Bar Exam: Flame – God Knows (Album)
A One Listen Album Review
It’s been three years since we last heard an full album from Flame. (!!!) The veteran from St. Louis, Missouri is back with “God Knows” and I couldn’t be more thrilled. The trailer for this album had a tight concept, and I readily anticipated it’s drop. The concept of the album seems to be simple, that God ultimately knows His plan for us, and we’re left to do our best with the life we’re given.
Following that thread, the project starts off with Flame talking to his GPS system in his car. The first track is a skit, then we launch into “Swimming with Sharks.” Big horns in the instrumental, growing in intensity as the song progresses. The concept present here is about how the industry will eat you alive if you let it. “Swimming with the blood thirsty fame seeking vicious/cold hearted selfish minded sneaky opportunist” Flame absolutely kills this performance.
“Silver and Gold” doesn’t follow the melody of the old hymn, but the concept definitely follows that theme. This track has a pop sound to it, but it’s well done. Flame displays melody raps throughout, but the whole piece feels great. The layers that are added later in the song help a lot, and Melinda Watts’ vocals are exceptional.
Track 4, “Fed Up” might be a slight play on words. “I can’t tell who is really fake, I’m fed Up.” There’s a bit of a double entendre here, “somebody open up a case” as it pertains to the word “Fed.” Okay maybe I don’t really know, and that could be a stretch. The music on this tune is intricate and the production is well thought out.
“Only You” has a super modern vibe at the top, and is a song about surrendering your life in order to fulfill your true potential. I’ve never heard of Wes Writer, but he had a great verse here. “I don’t buy what they sellin/way too much Christ in my melanin”…”it should be you who I’m chasing after/but our favorite rapper’s who we cater after”… “I had a potty mouth til I took the old man out/now I got a body count.”
So far this album is fresh, but here at track 6 the energy takes a dip for me. “Dad” has a reggae sound, and while the melodies on the verse are great, I felt this song missed the mark. It’s good to have an upbeat positive song about gratefulness, but this one was over the top for me and almost corny.
Hold up though, we don’t stay in that slump for too long. “No Cosign” comes out swinging with epic strings and big thumpin’ bass lines. We’ve heard a lot of melody raps from Flame up to this point, but this song is straight up rhyming. There’s some cool effects on the vocals and the production is above the bar all around. Topically Flame is explaining that he doesn’t need a co-sign, that His treasure is above and not found in the words of men. KB blazes his feature. I’ll be repeating this song soon.
The next three tracks however are part of a larger slump. “Make History” brings a challenge to not waste your life, and while the big horns in the instrumental were dope, the rest was a little dull for me. The son begins with a 7-11 (7 words 11 times) and I was lost by the time the verse drops. After this track there’s another skit, and then Flame is a little introspective on the song “Not Good Enough.”
Track 11 is entitled “Friday” and immediately it feels like summer. This beat is fun, and the second verse on this track is flames. We’re dealing with an incredibly versatile artist here. Flame can pull off any sound at a high level. J. Carter has a Chris Brown sound to him, and this is the feel good song this album needed.
Body Cam was Flame’s first single for this album, and again Flame pulls out all the stops. He switches back and forth from melodies to bars effortlessly over the spooky beat. I love the idea of using a socially charged idea like “Body Cam” and equating it to how we all want to see proof. Sometimes how we act doesn’t reflect the proof that we’re followers of Christ.
Above The Bar Features
The next song is “Update” featuring Bizzle and Sicily. The beat is simple, and gives room for each artist to flow. Bizzle’s verse is crazy and centered around acronyms. Sicily brings some heat as well. A terrific song of redemption that will be revisited in the near future.
There are a lot of little gems along the way as I’m listening to this project and I’m enjoying myself. “Energy” hits you with a wall of sound straight away and doesn’t let up. This choice I felt doesn’t give the music any depth and wears out the listener pretty quickly. After one more skit we’re at the last track of the album. “Invincible” has a contemporary Christian feel to it with a drum loop and guitars. Jeremiah Carlson is tremendous though, with a nice hook, and this song is pleasant enough we end up at the bar.
In 2003 when I first encountered Flame, the culture was so different. That was 15 years ago, when Cross Movement was on top, and we began to feel gospel hip-hop move out of the dark ages. Now in 2018 the styles incorporated across the entire spectrum of hip-hop have changed, and not only that, but there’s constantly conversations around what being a “gospel rapper” actually is. Consistency is key though, 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.
Overall Rating: At The Bar