and the concept that will be dealt with.
“Looking for the shade where the trees are dead/ Trying to find my way to the peace inside/ Until I’m, until I’m home.”
Tedashii approaches this track with a posture of surrender and humility in the presence of God. He’s asking for help to navigate life. The production choices to add vocal doubling at the end of certain lines and the way the beat is built helps bring out the emotion of the song in different ways that elevate meaning. God’s grace is difficult to wrap our minds around because it’s hard to actually forget the mistakes, and God can actually do that. There are a lot of positives here, but after a couple of minutes, I began to lose energy in this spot.
Splash II – Hold on, can’t write. Parris Chariz is too dope for me to try to write anything about him here. Tedashii heard that flow and was like “challenge accepted” and proceeded to absolutely bust up the track, handing off to 1k Phew to lace the hook. Jarry Manna bats clean up and it’s a wrap. Nevermind, the energy is back.
Water – Big bass, with a keys loop and some whistling in the background. It sounds like Houston on steroids. From the slappin’ beat to the references to mud and dirty sprite, to the screwed up vocals… this is an ode to H-Town, with an overarching theme of renewal. I need more screwed up vocals.
Diamonds – Pressure makes diamonds. Staying with the overall concept for the album of “never folding,” Tedashii comes at us with a melody-laden track. It sits in the middle of this album as an interlude. This album already feels long to me because of the depth and everything my brain is unpacking as he strolls through this lyrical journey. So to have a spot to calm down here feels good. This is also a more modern sounding Tedashii on this track, which fits right after that old school SUC vibe on the last track. I’m hearing intentionality on this project around every corner.
Step Into Love – Sarah Reeves steps up to the mic for a Chorus. This is T-Dot’s Halsey and G-Eazy moment. The layers in the beat even give a nod to that trend. This track is too cookie cutter for my liking and is pretty surprising to hear from an artist like Tedashii. Don’t get me wrong, it’s well done. It’s just very familiar.
My Lifestyle – Tedashii is excellent at numerous things when it comes to his performances. He can twist, he can pull off a nice melody, he can chill it out. There’s legitimately nothing he can’t do. Here he’s elevating the energy by pulling every tool out of his tool belt, all while pontificating throughout a beat with a lot of sonic real estate to spend. There’s plenty of room here for him to do his thing, and he does it at a high level.
“God gave me reason for my livin’/ I ain’t even finished/ Here for your good, that’s the mission/ Settin’ people free like they trapped in a prison/ Like hangin’ tough and movin’ underground”
Gotta Live – Another CCM feature. Jordan Feliz with the strong pop influence on this Chorus. The instrumental leans more EDM than I was prepared for, but this is an inspirational song about perseverance. As deep as this project has gotten at times, this is a very positive and upbeat vibe here.
Hold Me Down – Yo this is old school Tedashii here. He’s spittin’ heavy on this one. The instrumental employs numerous samples and as it progresses it does a spectacular job with the changing of textures that are needed for the different sections of the song. He pulls out all the stops here, and even taps his kids for some features at the end.
Smile – Another easy listening melodic song. It falls in line with the concept of never folding under pressure. It’s important to carry joy in your heart even when life is hitting you with difficulty. It’s all about outlook.
“You need a win, so just tell me when/Just hit me up and you know that I’m coming thru/ Two sides to the corners in front of you/ Lemme show love to you”
All In Love – This song is tight. The haunting bass line and synths are captivating straight away. Kam Parker lends his vocals for the R&B vibe you need on a love song like this. This is the track you play for your girl. It’s a deep cut that should not go without appreciation.
Full Effect – I’m slumping again at this point in the album, while I liked that last track, it left me a bit sleepy. But, as we move on this track starts on a promising note. The samples on this are dope. Ok, actually this beat actually hits. I dig the laid back charisma from T-dot paired with the rapid-paced rhyming on the verses. This is one I’ll return to.
Won’t Bring Me Down – Another female feature for a Chorus. There’s a thick bass line that lays in, and as the song marches forward this music bed just grows. I dig this over the Reeves song, there’s emotion here that is palpable. Let’s live life without fear, and trust only in God for strength.
“This a fight, can’t take it light, we got enemies/ Blessed to call my family too, ’cause they depend on me/ See, I took a vow, she took my name/ Full circle, so I got a ring/ Trust in God and I did the same/ Walkin’ out? Man, that sound insane”
It Is Well – We’re at the end of the album in the same place we began, in a tender spot. It sounds like the song “It Is Well” sung in Samoan with Swoope on the piano keys. (I can’t hear Swoope, I looked it up). It’s a strong ending and an appropriate thoughtful tag to an intentionally moving project.
To conclude, this is not a perfect album. Mainly because seventeen tracks took a long while for me to digest, and the thought of returning to some of it feels like a chore to me rather than something that I would enjoy. Tedashii is supremely talented and God is present in every single bar. I applaud him for that. There were definitely some jaw-dropping moments here for me, and some songs that immediately got set aside for quite a few more listens. I just felt like there were multiple songs hitting the same note sonically, topically, and performance wise. As I said, there’s a lot here to take in, and don’t get me wrong, it’s not all bad.
Overall Rating: At The Bar
Purchase or stream here.