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.