G&D – The Lighthouse album review

G&D are the husband and wife Duo of Georgia Anne Muldrow and Dudley Perkins (aka Declaime). Their new full-length The Lighthouse is a robust album blending funk, soul, and hip hop. Following up on their 2010 Mello Music Group release SomeOthaShip, Georgia and Dudley turned to their own imprint, SomeOthaShip Connect to put out The Lighthouse. The product is a much more personal effort, and the two decided to produce the entire album themselves, whereas SomeOthaShip featured a different hip hop producer for nearly every track. As a DIY effort, this album is even funkier and more message-forward than their first full length release. The album is sonically dense with a smoky haze backdrop, resinous bass and jittery, paranoid funk riffs. What really impressed me about the album is the wide variety of influences on display. There’s Parliament-esque “Power” and “Muthadear,” a heartfelt tribute to motherhood, with a melody so instinctive and sentimental, it reminds of classic Motown. Georgia and Dudley share the spotlight pretty equally, and Georgia stuns with the poise of her delivery in her only rapped verse on “Fam Bam.” Her singing voice is velvety smooth and low, and compliments Dudley’s declaratory rapping style.

The fusion of so many styles is held together with various musical interludes that thump the eardrums and bend the mind with brooding samples and top-notch DJ cuts. Even so, the album does collapse a little under the sheer weight of its own scope. Not so much unfocused as ambitious, its easy to get kind of bogged down by it. Listening to The Lighthouse can get kind of claustrophobic, like being crammed into a tiny, dark closet with Georgia and Dudley as they blow intoxicating hash smoke into your nostrils and school you solemnly on their musical taste and spiritual discoveries. Feel free to take a breather from this daunting album if things get too heavy for you.

All in all this is a highly intelligent album from two artists who are committed to a particular sound, despite the melting pot of influences that conspire to bring that sound to life. That sense of commitment, and of purpose has yielded a fully-rendered vision of spiritual funk and soul melding with hip hop. I will definitely look for G&D to continue to forge their very own path through music in future releases, but I’ll come prepared next time I get invited to hotbox with Georgia and Dudley, and make sure I’m ready for a lesson or two.

Reality – Life Music album review

Full disclosure: this is a review of a Christian Rap album. I’m not saying that because I’m discouraging anyone, believer or not, from listening to it. However, I think it’s important to bear in mind that blending an openly religious message with secular musical genres can often produce confusing results. That, in a nutshell, is the problem with Reality’s Life Music, and maybe contemporary Christian music (CCM) in general. Christian rap artists have a lot more barriers to overcome than other contemporary Christian musicians. Finding a lyrical message that keeps it real and also keeps it righteous is rarely achieved, and probably why Christian rappers don’t enjoy a lot of mainstream success even by CCM standards. So, by peppering in religious overtones throughout an album comprised mostly of rhymes about a violent criminal lifestyle, Reality really isn’t striking much of a balance.

Reality relates to the listener a number of tales of a rough life in the streets and of his inner struggle. Unfortunately, none of his verses are very self-revealing. For the most part he just uses generalities to describe his struggle and paint in broad strokes a picture of hardship that he rose above through the power of Jesus. Even the title of the album promises a vital look into a life transformed by faith, but Reality doesn’t even make it clear how or when exactly he decided to devote himself to Christian faith. Combine that with weak storytelling, it becomes hard to truly grasp the transformation that Reality obviously wants to convey. Now, I’m not trying to discredit a man’s testimony, but when it’s hard to tell the difference between a rapper who’s lamenting a life of violence and a rapper who’s glorifying that life, I have to take issue with that. Often Reality’s message of positivity only appears on the latter verses of his songs, and by that time, I’m afraid that many listeners will have already written off the content as boilerplate gangsta rap. However, Reality does seem most genuine when he is focusing on his inner turmoil and his grappling with God, particularly on “To The Generation” which was easily my favorite song on the album.

Would I listen to this album if I even if I were a non-believer? Maybe. Reality’s strong voice and solid delivery are enough to keep listeners interested for at least a skim of a few tracks. However, I just don’t think that Reality’s message is going to hit home with Christians, because it just doesn’t deliver honest, impactful testimony. So, if this album is going to seem lukewarm to non-believers, and inauthentic to believers, then who is this album for? That question, in my opinion, sums up the awkwardness of contemporary Christian music, and in particular the confusing blend of ‘holy’ and ‘hip hop’ found in Life Music.

Rittz – The Life and Times of Jonny Valiant album review

After much ado, Georgia rapper Rittz announces himself with a highly foreshadowed debut album, The Life and Times of Jonny Valiant. Since aligning himself Yelawolf’s independent label Slumerica, Rittz has dropped several singles and a lengthy mixtape (White Jesus: Revival) as a run-up to up this debut release. Now, turning to Tech N9ne’s Strange Music imprint, Rittz’s brand of dirty south hip hop hits the big scene.

The debut effort from Rittz is unlikely to disappoint his fans, touting consistent production values and Rittz’s signature rapid-fire rhymes, but it might not so easily win over a casual listener. What limits this album’s appeal is a number of thematic contradictions. And although it’s an extremely polished product, the music just doesn’t make the right kind of impact for an MC’s debut.

As far as the overall sound experience of the album, it sounds really crisp. Rittz’s vocals always come through loud and clear, showcasing the rapper’s blazing fast choppity-chop rapping style. Rittz’s fast but not hurried delivery dices up an inky black backdrop of clean bass tones and tight synths. His rapping competes with the speed and precision of double-time kicks and tick-tick snares. I have to be honest though, I felt the slickness of the tracks losing luster pretty early in the album. Maybe it was the straight up sex jam “Sober,” but I couldn’t help but imagine some of these songs playing out in a beat up after-hours strip club.

Three quarters of the way through the hour-long album, Rittz’s machine gun flow started to wear me down as well. I found myself practically begging for featured artists to come in and break up some of the monotony. While I usually respect the sparing use of features on a solo album, especially a debut, I wish Rittz had given up the mic a little more often. The guest verses from MCs like Tech N9ne, Yelawolf and Big K.R.I.T., are a much-needed change of pace on Jonny Valiant.

His flow aside, Rittz is at his lyrical best when he keeps it strictly personal, like in the song “Interview.” Here he faces down skeptics, critics, and public interrogation in the form of rapped responses to a fictional interview. However Rittz stumbles when the focus becomes less individual and he resorts to glorifying excessive lifestyles filled with drugs, booze and sexual exploits (see: “Sober”). To further complicate things, Rittz seems very determined to remind the listener of his no-nonsense ethos with songs like “Fuck Swag,” and “For Real.”

Ultimately, I couldn’t fully get over these missteps. An MCs debut album is a rite of passage that should make an unmistakable statement representing the sum of everything in the artists life that went into the creation of the album. Not only is Rittz’s statement a little contradictory, the album fails to create a lasting impact musically. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an unbelievably consistent effort from an MC in a debut, and it could probably serve as a great soundtrack for your next drugged driving excursion. Unfortunately, the punch that The Life and Times of Jonny Valiant packs will wear off a lot quicker than the buzz you’re catching to it.