Lions and Liars (January 15th, 2013)
Review by LaRosa
Buy this album: SphereofhiphopStore.com
Quite a bit has changed since we last heard from Sho Baraka. Probably the most significant one being that he is no longer a part of the Reach Records roster of artists. After a mutual parting of ways, Sho has become a member of the High Society Collective and is now under his own media company called Lion and Liars Productions. With his previous and final Reach Records release, Lions and Liars, Sho stepped out of the mold that we typically saw from Reach artists by taking a more creative approach to his music. With his first independent release Talented Xth, Sho wants to completely shatter the mold that many have put him in, as he seeks to put out his own brand of music.
For those that have been involved in the Christian hip-hop scene for any significant amount of time, one of the things that gets noticed is that there are a lot of recycled themes and content. An artist will take a model or message that has worked, repackage it with the latest vernacular and pop culture references & make it sound like whatever is currently hot on the radio and call it a day. With that, the seasoned listener desires for the artist to begin dealing with real life issues in their music. If you’re that listener, wait no longer because Sho Baraka is here to fill that gap with his Talented Xth album.
Before we go any further with this review, I will preface in saying that this is an album for mature ears and it isn’t one that I would recommend for someone who has yet to hit their teen years.
Since this is an album for mature ears, we should begin by examining the content. As you look at the track list and see titles like “Mahalia,” “Denzel,” and “Jim Crow,” you realize that this isn’t your average run of the mill Christian hip-hop album. So, what are you to think when you see these names? Each of them should carry some kind of mental picture that will help to define what each song is about. For example, when you hear the name Denzel you think of a black actor who has sophistication and class. With that picture in your mind, Sho then begins to paint a more intricate picture of how we need to kill off swag and trying to be hip, while replacing it with a more mature outlook on life & self-image. Along those same lines comes the song “Peter Pan.” What do you think about there? The boy who never grew up, right? Here, Sho takes this theme and applies it to his own maturity as an individual with his love for hip-hop. Of course, this album gets much deeper with songs like “Jim Crow” and “Madoff,” but I’d rather not spoil the surprise of what you get in those songs & the rest of the album. No spoilers here. Just know that the content is on a level that will get you thinking deeply about society and culture; and, if you’re not in some way tugged by the content of this album, you don’t have a heart.
Sonically, Talented Xth is carefully crafted to drive home the theme of each song. The opening track “Bethesda” starts off with heavy tribal drums that then blend into a modernized version of the negro spiritual “Wade in the Water,” which serves to set the tone for the remainder of the album. After listening to this song, you know very well that this album is going to take you to uncharted depths of thinking & emotions. This leads right into a symphonic street level hip-hop track called “Michael” that speaks to the ills of urban culture. You also get taken to church with “Mahalia” and the club with “Mrs.” While it might seem that Sho is all over the map with the sound of this album, it keeps the album moving along without becoming stale, while also evoking the emotional response that he wants you to feel with each song. For example, “Cliff & Claire” is very laid back with simple drums and piano play which makes you think about the Huxtables (from The Cosby Show) who were a mature & romantic television couple that had nothing but love for one another; this is the perfect track to speak toward marriage & the challenges that couples face.
In listening to the Talented Xth, it’s hard to find any significant holes in it. Given that it is such a far cry from the norm for Christian hip-hop and hip-hop in general, this is one of those albums that is difficult to compare to anything else & has to be judged on its own merits. In terms of the content, it is superb. You’ll be hard pressed to find an album that speaks to real life issues that we face in society at this depth with such artistry while not being overbearing in showing that the answer to it all is Christ. There’s not a skippable track on this entire album, and the two additional tracks that come with the CD are a nice bonus. The production is solid throughout and fits in with who Sho Baraka is as a person and an artist. For those listeners who have been looking for something more mature to whet their appetite this album is it, for sure. If this is the direction that Sho is going with his music, you can consider me a fan who will be looking for more of it!