Bar Exam: Andre Balboa – Preaching To The Choir (Album)
A One Listen Album Review
Andre Balboa has been supported here at newh2o since his “Sunday Stroll” Mixtape was released in 2011. More recently, he was featured as a 5 under 5k artist in January. Needless to say, he’s a common name around these parts. “Preaching To The Choir” is Andre’s newest project and I’ve been anxious to hear it. Time for a bar exam.
I never know what to do with skits, I don’t mind them at all but I don’t necessarily feel they belong in a critique or review. I guess as long as they make sense with the flow of the album there’s no issue here. This first track is a skit, pretty much straight up a recording of a choir rehearsal.
The first time we hear Andre rap is here on track 2, “Preach.” There’s a boom bap track and plenty of room in the instrumental for him to show his lyrical abilities. The bass kicks in a bit for verse two, and this beat is great. The topic here is that the devil is a liar. Andre is talking about how naïve we are to think that Christians all mind their P’s and Q’s. Christ is where the love is found. Comfort is our new pursuit.
“Way Too Much” begins with a soothing keys sample. What do you get the man who has it all? The song seems to be about how privileged we are. “Way too much is never enough.” Andre shares how he’s got a swimming pool and can’t swim. The overall vibe I’m catching on this project so far is underground. There’s no shine here, but Andre does his thing with a bit of an unorthodox style. This track is above the bar.
I press play on “Don’t Shoot” and am greeted by an electric guitar. Andre jumps in with a flow. He’s got different flavors to what he brings all in this first verse. He’s introduced the concept of “preaching to the Choir” off the bat, he brings in some thoughts from the Gospel, he changes his voice up in order to make him sound like he’s pleading with God, he’s also got a double time flow later in the verse. I’d say he’s bringing something for everyone here.
“Don’t shoot the messenger I’m tellin’ ya.”
The beat progresses along with the song, and the bass is rattling my headphones as JGivens drops his verse. Like we’re used to from JGivens, it’s crazy intricate with wordplay and an impressive display of lyrical intelligence. The next thing I know, the song is over. It’s a terrific song about Jesus coming back. The instrumental is dope and gets better as the song rolls on.
A Bit Of A Slump
We roll into “Holy Matrimony” with a simple beat. Here he’s talking about Christ and the church in a metaphor for marriage and how unfaithful and messed up the Church can be at times. Towards the end of this track I start to feel a bit of a slump, a loss of energy.
Moving on, we get to “Greatest Mystery” with some nice bass licks and chilled out synths. There’s gang vocals tuck in behind the verse. Beat switches up as the song progresses. The music here is great. “Journey to Ephesians 3, tell me what it is you read. Tell me what it is you see. That’s the greatest mystery.” Andre shares from the heart about what the Church should/can be. He talks about living lives of love and service, and you can hear his heart being laid out on these bars. The writing and the performance leave a lot of room, much like what is heard earlier. Pause heavy flows can work, but it’s really brave to trust that there’s enough conceptually to carry the load. Often times rappers would switch up the flow here, and it might not have been a bad look to bring some versatility in a spot like this. Andre sticks to his guns though and trusts the content. Kevin Mason Jr. adds some good vocal licks here. Nothing that’s in the way, and it enhances the track for sure. I’ve just lost energy in this spot. One thing that didn’t help here is the length of this song. On an album full of tracks around three minutes long, this one is almost five.
“Egypt” perked me up a bit especially at the start. Really cool intro here. A female vocal sample getting chopped up, it really brings you in.
“I cried out and you heard me/no doubt I’m unworthy/devout is your mercy/You’re so otherworldly/my faith is unsturdy/my vision is blurry/my soul is so murky/my flesh is so thirsty/and yet You are faithful/I dine at Your table/I’m placed above angels/I’m ever so grateful/My sin is so shameful/It’s such a betrayal/I’ll never be able to match Your appraisal”
His performance here is hushed, like he’s in close sharing a secret. He grows in intensity without much effort. This first verse unravels as he shows the weaving of Christ’s love compared to how unworthy we are. Once again he’s really laid back. Andre’s heart is once again laid out over a beautifully constructed track. It’s a different flow to pair with such a track, but it’s really nice.
Well Constructed Music
Some nice boom bap and samples layered in at the top of “Return To Me.” “Imagine a patient and loving God that can see your whole life unfold in the blink of an eye” that God is asking for you to return to Him. Man, Andre is never gonna twist your face off, but he will leave you with theological nuggets based on Biblical truths. He talks about growing up and as we grow in years we look for fulfillment in the things of this world. The goal is to mature in Christ, and no matter where we are God is still there.
On “Go From Here” there’s a jazz flute sample here weaved throughout these textures. There’s a brass section that comes in on the hook. It sounds so nice. A lot of his rhymes here allude to Old Testament stories. His most intricate flow of the album yet is here in the first verse. This song has a solid underground west coast vibe. I really dig it.
We’ve got two songs in a row here that use flute samples. I like the continuity. “To The Church” is the track I had my eye on before I started the album. I was excited for these features. Andre drops by at the top with a quick thought to ponder, actually connecting the last song to this one and hands it off to Ruslan. Ruslan shares his story of his first encounter with church and small groups. “It ain’t all negative.” James Gardin kills his verse. “It’s so lit like a lightshow/People out rewriting God’s word with mad typos.. they can never ever stop my glow.” Andre shares his testimony in the last verse, about how much he moved around as he grew up. Even though there was no A/C and there was bad singing, the church was a place where he found hope. This track is really firing on all cylinders. I liked how the hook handed off to each emcee, and how solid the storytelling was here.
The next track sounds like the quintessential hip-hop preacher skit. I think this is Andre just havin fun, he goes in about the story of Amos, and the organs build behind him.
“The Benediction” is a solid track and even though it’s one verse here Andre brings it. I’ve always heard that people don’t always remember how you begin, but they do remember how you end. This is a fantastic ending to a solid project.
Every performance from Andre is chill and laid back. His inflections are in the right places and he’s a natural at the flow and writing. There was a lot of great stuff unpacked in these bars and the music paired with it was all above the bar. In the middle of this though, at track five and six I felt a big slump. Outside of that, I enjoyed this project.
Overall Rating: At The Bar