Bar Exam: Shepherd – The Intern (Album)
A One Listen Album Review
We did a poll on social media this week asking “Which artist who dropped in 2018 needs to go through the Bar Exam?” Shepherd was who the fans picked with 55% of the votes. His album, “The Intern” dropped on March 9th. Obviously we missed out on this release. Let’s see what else we’ve missed.
At first impression, the artwork here is on point. Stylized like a modern comic book, there’s a lot of things to notice on this cover. It looks like he’s in Chicago, he may be a mighty ducks fan, and he’s either being thrown or he’s falling. It’s an intriguing cover to say the least, and would be my vote for best artwork of the year so far.
Track one, “Foolish” begins with rain and thunder, and Shepherd goes IN at the top. This beat is nuts. “Knock knock we at your do’/Trying to make music that’ll rock your soul.” Tonally the end of this first verse was a little clunky for me, something in his voice sounded forced. The way the music changes up, with the juxtaposition of the big beats moving into Laquan Green’s buttery vocals on the Chorus is dope. “I ain’t going back I said he raised me up.” Shepherd begins this project above the bar.
“Aim For The Top” musically has a similar construction to track one, but some good layers are added later to freshen it up a bit. Shepherd stays intense in delivery and drops some nice gems along the way. Serge’s hook is flames here though, this is the best part of the song. “Take the shot/hate it or love it and see that you with it or not/if you gon’ shoot it make sure that you aim for the top”
Track three is called “Roll The Dice.” This song topically is about taking chances by giving his life to Christ. He talks a lot on this project about being an urban missionary. The big southern beat is dope and the samples that get thrown in are exceptional. “I count my blessings/yeah I stack em up/I was living reckless til He snatched me up” – This is an interesting line here that might be counterintuitive to the concept of the song. I may have misinterpreted the concept, but it sounds to me like this whole time he’s saying that God’s in control so he takes chances knowing that it’s God who has the outcome in mind. The definition of “reckless” is “to not care about the consequence of an action.” I would submit that the idea of taking chances and “rolling the dice” on life would be a reckless action… just because it’s for the sake of Christ and His kingdom doesn’t make it any less reckless.
I’m reminded of how Oswald Chambers put it: “You do not know when His voice will come to you, but whenever the realization of God comes, even in the faintest way imaginable, be determined to recklessly abandon yourself, surrendering everything to Him.” I digress, but in spite of that one confusing line for me Shepherd switches his flow up masterfully throughout this song and I still give it an At The Bar rating.
“Informal Thoughts” is next, beginning with a little interlude at the top with an elderly lady speaking as electric guitars and organs lay in. The vibe is introspective, and Shepherd along with Eris Ford is trying to figure out where it all went wrong. “All the nights that we fight I know we said it too/we will be alone I know we here it’s you/sometimes I rewind and see time in focus/I decided confided in hope to show me/even now in days I feel I lost my way/ I know I got an advocate to always keep me safe” This song finishes off with the music riding out to some guitars and bass licks.
Top Notch Production
So far this project is dope. The music throughout by Juice Bangers is top notch. So far the production, mixing, and direction is all off the hook. Everything has had a big sound to it, so it’s nice for track five, “Fear” to pull it back a bit. This tune opens with a newscast about shootings in Chicago, and a quick filter into “Amazing Grace” just before a straight up gangster rap beat. There’s some strange direction on this song. I thought the singing at the top was a hook, but that part never comes back. Also, similar to the end of his lines in track one, his inflections seem strange. Moving into the next song, “Sunday Smoke” we’re at a low energy point on this album. Maybe a bit of a slump, but the impetus created through the storytelling on “Sunday Smoke” is spectacular. We don’t stay in that slump for long. He begins with a bit of an old school flow, and the song is one long crescendo. This track is a must listen and is the deepest one on the project so far.
Switching from there into “Brighter Days” and we’re back to some upbeat hopeful sounds. There’s singing at the top over some swimming synths. The Chorus of this song is really long and throws out a bunch of concepts. The performance of this Chorus is terrific, there’s just not much to latch onto here. Outside of that, Shepherd shines on this track as he has on the rest of the album. He’s a versatile artist, and throughout has shown that he’s comfortable moving in and out of laid back vibes to multi-syllable flows, and even some sporadic double time. All of these choices are made at the right time as well, keeping the listener engaged. “You right/I seen some lonely nights/someway he taught me to abide and trust inside of Christ/when has He let me down?/when has He let me down?/Even in my mess I know he’s turning my mess around”
Actions Over Words
Track eight is crazy with a club/trap feel and banging bass. I notice a lot of allusions to “safety” or “protection” in Shepherd’s rhymes. I feel like it’s a symptom of him living in the hood. It’s a good thing though, I feel like he has a feel for what his audience needs. His intention is to let everyone know they are eternally safe in Christ. This is a great song. Here at the end he says “watch me give it all.” This is a big statement, because we’re used to hearing “I’m going to give it all.” To say “watch me” takes that statement a step farther. It’s better to show rather than to only tell.
“Everyday” was the lead single from the album (I think) and it features Loso and JGivens. The beat is easy, making the flows seem more like freestyles. JGivens has some nice rhymes.
“Algorithm, allegory, I give God all the glory when I’m walking in it/I’m no… literally walking in it/Whole world in your hands, I’m just playing soccer with it/Then I make a coffin with it/Leaving gold medal silver bronze nickels dimes with a copper finish/Til’ I Copperfield everyday/Take a pill from the doctor visit/“ Rhymes is really all I can point out about a JGivens verse. Sometimes he’s over my head. His lyricism is impressive but most of the time I’m left befuddled trying to decipher it. Loso had some hot rhymes that were right on the mark. “Without trinity in my life i get chaos in this/I’m only good to 3 like I’m JR the Smith/Swish” Shepherd bats cleanup on this song and spits fire. It also helps that the bass increases underneath his verse. Regardless, he kills it and holds his own on this one.
Many Levels and Layers
We close out the project with “Disconnected.” This song is a slow jam that also feels like the quintessential CHH altar call at the end of an album. “Sometimes I feel like I lost my way/like I shouldn’t pray/like I’m filled with shame/feel like is this real life/nothing seems to go my way” To end, he’s challenging the listener to abide in Christ and give up control instead of fighting it.
Shepherd has so many levels to what he can do. His lyrics are honest, he’s got a flow on him, but he can also chill and be more conversational. These traits make an artist more personable and incredibly appealing. “The Intern” is a great listen.
Overall Rating: Above The Bar