Bar Exam: Sevin – Rather Die Than Deny (Album)
A One Listen Album Review
From his very first project, the rapper Sevin has told us that he’s “gon’ always keep Jesus Christ the center.” He may be regarded as an outcast in Christian circles because of his raw lyrical content and rugged appearance, but take it from me, I’ve never seen Sevin waver or bend to fit within the culture around him.
Sevin is following the path God has laid out for him, and while he may be rough around the edges he’s a genuine person who understands the power of the Word of God being preached. Sevin has been doing it this way for 20 years and I could not be more happy to review his newest project “Rather Die Than Deny” for you today.
We begin with an “Intro.” It seems like Sevin is fighting with demons. He rips off a really tough verse, and moves into a reading of Psalm 23. He’s got some effects on his voice to keep the overtone of this track dark and heavy. It’s a really dope opening track.
On “Funk Paddle” Sevin shows you that he can have fun on a track. This feels like a bay area song. The beat is super nice. The hook makes a reference to “This Is Spinal Tap,” the scene where the bit plays out between two people arguing the idea of an amplifier that goes to 11, which means it’s louder than one that goes to 10. (If you’ve never seen it, here’s the scene) There’s no harm in having a little fun, and the instrumental is so open and simple, lesser emcees would struggle a bit to weave a flow over it.
Sevin’s first and third verses are above the bar, but it’s Sevin Duce’s flow on the second verse that brings this track back down to earth. Duce’s bars are a bit disjointed and don’t fit easily with the momentum of the tune.
“One time no redo/You a real one me too/Game locked got the key too/Beat knock funky seafood/While I ride wet.. sea dew.”
It’s like the party bus comes to a screeching halt as Duce struggles to make sense over his 16 bars. There’s also an edited lyric here, where he may have named someone he wasn’t supposed to? I don’t know, it’s a puzzling verse to say the least.
We move on from that track to “Refine Me.” This is a worship tune.
“Sometimes You to remind me that/You’ve designed me by Your own plan/And that’s why they can’t define me/Cuz You’ve refined me by Your own hand”
Sevin has always brought that gospel tip to his albums, and his vocals here are nothing different. Jered Sanders’ verse here fits well. It’s a straight up praise track. Both rappers are looking to the cross and to God for strength and comfort.
Versatility On Display
So far on this album we’ve had a lot of different sounds from Sevin. We began with some rawness in that intro, with sounds of demons voices and gunshots, then moved to good clean fun on the second track. This third track is more worshipful, he brings you in and points you to God. Nothing is blowing me away at this moment, I’d say for the time being we’re straddling the bar.
“Beam Me Up” is the next song, and Sevin is singing once more. In the first verse Sevin highlights life in the streets, gang violence from the first person perspective. The second verse he goes in on the hopelessness of our country and how no one is proactive about helping the lost.
“Dear America it’s hard to stare at ya/Without disdain/Knowing you’re so unfair to us
You don’t care for us like we owe all/Who knew that a parent’s love could be so wrong/Our condition’s perilous but we hold on/We go wrong/Acting like these babies they don’t need no home/Now we run the streets acting like a Deebo clone/Living a lie/Fittin’ to die for something he don’t own/Wake up!”
Track five is entitled “Savage” and Datin comes in a the top. He moves back and forth between hushed voice and full voice, a flow full of internal rhymes and superhero references. It’s dope. Sevin’s on the second verse and he twists up something fierce here. Man since he’s been with GOM his production has improved incredibly. K. Allico’s hook is great, and he deviates from it just before this last verse from Gemstones. It’s great to hear Gem on a track. If you like rapid fire twisting on tracks, this is a track for you.
Ovadose – The beat here has a strings sample, and some big bass. The hook is right at the top, and Sevin brings a verse full of similes and metaphors.
“I ain’t have to sit up in a class to learn/That poverty will do you something similar to acid burn/Cuz it eats you alive like a massive worm/For four bucks you go nuts like a sack of sperm/I kept grass up in my trunk like a pachyderm/Til I met Christ then my life made a massive turn/“
Yikes. Alright the sperm line is indeed a bit awkward. His lyrical content has always had some less-than-tactful ingredients. Immediately he goes from that line into preaching what Christ can do for you. I could have done without this one line, but I can’t deny how on point his writing is the rest of the way. His method on this song is kinda similar to that Chris Pratt speech from the other day where he was sharing about Jesus in between poop jokes. Sevin understands the language of the streets, and I know that sometimes this can cause obstacles for people. As far as an overall song though, this is the most complete track on the album thus far.
“Radar” was a track I had circled in my mind when I first saw the track list. Sevin had a song called “Radar” back in the day with a hook about how he used to “sell sweaters in warm weather.” This song is sonically different than that one (immediately stripping away my hopes of a remix, haha.) There’s a female voice here at the top and it’s great. “I’ve learned to lay low/under the radar.” Sevin brings an honest verse about his failures and mistakes, the way he used to live, and his thug life mentality. God made him humble himself. He stays on this tip for the second verse.
“I was told to die for the gang or my namesake/even though the game’s fake I’m supposed to ride til the frame brakes/these cowards on these drugs they too high to aim straight/no California love there’s too much pride in this dang state”
Sevin’s writing is on point here. He effortlessly keeps the same rhyme schemes for bars upon bars. The way he dictates his words in a percussive fashion and the accent he’s able to use in certain places helps him stretch rhymes for days.
Sevin moves from that track into “Stronger,” a song about women and his vow to put God above all. God is first even in front of his significant others. He shares about his vow to be celibate, his struggles with porn, and his desire for accountability. Wow… this is an exceptionally challenging song for the Church, for believers, for anyone struggling with the strong holds of sexual sin. This is a topic that’s not spoken of enough, and this is a very strong track. Mad props to Sevin for this one.
“Wounds of A Friend” begins with Sevin sharing his thoughts about how men are a bad representation of God’s character. On the first verse he is heavily intent on renouncing satan and talking about our victory over satan through Jesus Christ. I’m hearing the same theme being weaved through each song, the idea that “thou shalt have no other idols before me” is something referenced often throughout this project. The last verse on this song is off the chain.
“Most do not listen to the Spirit unless their pastor’s saying it/But I took the affidavit/Signed it now I’m past arraignment/Blinded but His kindness over shined it where my path was tainted/This world is prideful and our idols are so masqueraded/Over time we’re slowly dying like a wrist after it’s lacerated/This world reminds me of a vehicle that’s being driven blindly/Through a winding road plus it ain’t got the gas to make it/I only pray one day I could be half as gracious/For the world He gave His son though He ain’t have to save us”
With Sevin I don’t hear someone who is beating around the bush when it comes to sharing his testimony, telling people that Jesus loves them, and praising God. These last four tracks have been outstanding.
Rhymes Upon Rhymes
Some really wet electric guitars are laid across a simple drum track on “Sin.” The first verse tells a story of a girl who is enticing and encourages Sevin to compromise his beliefs. This woman is the embodiment of temptation. He name is “Sin.” The rhyme schemes here in the second verse are bonkers.
“And we roaming like we own the night/and I’m onward like I’m ADD for my baby’s needs/she say she can pay me daily no maybe and gave me greed/she been around a cold minute now/we ten toes down no baby’s feet/she says we’re in heaven but the sign keeps reading Hades street/my pride is thick and the chick i’m sliding with keeps supplying it/to the point I get violent with those to find my self entitlement/and I admit my heart don’t beat the same way that it used to/I lose view in that voodoo that you do boo/but I choose you and can’t lose you cuz you soothe me/but the movies got a cold twist cuz it’s too true”
Each time we get back to a Chorus section Sevin takes some liberty to ad-lib and offer up his heart on the track. There is so much depth to this song. He’s encapsulating the entire feeling of being stuck in sin, physically and psychologically. The dependence we feel on addiction and the way we continue to compromise to feed the sin. The lessons we learn are so cold.
If You With Me – The beat sounds like knocking on a door or like a cane clanking on a wooden floor. Sevin’s melody on the Chorus is equally as haunting. Sevin drops bars detailing how people mock the word of God. He once again shares the boldness of his faith and how close he is with God. Zaydok’s verse lists the Old Testament stories such as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and Daniel and the Lion’s Den. He tells of their faith in an invisible God who is all powerful, and he knows that the same God is with him even now. Another strong track.
A Solid Stretch
Even though it says “Neva Seen” is an interlude, it’s four minutes long and it’s still got all of the characteristics of a normal track. It starts out with a worshipful Chorus and morphs into an intensely rapped verse. Sevin wraps up this interlude with some more gospel music vibes.
Motherland – I remember back in the day when Sevin used to roll with the Kenoly Brothers. It’s when I hear tracks like this that I realize the impact talent like that had on Sevin and his art. This is a straight up R&B track about the need for community. “I don’t need the motherland/I just need my brother’s hand”
On “Tho I Walk” Sevin is back to usual business. He’s talking about not fearing evil in the valley of the shadow of death. Bazooka’s rhymes on his verse are just fine, I just think he needs to work on his flow. The way that verse was mixed… (or maybe I just anticipated it) I could tell where he punched in to re-record a bar. Like I said there’s nothing wrong with the writing here, Bazooka just needs to get more comfortable behind the mic, especially sharing space with someone of Sevin’s stature.
The beat on Wisdom is really nice. The different layers and futuristic textures to it are a good add. He’s talking about shedding foolishness of his past and stepping into wisdom.
“My pen is drifting through the current of this college rule/I climbed from under Plymouth rock and turned into a polished jewel/Nowadays if you aren’t doing hot sh** then you are not as cool/So which one are you – the prideful genius or the modest fool?”
Illuminate then brings some nice bars about obtaining wisdom through obedience. Seriously sometimes these features on Sevin’s tracks can take you out of rhythm, but most of these features are very on point. As per usual, Sevin’s not afraid to go three verses and drop knowledge. “Ball on earth and burn in hell? That’s eternal fail.”
The last song is the title track, “Rather Die Than Deny.” It begins with some clean electric guitars riffing. Sevin slices through the instrumental with some intense and fast paced bars. The chorus sounds big and strong. There’s an uplifting dynamic to it, and at the end it all settles and gets back into the verse groove again. This is a fantastic track, and encapsulates all that Sevin’s trying to bring on this album.
“Give me your worst/I’ll be faithful in front of the firing squad/They trying me HOG/Steady, aim/R-r-ready, bang/I’m dying for God”
Chills. It’s so earnest and in your face. Like I said at the top of this review, Sevin stays that dude who doesn’t care what you think.
If there’s any artist out right now who has consistently been putting out evangelical bars and keeping his themes and concepts Christ-centric, it’s Sevin. While I’m not absolutely buggin’ over this album, I will say it’s remarkably solid and probably still in my top five of the year. I really felt like it started off slowly but he made up for it after that.
There’s 16 tracks here and with great features throughout (seriously impressed. usually some of these HOGMOB features can be lacking) as well as high-quality production it really helps him out in the long run. Sevin’s always gonna be an artist who’s lyrical prowess will carry him for the most part. The unpredictability in his writing style and the blatant Gospel message here is so refreshing. His bars are full of truth and encouraging people to turn to Christ. He’s sharing his testimony, sharing the struggles he’s dealing with even now and in doing so he’s able to shine light in the dark places.
Sevin’s always held deep compassion to bring people out of the street life and into the presence of Jesus Christ. It oozes from him. I feel like his partnership with God Over Money has enhanced his craft the way other decisions in his career have not. He’s been bar for bar one of the best for years, and he’s only getting better.
“Rather Die Than Deny” is the perfect slogan for an artist such as Sevin. He’ll never be someone who sugar coats stuff, he’s always going to be raw and unfiltered in his methods but will also always be unashamed in his love for Jesus. This is admirable work to say the least. Overall, this album is above the bar.