2012 has been an exciting and interesting year in music, with artists like Frank Ocean, Kendrick Lamar, and Lecrae making their debut on a mainstream stage with great success. Also, with talks of the world possibly ending in a few days, there has been an interesting spiritual shift occurring in the hearts and minds of many which has spilled over into the realm of music in a very noticeable way. A couple of months ago, HardKnockTV released an interview with Hopsin, an underground emcee who’s been making a lot of buzz, in which they got him to speak very candidly about his faith and relationship with God. If you haven’t seen that already, be sure to check it out as soon as you get a chance.
As a believer in God, first, and a curator of music, second, this year has been great for me. I’ve gone through a shift of my own where I no longer look at art as being secular vs sacred. I’ve challenged myself to listen before assuming, and because of this, the world has opened up to me in a way that it otherwise wouldn’t have. I can truly say that I’ve experienced what it means to be free in Christ and I don’t walk around in fear of damnation or failure. Furthermore, because I once was that uptight and judgmental Christian, I can’t judge others for being that way without getting a swift kick of conviction from the Holy Ghost.
With all of these things in mind, I decided to do a different kind of “Best Of” countdown this year. I’ve created a list of the Top 10 “gospel” albums that likely won’t be found on your pastor’s iPod. Assuming that you’ve actually read the title of this article, please don’t ask me why Lecrae isn’t on the list. Furthermore, please don’t be a literalist or stickler about the title. Don’t proceed to tell me that your Youth Pastor quotes [insert secular artist] all the time in his sermons, when this is clearly meant to represent the traditional archetype of a conservative, Protestant pastor. Now that I’ve taken care of some housekeeping, I hope you enjoy this little list I put together. Let’s hope that 2013 yields even more excellent art with a Christ-themed message that I can actually share and discuss with my unsaved friends:
CLICK COVER ART FOR DOWNLOAD/PURCHASE LINKS
10) King Mez – My Everlasting Zeal
Although this isn’t my favorite project from King Mez, this album was a solid introduction to those who weren’t already familiar with his work. It didn’t make a lot of noise, which is unfortunate, but hopefully 2013 will bring about more opportunities for a larger audience of true Hip-Hop fans to get acquainted with King Mezatron.
9) SPZRKT – While We’re Young
Being a Moment of Truth transplant, it was no mystery or surprise to seasoned CHH fans that SPZRKT had the skills to pay the bills. However, this was his introduction to many as a solo artist and he certainly didn’t disappoint. With its youthful and energetic sound, this album is appropriately titled. If you aren’t afraid to have a good time and sweat your hair out, or you have no hair to sweat out anyway, this might be the project for you. Unfortunately, with hits like “LSD” under his belt, SPZRKT probably won’t be getting an invitation to perform at your church’s youth emphasis service any time soon; so turn up the speakers, and rock out to While We’re Young in your car or your room! Also, be sure to get that Purple Panda EP.
8) Giano – S.O.R.I.
As someone who’s known about Giano’s skills for a minute but hasn’t always been a fan of his work, S.O.R.I. was a pleasant surprise. As church folk would say, he did his good rapping on this here album. As I listened to track after fiery track, I felt like I owed Giano an apology for underestimating what he could do. This one is definitely a treat for nostalgic, 90’s NY-era hip-hop heads. If you ain’t feeling it, it ain’t for you. That’s just what it is!
7) Justword – Light Generation
Y’all gon stop sleepin on Justword, that’s what you gon do! But seriously, dude is a beast and has been for a hot minute. This super producer/emcee is one of the most underrated cats in CHH’s arsenal, which is a damnable shame! There is no weak point in his entire catalogue — all of which is up on Bandcamp, if you have yet to hear it for yourself. Best of all, he is seamlessly versatile in the styles of music he’s able to create. The Transfiguration is totally different from Light Generation, but they’re equally strong projects. I can’t say the same for many artists, only the greats.
6) Beautiful Eulogy – Satellite Kite
Out of all the albums on this list, Satellite Kite is probably most likely to be on your Pastor’s ipod, that is, if he has a long beard, tattoos, and hipster frames. HumbleBeast artists have been making a lot of well-deserved noise this year, although a lot of it can be attributed to having strong ties with Lecrae and Reach Records. Nevertheless, due to the futuristic synth-bap production of Courtland Urbano, they have a sound all their own that deviates from the norm in commercial hip-hop. When you add to that the lyrical stylings of underground legend, Braille, and up and coming legend, Odd Thomas, the end result is an undeniable BEAST of an album. Hopefully, there’s an Odd Thomas solo project in the works for 2013, because I just have this feeling that he has way more to share.
5) Nicholas Ryan Gant – Promises
This artist and album were a refreshing and surprising discovery. I just happened to be perusing one of my oldhead, hand-dance music blogs when I came across this delectable treat. I promise that if more gospel artists were to take this direction, which many could pull off, I’d be more supportive of the genre. However, as it stands, today’s gospel music just doesn’t do it for me. That raw grit and soul is missing, but for me, it was found in Promises. Many months later, I can still say this is one of the best albums I’ve heard all year. If you’re a fan of R&B/Soul music, be sure to check out Nicholas Ryan Gant. I highly doubt you’ll be disappointed.
4) Mumford & Sons – Babel
Like Beautiful Eulogy, Mumford & Sons might actually be on your hipster pastor’s playlist as well. Since the release of their chart topping debut album, Sigh No More, I’ve witnessed the occasional Christian discuss the spiritual themes in their music and insist upon their salvation. I could hear where they were coming from once I got around to listening to Sigh No More, but I believe the message is even clearer in their sophomore album, Babel. Perhaps, we’re all reading something into the lyrics that isn’t there, but the fact that several people, whose judgment I trust, walked away with the same conclusion leads me to think otherwise.
3) Jerrell Johnson – Dream S.O.D.A.
What more can I say about Dream S.O.D.A. that I haven’t already said? I mean seriously, the link has been resting in my personal Twitter account’s bio since it was released. All I can add is that behind the incredible talent is an incredible human being. It’s so much more rewarding to endorse good music when it’s also made by good people. I don’t have to wince or hesitate as I encourage folks to listen and support. Furthermore, I know that if those same folks reach out to express the excitement about what they hear, they will be gratefully and humbly received. Artists like Jerrell are a rare in secular and Christian communities alike. I look forward to seeing him reap the abundance that is in store for him in 2013 and for years to come.
2) Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d. city
Out of all the albums on the list, this is probably the most controversial. I will be the first to admit, that even with all of its redeemable qualities, good kid m.A.A.d city is undeniably heavy latent with ratchetry. However, I would be remiss if, for that reason alone, I threw out the believer with the dirty baptismal water. Kendrick isn’t the only “mainstream” emcee to confess his faith on wax this year, but contrary to some of those other emcees, I actually believe him. There’s nothing obscene or attention seeking about his confession which otherwise would have raised all kinds of red flags in my mind. He did not blaspheme the God he claims to believe in or present any misleading accounts of His nature (which is more than I can say for many nominally gospel albums). Kendrick doesn’t omit any parts of the story, which can be harder to swallow at some points than at others. He set out to make it clear that he is the chief of sinners, which according to God’s rubric, makes him the most ideal candidate for redemption. GKMC paints a beautiful yet twisted picture of what it means to be caught between The Rock and a dark place. While he yet seeks to grab on to this truth that has grabbed on to him, he invites his fans to come along for the journey. He didn’t wait until he had it all together to share the good news, and as someone who’s fighting to stay afloat myself, I can respect that. I’m convinced that Kendrick Lamar is in fact the real deal and, in a non-condescending way, I’m praying for him.
1) Cody ChesnuTT – Landing On A Hundred
Anyone who’s at all familiar with Cody ChesnuTT’s prior work knows that Landing On A Hundred is not only a remarkable body of work – it’s a miracle! For me, it’s an answer to my prayers. A couple of years ago, I remember praying for God to redeem ChesnuTT’s gift to the point that I could partake in it, because that singular, 2-minute track on my iPod was not cutting it. More recently, my heart’s prayer has been to unearth more gems that can feed me both spiritually and creatively. I needed something that was rugged and authentic and I received that plus more from Landing On A Hundred. The world might never understand the blessing that has rained on us by way of this album or at least not until ChesnuTT has gone on to glory. However, I believe so firmly in this album that I would venture to call it the What’s Going On? of our generation. It’s that good. Now that I’ve potentially ruffled a few boas with the Marvin comparison, all that’s left to do listen for yourself to see if I’m tripping. Furthermore, I wouldn’t be surprised if Mr. ChesnuTT covertly snagged a few Grammy’s. If it happens, remember who hipped y’all to the game first.
That’s all, folks! This was probably the most fun I’ve had writing a post all year. I just hope the list will be even harder to nail down in 2013.