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Bar Exam: The First Quarter (Recap)

March 30, 2018


Bar Exam: The First Quarter (Recap)

A Recap Of All Bar Exam Reviews 1st Quarter 2018

I’ve been heavily consuming Christian hip-hop since 1988, when I picked up some used Stephen Wiley and PID tapes from a record store with my father. Fast-forward to 30 years later and my addiction/hobby has become more focused as I write out my thoughts on projects here at newh2o. It’s an honor to do this, and it’s been a great first quarter as some dope new albums have been added to my collection along with some exceptional new artists to the scene. Below is a summary of each 2018 project that has been reviewed so far, as well as some noteworthy “awards” from the first quarter. Enjoy.



Above The Bar:

Corey Wise – Infinity Vibes: “Corey has his gift on display with solid writing, spouting off metaphors and similies, and unashamedly displaying the Gospel. Not only that but the production, the flows, the direction, and the fluidity of the project are all on point.”

Ruslan – Indie Jones II: “I was thoroughly impressed by this project. It sounds original, the content is challenging, and the intentionality behind every decision is glaringly evident. It’s artists like Ruslan who will be advocates for creative change in the CHH culture.”

Steven Malcolm – Second City Pt. 1: “On this part one of four, we experience the full spectrum of his abilities which only makes us hunger for more. One thing I have to mention is that you can never know what to expect when it comes to current trends in hip-hop. Steven has such a tight flow, which is rare in this current culture. While versatility can help with reaching a larger audience, I hope the decisions made in the coming projects would be similar to what we hear here.”

At The Bar:

Illtalian – Makana: “I’d love to hear Illtalian carry an entire track on his own like we heard on track 9. I really had no clue what to think when I dove into this album, but there’s not much bad to say about it. It’s well done. Props.”

Joshva & Tron – New Life: “There was a lot to like about this album. All of Joshva’s flows were above the bar and on fire. Tron’s vocals were complimentary to the music beds that were laid and even enhanced Joshva’s performance at times.”

Justus – Sola Gratia: “Justus is a very talented artist, and there’s a lot that I’ll return to here. If you’re a fan of underground West Coast rap, this album is for you. With Justus being a new artist, this is a very solid first effort. I just wish the album only included the first 10 tracks so that my conclusion could be different.”

Below The Bar:

New Jeruse – Bread Crumb Trail: “I was continually impressed by New Jeruse and his rapping chops. On the other hand, I was underwhelmed by the overall production and mixing of this album. Keeping that in mind and then throwing in some creative inconsistencies, these things made the listening experience less than stellar for me.”


Above The Bar:

Swoope –  Sonshine: “He’s got everything working for him on this album. With next to no features he shows he can carry an entire project all on his own. Throughout “Sonshine” the creative direction is on point, the topics are fire, the fluidity, writing, and performances are all above the bar. This is a slam dunk album for me.”

Social Club Misfits – Into The Night: “Social Club switches effectively back and forth between pop and hip-hop, and conceptually they bounce around between swagged out flows and spiritually challenging topics. The biggest changes that Social Club made on this album, that I noticed upon my first listen were centered around their intention to share the Gospel and point to a real relationship with Christ.”

Torey D’Shaun & Kevi Morse – Any Last Words EP: “Overall there’s nothing to complain about. It felt like I was invited to listen to two artists have fun for seventeen minutes. The music is tight, the flows and the performances were all above the bar, and it was an extremely enjoyable listen. Considering all of this is wrapped in a tiny package I still have this project slightly above the bar.”

Ozay Moore – In The Wake Of O: “I found this project to be incredibly enjoyable. It’s really early in 2018 still, but I’d expect “In The Wake Of O” to be in the running for album of the year. It’s straight up hip-hop that anyone can appreciate with not a weak beat or feature to be found.”

At The Bar:

Levi the Poet – Cataracts: “Words can be therapeutic. Community can be this way as well. There’s something about the idea that realizing everyone else is as messed up as you are. The honesty in Levi’s words, his candor, his bare humanity are all like medicine for the soul.”

Below The Bar:

Rockstar JT – The Streets Signed Me: “When sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, if we miss the mark, those are opportunities that will be missed as well. I’d love to get inside the mind of an artist like Rockstar JT and hear what his goal, his intention was behind the releasing of this album. I feel like his talent is there, his beats as well… but somehow I was lost in the rest of it.”

W.A.I.D. – Stay: A Love Story EP: “What began as such a promising project just from first assessment ended up being a disappointment. As the saying goes “You can’t judge a book by it’s cover,” and I think that obviously works for albums too. If W.A.I.D. can get his vocals produced a little better and spend a little more time crafting his flow, we will all be waiting in anticipation of his future releases.”


Above The Bar:

Jon Keith – Lost Boys:  “My first impression of him was above the bar and that’s what I’ve experienced here. With all the melodic rap out there, I still have to submit that bars are important. Jon Keith can bring it all on another level than most modern. …Jon has been given a platform to use his music to steer people towards Christ and he didn’t waste it. That’s commendable in itself. Big props to Jon Keith on a spectacular debut album.”

Lawren – Get Your Change EP: “He came at me with bars and intentionality on every song. Each track was well fleshed out and solid all around. I’ve already hit repeat on this project and in the future, any time Lawren has something to say, I’ll be there to take notes.”

Jonathan McReynolds – Make Room:  “If you think that it’s difficult to find lyrically dense artists in church music, you just haven’t heard artists like Jonathan McReynolds. He has a way of giving meaning, emotion, and soul to his music. Considering the decisions he makes in his songwriting and performance, it’s all exemplified well on “Make Room.””

At The Bar:

Flame – God Knows: “Consistency is key, and through all of this fluff on the fringe, we’re still privileged to find Flame staying true to himself in message and in skill. He’s got that STL sound through and through, and when I press play on a Flame project I know I’m gonna experience something solid. “God Knows” is no different, and while I find it at the bar, there’s some bangers here that will continue Flame’s legacy of consistency.”

Reflect – The Translation: “Reflect is a gifted emcee bent on convicting the soul by spitting knowledge and calling us to a better version of ourselves. An incredibly deep and intentional album, “The Translation” is an inspiration, bringing the Gospel with conviction to a Christian culture that is hungry to find worth. All Reflect does is point to Christ, and that’s a fresh breath of air we all need.”

Hnst-T – Breaking Ground EP: “This EP is feature-heavy, and while Hnst-T had some bright spots, in the future I’d love to hear more songs that he carries on his own. “Breaking Ground” was an enjoyable listen and I’m hopeful for a future of more music from Hnst-T.”

Below The Bar:

Anothen – Speak Louder With Action: “The message is on point, but it’s the execution of delivering the art in a well packaged manner that is lacking. Creating good art is difficult. This is why not everyone does it. It’s also hard to please everyone who consumes your art, and that’s okay. It’s the constructive feedback that can encourage and motivate for the future. AnotheN has a lot of potential, but that’s not always all that it takes.”

And A Few Fun “Awards”

Best Projects: 1st Quarter 2018
A+ on the Bar Exam
Ozay Moore – In The Wake Of O
Swoope – Sunshine
Ruslan – Indie Jones II

Best Bars: 1st Quarter 2018
Packed tight with lyricism
Reflect – I Am King Feat. Richie Righteous, Sho Baraka, Eshon Burgundy
Jon Keith – Incognito Pt. 2 Feat. Rev Mizz, KHAM, Ruslan
Ozay Moore – Where You At Feat. James Gardin, Jahshua Smith

Best Produced Tracks: 1st Quarter 2018
Swoope – Never Left
Ruslan – Like That Feat. Derek Minor, Jon Keith
Ozay Moore – Good

Best Opening Track: 1st Quarter 2018
Coming out swinging
Joshva & Tron – New Life
Lawren – Thank You Feat. Antoine Bradford
Social Club – Nightmare


Luc has been a worship pastor at LifeBridge Church in Longmont, CO for the past 12 years. Luc is passionate about reaching people through all kinds of music. In his free time he’s either watching baseball, on a date with his wife, or wrestling with his kids.
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