Lamp Mode (June 8, 2010)
Reviewed by Agent J2
When you hear the name Lamp Mode, a few things immediately come to mind: Philly, shai linne, Timothy Brindle, Deejay Essence, lyrical theology, and the like. More recently, this label has brought us hits like shai linne’s Storiez, Hazakim’s Theophanies, and Json’s Life on Life. The one thing that holds true for his label is that they are known for making authentic hip-hop music that is spiritually weighty. Now, having joined together with Mark Dever’s ministry 9 Marks, Lamp Mode Recordings is back with their latest offering titled The Church: Called & Collected, a compilation album aimed at bringing the contents of a healthy church to the hip-hop community.
The Church: Called & Collected is an interesting project. It’s one thing for this type of label to hook up with a notable Christian ministry (i.e. Reach Records & Desiring God), but it’s another thing entirely for the label to create an entire album centered around that ministry’s objective. Well, take what this ministry says are the nine marks of a healthy church, and you have a project that does its best to communicate these concepts through the medium of hip-hop. Taken at face value, one has to wonder how well this type of project would communicate. Yes, you have artists like shai linne and Hazakim who are fluent in expounding upon biblical truth, but how well can they communicate subjects like expository preaching or church leadership in rhyme and simultaneously make it a head-nodder? In many respects, this is the quandary that this album is in, balancing the necessity of conveying these concepts without losing the listener.
This project is truly the first of its kind, and there is a lot to like about it. First, the entirety of the subject matter isn’t your everyday run of the mill spiritual rap that talks about getting people saved or making disciples. Instead, it is finitely focused on edifying the church, which is very refreshing from a listener’s perspective. From a musical perspective, The Church: Called & Collected is a breath of fresh air because you get a nice variety of style ranging from Stephen the Levite’s witty underground lyricism to Hazakim’s funky old school styled rhymes. Deejay Essence did a solid job of catering each of his beats to fit his artist’s style, and it’s clear on many tracks. One such track is Flame’s “Leadership,” which is the lead single. Flame offers up gritty Midwest rhymes over a rugged beat with lots of movement. If there is an artist that truly shines on this project, it would have to be Stephen the Levite. Both of his tracks (“Membership” & “Church Discipline”) are homeruns, as the beats perfectly fit his delivery and subject matter, and his lyrics were right in your face and heartfelt. A close second and third would have to be Tedashii (“Discipleship”) and Evangel (“Beautiful Church”), as both brought a zeal that puts their love for the church on display for all to see.
While there is a lot about this album that works, there is quite a bit that doesn’t. One thing that stands out most is the overly simplistic rhyme schemes and less than memorable hooks. Taking into account the pedigree of the emcees featured on this project, you would expect for them to bring their A-game, but that just didn’t happen. Right from the gate, it was hard to get on board with the opening “Take ‘em to Church” by God’s Servant and Azriel; it was on the bland side with a beat that leaves you wanting & lyrics that have a hard time drawing the listener in. Both of shai linne’s songs were forgettable (“Expository Preaching” & “Biblical Theology”), which is sad given the fact that he’s a wordsmith & the face of Lamp Mode. His rhymes were too simple, his delivery felt half-hearted, and his hooks felt forced. It wasn’t just shai linne, as several artists seemed to exhibit a bit of difficulty in executing on the level that they’re accustomed to. You can’t help but wonder if the project could have been stronger if some of the songs were assigned to different artists (i.e. if shai linne & Hazakim had switched topics).
All in all, The Church is a compilation effort that seeks to provide valuable information about what the church should look like. This is a project that will probably not garner a lot of acclaim. Those that like these kinds of theological raps will probably be happy with this project, but it’s hard to see others having the same view, given the overtly churchy subject matter. Musically, it’s really a hit & miss album; there are plenty of bangers, and a few that could have used more work. It’s safe to say that this album at least hits the mark for what they intended, and they have to be applauded for stepping out and doing a project of this caliber.
For fans of: Lampmode album drops, shai linne, Timothy Brindle, Deejay Essence