Let’s face it, gospel rap has pretty much always sucked. We’ve seen numerous attempts at this type of thing in the past, from the entire catalog of Kirk Franklin albums to KRS-One’s strange turn with Spiritual Minded, a few years back. We won’t even bring up niche acts like Gospel Gangstaz that have never penetrated the rap’s mainstream or backpack cultures. The closest thing we’ve seen something resonate with the average hip-hop listener is Kanye West’s “Jesus Walks”, but over the years we’ve seen a series of contradicting messages from the self-proclaimed Christian.
Clipse’s No Malice (the “No” added to his name since his spiritual rebirth) has always walked in the shadow of his brother, Pusha T, who literally is the Cain to his Able. Pusha has always been the bad boy of The Clipse, a division that became more evident with their last album, Til The Casket Drops, which found the duo lyrically playing devil and angel to one another; one embracing the fast life, the other shunning it. Strangely, Pusha was chosen to sign a solo deal with Kanye’s G.O.O.D. Music, as Yeezus walked right past Malice.
Pusha’s move has unfortunately taken the buzz of The Clipse along with him, remaining relevant in today’s world with hits like “Mercy” and “I Don’t Like” credited to his name. However, Malice has been downgraded to an independent artist, one without the backing of Kanye West, or previous collaborators, The Neptunes, for that matter. On paper, Hear Ye Him sounds like something to pass over in the busy summer season, that is, until you hit play.
Hear Ye Him doesn’t find No Malice doing a complete 360 musically, as the album does not featured watered down production, nor does it force big, hand-clapping gospel choir choruses. The production is raw and the song writing is intriguing, as No Malice breaks his silence on topics such as his past, his relationships with Pusha and Pharrell, and his view of African-American culture as a whole. Like “Jesus Walks” or any pre-Death Row 2Pac record before it, this isn’t overly preachy, Bible-thumping rhetoric, but rather conscious hip-hop with Christian undertones.
The quality of any album starts with the production, and despite The Neptunes absence, the team of producers on Hear Ye Him do a great job of animating No Malice’s backdrops. Both the Illmind produced “Smoke and Mirrors” (feat. Ab-Liva) and the cleverly censored “Blasphemy” (feat. Fam-Lay) keep the Re-Up Gang sound in tact, and surprise the listener with a level of quality not expected from a record with such a low budget behind it. There’s a darkness to the production that was found on his earlier Clipse material that carries through here on tracks like “Bow Down No Mo’” and the dancehall-tinged “Shame The Devil”, with Pusha T.
And what about that wayward soul that’s moved on to greener pastures? Malice makes it clear in several places on the album that he has nothing but love for his brother, despite his refusal to join him on the path of the righteous man. Like a preacher, No Malice keeps you hanging off his every word, addressing their relationship on both “Hear Ye Him” and “Still Got Love”, the latter which also addresses Pharrell. The Frank Sinatra-helmed “June”, also stands out, as an honest portrayal of his post-major label lifestyle.
Christian rap has a stigma of “corny” or “preachy” attached to it, not because the message is bad, but in many cases it just hasn’t been delivered correctly. If you felt some type of way (read: angry) after hearing De La Soul, Common, and Jeru The Damaja songs in the 90′s, No Malice’s record might resurface that guilty conscience of yours, but in a post-conscious rap landscape, Hear Ye Him is a surprising breath of fresh air.
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