Bar Exam: Reflect – The Translation (Album)
A One Listen Album Review
The last I heard from Reflect was the “Silence is Betrayal EP” that released four years ago. In the last four years we’ve witnessed the music scene sacrificing depth for catchiness, and meaning for hooks. What if we didn’t always want hooks and catchy tunes? In walks Reflect with his latest offering “The Translation.” If being a Christian artist becomes about sheer entertainment, this is a person who isn’t here to entertain. What if you could be motivated by music to live out your interpretation of the gospel? This is how Reflect chooses to use his platform, and his motive is not wasted.
We start off the project with a dope instrumental. A drum kit is present along with a pretty organic sounding piano. The beat drops at just the right time while Reflect goes in. Life is a translation of what you believe. Reflect talks about how you’ve got “words and actions” when it comes to life, and it’s difficult to make those two things align. You have “application and context,” and the translation works out in how you live. This is a perfect intro to outline the theme of the album. “All these bodies outlined in chalk because mouths can’t open up and talk.”
With the second track, Reflect drops a solid flow with Jeremiah Bligen singing the hook. I’d say the track is okay. We’re probably at the bar here. Nothing wows me, but it’s a solid performance. “We ain’t trying to spectate/we trying to communicate/with a hope to bring elevation/praying that it translates.”
Track three, “Troubled Child” kicks off with a Sam Dees chipmunk soul sample that puts some chill in your bones. The synth beds lay in with a nice bass lick and we’re rollin. The song is alluding to trouble and pain in life, Reflect moves to a hook at the end of the song asking for God to heal his pain. This beat started off incredibly promising, but I found the writing on this track to be lacking. Staying at the bar with this song, but losing some excitement.
Chip On The Shoulder
“Never Seen” is the first track where I felt like Reflect had a chip on his shoulder, here he’s rhyming with intensity and charisma. Another chipmunk soul sample on this one but a slower pace this time, Reflect is looking back on his life and telling how God has been good to him. He also acknowledges that there are enemies out there who are against him, but the challenge as a follower of Christ is to love them regardless. Reflect is honest and explains how that concept can wear someone out. “I ain’t never seen the face of God/But when I face the odds/I put my faith in God still.”
Anyone who took a peek at the track list for this album would have mentally circled this next tune. “I Am King” is featuring Richie Righteous, Sho Baraka, and Eshon Burgundy. It does not disappoint. There’s a big epic instrumental here that implements orchestral strings and puts me in a battle ready mood. Reflect hits leadoff, rapping about racism and how it can distract us from who God really us, wrapping up his strong verse with an acronym for king. “K is for the knowledge/I is to inspire/N is for the nurture/G to go higher/Jesus lit the match so we all on fire” Richie Righteous is on the hook, which feels constructed a bit differently but it’s good. Sho Baraka takes the second verse and drops some challenging bars as well. “What’s a king without wisdom and purity/face your insecurities/that’s what we call maturity.” Batting cleanup for this song is Eshon Burgundy, and clean up he did. This verse is bonkers. “Neighborhood, royal priesthood/I’m hood nevertheless/My ancestors died serving/they’re good nevertheless/Every slave that died as a child of God/will go to heaven in the sky persecuted/what better way to arrive?”
Just when you think you understand the style of the album, you’re hit with a different flavor. “Battle Ready” is a bit more upbeat and happy, with a catchy hook sung by Rah A.D. It’s crazy how the hook doesn’t rhyme but it catches your ear quite well. Masterful work there by Rah. This song is ultimately a call for “Gospel Music” to be representative of the gospel. “Are we trying to save souls or are we trying to debate/Are we trying to rescue or are we trying to relate?”
Up next we have “Supreme,” a song about injustice in the world and the justice that God brings. When Jesus comes back everyone will bow and understand the true meaning of “Supreme.” This was a difficult track for me to wrap my head around. The beat switches a lot and felt disjointed from everything else going on. The beat switches were unnecessary especially if the flow doesn’t change along with it.
As we move along we come up on track eight, entitled “The Context.” Reflect is staying on point with the themes he brought up in the introduction. Here he’s busting out a spoken word over some smooth pianos. The instrumental grows with dynamic intensity with the performance and Jeremiah Bligen closes it out with some soul. This poem could be a Christmas poem. It tells of the coming of Christ. Reflect is gifted with the wordplay and it shows here. I felt like the ending of this track was a bit anticlimactic. Maybe it was straying from being too predictable, but I wouldn’t have minded it on this piece. Once the beat drops it feels like too little too late.
More Verses Please
It’s rare for me to hear in hip-hop culture these days someone who is willing to do three verses regularly. This is a symptom of what a la carte streaming (and even radio) has done to the craft, but I give mad props to the emcees who say what they need to say and don’t worry about how many verses it takes to say it. On “Addicted” we hear three verses from Reflect about how we’re addicted to fakeness. He stays on that challenging tip that’s been solid the whole album through. “No fear crisis from Al Qaida to Isis/You can cut off my hand but can’t cut off who Christ is.”
Track 10, “I Need You More” is a true moment of worship. Lead by Shanay Johnson with only a piano track, Reflect kills and emotional flow about full reliance on God. Here towards the end of the project I began to feel like the instrumentals were getting really busy with almost too many layers, so this song came at precisely the right time in the order.
“The Application” is an interesting concept. Reflect lays out the idea of taking heroes from the bible and apply their way of living to today. The call here is to go live out your interpretation of what you’ve witnessed. Who do you believe is the greatest?
We close out “The Translation” with the final track, “No Comprendo.” “Words can save the nation/but ya’ll don’t know the language.” The beat on this track feels modern and up to date, rather than that raw east coast vibe Reflect showed earlier. The flows on this song are terrific all around. The second verse from Reflect is especially dope.
All in all, 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. Some of the musical vibes and creative direction created gaps in the energy overall for me, and I felt a slump from the end of track six to the middle of track nine. Outside of those miscues though, this was a strong release.
Overall Rating: At The Bar