A One Listen Album Review
There are modern trends that affect Christian music in various ways. Some of these trends are breathing new air into a somewhat stagnant culture, while other trends can distract from the overall mission and purpose of the music. As a music pastor at my local church I am constantly facing the changing trends and putting them through a filter. I ask questions such as “who is God trying to reach through this decision,” or “how can I use this idea to take people to a deeper spot than they already are?” I think about how the mission of Christ influences every creative decision I make. I wouldn’t want to be caught doing something that I think is dope that will lose or distract people along the way.
I am a very intentional person. I need information in order to thrive and succeed in my craft, and I value the art of staying on point. On point in themes, on point in the process, and on point in delivery. So I am sensitive to the feeling I get when I am witness to pieces of art that don’t seem as up to par as I would hope. I would like to think that this is what helps me as a critic. I notice the bright spots as well as the blurred and the dark blemishes and then feel lead to articulate it all with detailed explanation of my emotional response. Creativity is a beautiful thing that is part of being human. In order to understand what makes the art we create appealing, and to continue to raise the bar of what we present to the world as “Christian Art,” I think healthy and gracious discourse is needed. This is why I am here writing things like this.
I had to preface my review today because I listened to Rockstar JT’s mixtape “The Streets Signed Me,” and I didn’t vibe with it much at all. There were spots throughout that show potential but are “At The Bar” at best. Since my one listen this morning I’ve been wrestling with thoughts on how to talk about Christian art in a critical yet healthy way. Here at newh2o we’re all about encouraging and lifting up this CHH culture that we love to the glory of Christ. Hopefully we’re engaging a culture in an environment of grace and encouragement. Let’s continue sharpening each other as God’s Kingdom expands. 🙏🏻
We open up the mixtape with some terrific layers on the beat. “Streets Signed Me” begins with a soothing vocal sample over a drum kit-like base. Rockstar JT has an old school feel to his flows on this track, even the rhyme schemes feel throwback here. It’s kinda fresh.
“I’mma get it straight up to the top/praying for my homie he got dope up in his sock/can’t work a 9 to 5 he said forget a clock/ cuz they work him like a slave abusing power like a cop”
His flows are tightly fixed to the beat. The overall sound of this track is very appealing and feels great. As the song progresses however, there are a few choices that begin to lose me. JT deviates from his style presented at the top and then moves to some melodic raps. I’m fine with that. Versatility is a plus, it’s important to keep the listener engaged. Then, after this section that a simple hook drops. “Streets signed me, streets, streets signed me.” He then brings back the bars and then we hear a sound bite under the beat (that I think was there at the beginning of the song.) You can’t really hear this sound bite because you’ve just been introduced to 3 other new things in the last 30 seconds. At this point getting worn out by all of these new sounds.
As an intro to the project, the song “Streets Signed Me” set up the concept well. He’s sharing about how he wants to go into every hood and tell them there’s a way out. I just think that the delivery and execution took a blow when the decision was made to do far too much at the end.
Track 2 is named “Bricks For Tha Low.” This song starts out with an intricate synth line, then brings in some big bass and hi hats. JT rocks it with a nice flow, good tone and inflections, sounding far different than the JT we heard on the first track. The content here is a bit hard to follow. Thematically we’re hearing about how selling dope is going to leave you feeling empty. JT is bringing something of worth to the streets though, being his “bricks for the lowly.” This is how I interpreted it. While it’s not firing on every cylinder, this one is a banger, and a track I will definitely revisit.
“Getcha Weight Up” is a tune I’ve been familiar with for a couple months. It begins with spooky synths that have a really cool effect on them, making them sound like their frequencies are changing. The bass absolutely knocks on this track but after the beat is in, there’s not much changing of any layers throughout. There are three features on this track, and along with Rockstar JT they all bring some interesting flows. I’m not sure I’m totally in on some of this, but that Big Yae verse is nice. I think this is a spot where I feel like the features take away from what the whole song is trying to do. The concept I understood here was to bring glory to God, and while it started out sonically above the bar, I could feel that bar lowering and lowering as the features kept coming. This marks the beginning of a slump.
A Meaningful Moment
Track 4 is probably a dream track for Rockstar JT. He featured his mom on a project that a lot of people will hear. It’s a great way to share this moment with her, and to be reminded that words of affirmation can be important when you’re in the business of creating art.
“All I Ever Wanted” has numerous layers. There’s a saxophone with some piano tucked back behind some clicks and claps over a percussive beat. “All I ever wanted was to be who I said I would be.” After some heavy melody raps, he moves into a triplet flow, and now he’s singing. “Praise the Lord I’m free.” This tune is worshipful, but this back section where he moved from fast paced rhymes into some singing and a saxophone solo doesn’t feel like it fits with the rest of the song.
Track 6 is entitled “Whippin Dat Work” and it features Surf Gvng. Right at the top the beat is simple, but as the choir lays in and the more the texture is presented it sounds nice. This beat works well. Topically though, this song is a strange one for me to follow. “Whole team in it and we whippin dat work/all my dead homies put em on a t-shirt.” I am lost on this concept and I would hit the back button, but gotta stay with this whole “one listen review” thing.
“Rockstar Lifestyle” is the next tune and it reminds me of LA for some reason. Some pop vibes on this, and musically it sounds nice. This track seems to be more along the lines of the theme presented in the first track. “I’mma motivate the streets if I don’t ever get a deal.” The second verse here is really great. Probably my favorite verse on the album. There’s something that bugs me about the hook here though. I feel like we’re trying to fit too many words into a small space. It’s all in the name. A “hook” is that part of the song that hooks you and brings you in. I’m not sure this hook does that very well. Overall this song brings us back up to the bar again though and I’m out of the slump.
A Spacious Ending
The final track is called “Hey, God” and features Big Yae and Montell Fish. It’s got beds of vibes and good feelings all through the song. “Hey God I know you hear my voice/I did a lot of sins even though I had a choice.” I was feeling good about the lyrical content here until it sounded like he told God to “not act like you ain’t know.” Besides that, this is the one track on this project that I feel like everything worked together. The concepts are solid and fluid, and there weren’t random creative ideas thrown at you just because. With the concept fleshed out, I feel like I was given space to follow along with the performances.
On the plus side, this project begins and ends with some freshness. On the negative side, the meat of this project seems frenetic to me. I am not in the camp of people who believe that trap music can’t be God glorifying, nor am I in a place where I feel like I’m an old head who doesn’t accept modern trends. I am, however, in a place where I feel like intentionality is a value that should be modeled well when creating art for the masses to consume. Especially 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… somehow I was lost in the rest of it. I’m pretty sure you saw it coming, but my rating for this project is Below The Bar.
Overall Rating: Below The Bar