Lamp Mode Records (April 24, 2012)
Review by LaRosa
It’s been a minute since we’ve heard from one half of the Redeemed Thought crew who goes by the name Stephen the Levite. After his debut release …To Die is Gain in 2006 he almost completely fell off the radar, minus a feature here & there. That didn’t mean that fans weren’t clamoring for him to drop more heat. After a four year hiatus he teased us with a little project called The Forerunner EP, with the promise of more raps to come. After it seemed like that long awaited album would never come, here comes the Levite with his sophomore LP titled The Last Missionary.
As you look at the artwork for this album, you can see that it’s clouded with quite a bit of mystery. You’ve got this shadowy cloaked figure staring across the waters at a huge metropolis. Then, you’ve got this Japanese writing going down the side, which most of us have no idea what it means. After all of that, you finally read the title: The Last Missionary. What does that even mean? Who is the last missionary? As a matter of fact, who was the first? Intrigued yet? Stephen the Levite hopes so, because if you are then you’re exactly where he wants you. So, let’s talk about this album, hopefully without giving any spoilers that take away from the album’s mystery for those who have yet to hear it.
One of the things that you’ll notice fairly quickly about Stephen the Levite is that he’s a hip-hop purist and his music reflects this. This is evident from the very first track when you’re hit with raw lyricism over a quiet & melodic boom bap east coast beat that leaves you wondering why he went so long without giving us anything to listen to. It’s on this first track that you get introduced to “The First Missionary,” which sets the tone for the remainder of the album. If that track didn’t whet your palate, then enter “Give It Up” where he hits you with more rawness & in your face lyrics that cuts up churchgoers like a Ginsu knife over a beat that hits just as heavy. As you begin to catch the theme of the album, you’re then given a track that is sure to be on repeat for years to come in the track “Voltron.” This track has everything that makes people love being children of the 80’s and fans of hip-hop: an 80’s cartoon reference, scratching & turntablism, cuts from other songs, and artistry. From this point forward, you get a lot of variance from Stephen the Levite. He takes things to a soulful & romantic level as he talks about his wife on the tracks “My Wife’s Soundtrack” and “S.O.S.” If you remember Redeemed Thought from back in the day, you get a throwback with muzeONE featuring on “Fight Club,” where these two emcees pick up right where they left off with Truth, Beauty, Goodness. You also can’t forget “Rehoboam,” which is a track targeted at today’s hip-hop generation. This targeted rebuke of today’s hip-hoppers parallels with the story of Solomon’s son and how he failed to listen to the wisdom of his elders; to say the least, this song is much needed.
If there’s one area where this album falls flat, it would probably have to be in Stephen’s delivery and cadence. To put it bluntly, it was borderline monotonous in some cases. He did a good job of selecting beats that switched things up and kept the album fresh throughout, but his delivery didn’t always match. Yes, he would kill the track; but, even with that, his rhymes felt flat at times in listening to the album from start to finish. Some times you want to listen to the album from start to finish; other times, you want to turn it off because it just feels stale. The thing you realize, though, is that this is just Stephen the Levite and one of those things that you have to live with in listening to him. This is balanced out by the guests and the contributions that they make to The Last Missionary. Not to mention, the weighty lyricism is such that you have to listen to the album over & over again before you can even begin to unpack everything that Stephen put in this album. If nothing else, you just have to love the instrumentation, which makes getting the instrumentals worthwhile. The production on this album is very clean, albeit very much a throwback to the days of old, which may turn some people off.
For someone who has seemingly been off the radar for a while, Stephen the Levite doesn’t display any rust. His lyricism and delivery are just as sharp as they’ve always been. As an unashamed backpack rapper, Stephen serves both the underground & east coast hip-hop well. This album delivers the kind of stuff that made many of us fall in love with hip-hop so long ago. His time away from the music scene has served him well. In listening to this project, you can tell that he’s a man who has gained wisdom through his life experiences & serving the Lord, which permeates through his raps. While this album may not be so much for those of the new school, it’s a hip-hop album worthy of anyone’s collection, especially those who are looking for that throwback feel or just want some weighty biblical truth & lyricism. So, in closing, who is The Last Missionary? I guess you’ll just need to pick up the album and find out for yourself.