LABEL: REACH RECORDS
RELEASE DATE: SEPTEMBER 28. 2010
RATING: 5 OUT OF 5
In my opinion, in terms of “not giving the listener what they expect,” Lecrae has the most to lose. Unlike Trip Lee, Tedashii, and Sho Baraka, Lecrae is the tent pole of Reach Records. Whether you like him the best of the Reach roster or not, Lecrae is the face of the label. Thus, as the face of the label, he bears the responsibility of towing the party line, keeping the natives from revolting. At the same time, he bears the responsibility of morphing, innovating, and maturing as an artist—all without alienating the fan base. Well, Rehab establishes Lecrae as the Jay-Z of Christian hip-hop. Their styles aren’t the same, of course. What I mean is that what he presents is the pinnacle of Christian hip-hop, the kind of music that will produce untold clones while simultaneously demanding artistic and theological excellence. What The Blueprint* is for Jay-Z and Recovery is for Eminem, Rehab is for Lecrae.
The whole album is fantastic, but I feel a sampling is fitting for this review.
“Check In” intros the project and…well, lets just say the people sitting around me could gauge my excitement, even with my headphones in. If this brief track was any indicator of what was to come, then this was going to be legen—wait for it—dary. Establishing the theme of the Christian life being a sort of rehab clinic—a detox process—Lecrae captures what it looks like to be addicted to emptiness and the fullness of life that Christ brings.
“Killa” is a lot slower than I would have expected for the first full track on the album, but this seems to be the trend as of late with Christian hip-hop. Lecrae spits, “Fools walk the path I’m on never to be seen again/Sippin’ on seduction while we eatin’ on some secret sin…” He paints a vivid picture of sin as a seductress and the song takes on a more sexual vibe than you might anticipate. While some might frown on this, consider that the Bible does the same thing.
“Children of the Light” dips into the Southtown reggaeton sound and even features Sonny Sandoval (of P.O.D.) and Dillavou. This track is the epitome of Reach’s willingness to branch out and experiment. These kinds of partnerships need to characterize what Christian hip-hop is about. It says something artistically, culturally, and theologically about our community.
“Used To Do It Too” introduces recent Reach Records acquisition KB and by the time his 16 bars end, you understand why he was snatched up. He is the future of the industry. Of course, this shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s been listening to the music of HGA or reading the writing on the wall. Reach Records have been accused of being picky and/or elitist in the past, but when you attain an artist with the skill set of KB their pickiness becomes forgivable—even in the minds of their most vocal detractors. Anyhow…the song. This number is fun, recalling 80’s flicks like Say Anything or The Breakfast Club. Lecrae’s laid-back flow is perfectly complimented by KB’s rapid-fire style. A song about God’s life-changing power, people can expect to dance and be encouraged that nothing is beyond God’s grace.
“Walking on Water” is easily my favorite track on the album. We can agree or disagree what the actual best track is on the project, but this one is my personal favorite. Lecrae’s rhyme scheme is at his best here, complemented perfectly by an unnamed female vocalist with Destiny’s Child-era Beyonce sensibilities. The hook has the flashy, slick, club-sensitive vibe that any secular artist (or fan of hip hop) could appreciate. It’s bombastic, forward, not-overly preachy (as some have complained about the Reach camp in the past…), and fun to listen to.
I really like the R&B-infused “Boasting” and “Background.” They act as harmonizing piece, the first explaining that we ought to only boast in Christ, the second prayerfully accepting a role in the background compared to allowing God to get the glory. They’re both understated in their simplicity and beauty.
A final observation. Two claims have been lobbied against the Reach Records fam. The first, they don’t work with anyone outside of their own labelmates. While this may have been true early on, the last two years of releases have clearly put this claim to rest. Sure, the entire Reach roster appears on this album, but so does Benjah, Dillavou, PRo, Sonny Sandoval, Chinhua, C-Lite, Flame (of Clearsight Records), J. Paul, Jai, Suzy Rock, Chris Lee, and gospel singer Anthony Evans. Clearly, Lecrae & Co. are willing to branch out. If this album doesn’t convince you, I’m not sure what will. Second, the Reach team is just too “theology-driven.” Again, the last couple of years have featured a nice balance between rapping Charles Haddon Spurgeon sermons over beats and tracks and just talking about loving music, life, our wives, etc. I’m interested in seeing what Reach detractors complain about next…
I am hoping that with the advent of artists like KB, Bless’ed, and Decipha, we can continue to receive albums like this from Lecrae. This year Reach Records has really slowed things down, exchanging bombastic anthems for musically diverse approaches to the craft. Whether borrowing reggaeton influences, rock & roll guitars, or R&B crooning, Reach continues to show why they’re at the forefront of Christian hip-hop. However, with the experimentation and progression of the art form, fans of the faster-paced albums of the past like Real Talk, 20/20, and The Compilation Album may yearn for something they can get down to. In the meantime, Rehab is the best Christian hip-hop album of the year, if not all time.**
*Or Reasonable Doubt, depending on which album you believe is Jay-Z’s best to date…
**Feel free to disagree with me. I’m perfectly fine with you being wrong.
Review title provided courtesy of Reach Records