Tuesday, 7 December 2010

'Christ First, Rap Last'

My life is beats, rhymes, Christ, but Christ beats rhymes,
I prioritise my time, and I put life in my lines,
It’s because Christ is first that my wife, child and church,
Plus family and friends come ahead of the verse,
The music is important but it’s not foremost,
There’ve been times when I’ve got too close and almost,
Pushed away the Father, Son and the Holy Ghost,
In favour of Hip Hop and I’ve got engrossed,
In the flavoursome labours of MCs and DJs
Instead of hearing my Saviour and the words that He says,
I see the pearls thrown; I just snort and turn my back,
I hear the world’s groan and I replay the track,
I’d rather listen to those who put themselves on a throne,
Than the King of kings to whom all things are known?
That’s just backwards, I had to make a change,
Christ first, rap last – priorities rearranged.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

'Fruit Cocktail' - B3ar Fruit (free download)

"The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other."

As Christians we have been changed; we have a new identity. Paul stresses this throughout the New Testament (1 Cor 5:7, 2 Cor 5:17, Eph 4:24, Col 3:10) . In Galatians 5 the apostle gives us a breakdown of how we are different. It's that but that makes all the difference. It's not that we can be both, we can't pick and choose - we should be one or the other; we should have the acts of the flesh or the fruit of the Spirit.

Thankfully, as true believers we have the Spirit living in us, and as long as we live by the Spirit we should be producing fruit.

B3ar Fruit have gathered some excellent artists together to really help the believer to meditate over the fruits of the Spirit as laid out in Galatians 5. The album is free, contains a great mix of quality beats (from justWORD, Wes Pendleton, Average Joe and Mac The Doulos) and some on point Theology from the likes of Stephen The Levite, Trip Lee, Phanatik and Mark Arthur. You can download 'Fruit Cocktail' at Bandcamp now.

Read Galatians 5, listen to the album and pray that you would live by the Spirit and so bear fruit.

'The Mighty Binoculars' ft. Braille - Mr. Fresh

Mr. Fresh a UK producer hooked up with Braille, one of my favourite underground US rappers on the track 'The Mighty Binoculars'. It's all about looking forward in time, and more particularly looking forward, through his mighty binoculars, to heaven.

This is a subject I've been thinking of recently as I have been reading Cornelius Venema's 'Christ and the Future' (the abridged version). The book, and subsequent conversations with us, has led me to reassess my forward thinking. Often enough I don't think forward to heaven, but the thing that surprised me is how little I look forward to Christ's return, my resurrection body and the new earth.

Matthew 25:31-46 (hear my pastor's sermon on these verses here) describes what Christ's return will be like. It says "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne." It goes onto explain that Christians are going to live in His kingdom, where he sits on His throne: "‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world." It is in this place that God always intended us to live - it has been ready since the earth was made!

Isaiah 65, verses 17 to 25, describes an amazing place where "the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more", where "never again will there be... an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years" and where "former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind".

Should I not be excited about this? Should I not be looking forward to this? As Braille says, "One day that'll be mine"! Want to know what the future holds? Check those verses I quoted in this post.

'Coming For Me' - The Frontline (video)

A UK posse cut featuring Armor, Guvna B, E Tizz, New D Crew, McGladius, Jahaziel and S.O which reminds us that our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ are being persecuted all around the world. Why not use this song as a prompt to pray?

'Love Me!' - Knew Jeru'slum (free download)

Positive soulful vibes from Knew Jeru'slum on this new track entitled 'Love Me!'. The group are evidently continually honing their craft and this track is a great addition to their catalogue. Check the northern wordplay of Jonny Alpha and Watson G and the dreamy vocals of Belinda Hards by downloading the track for not a penny more than free. The tune is produced by Paris based Keor Meteor and is to promote the forthcoming 'The Samson Lok Files' Project, which will also be free to download in January.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

'Does Anybody Know?' - Japhia Life (video)

Japhia Life - Does Anybody Know? from BangPopLA on Vimeo.

'Does Anybody Know?' is taken from Japhia Life's forthcoming album 'Nazareth'. This track is getting attention on secular blogs which is surely a good thing. This track isn't the most evangelistic thing out there but hopefully it will open doors and ears to more of Japhia's music (I seem to remember enjoying 'Fountain of Life').

The premise of the song revolves around the lyrics "On that road, looking for my promised land 7 days of the week/ Does anybody know how a person can get there?". Japhia outlines some of his struggles, both past and present (I assume), and the track forms a kind of prayer of penitence - a cry for help.

Some of the most famous verses in the bible are the answer for to question:

"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going."

Thomas said to him, "Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?"

Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him." (John 14:1-7)

The passage clearly speaks of our promised land: heaven, God's house. It also sees Jesus making the most amazing promise - He went there to prepare places there for those who trust in Him. I am so thankful for Thomas too (who gets bad press for being 'doubting') for asking his question; without that we would not have John 14:6. How do we come to heaven, to our promised land? We come through a trust in the Lord Jesus. And, if we trust, love and know Jesus we, by default, know God also!

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

'Kry Out' & 'Crack Music' - Jacob Izrael (video + free downloads)

I'm really feeling Jacob Izrael's leaks from his forthcoming free-to-download album 'The Glitch' [available here on 30th March] . The two tracks that have dropped are this one ('Kry Out') and 'Crack Song' [download them for free here]. Dirty South beats and Autotune aint usually my thing but this MC really speaks out on pressing social issues. Jesus set this example in His life and ministry and the Bible echoes it over and over.

For example, James writes about social action as part of our faith:

James 1:27 (New International Version)

"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."

OK so, just by writing a song and addressing the issues Jacob Izrael isn't physically doing something about it but he uses his voice to raise awareness of modern-day orphans and widows and exhorts us to take action.

Sunday, 28 February 2010

'From The Outside' - Deepspace5

Pure fun vibes here from megagroup Deepspace5 on their new single 'From The Outside'. The track is taken from their forthcoming LP 'The Future Aint What It Used To Be' - playful title huh? Visit their websites to find out more: http://deepspace5.com/ or http://www.megaroyalrecords.com/.

From The Outside - DeepSpace 5 by Mega Royal Records

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Sphere of Hip Hop Downloads & Some Thoughts On Listening To Christian Hip Hop

Sphere of Hip Hop is one of the very best resources online for Christian Hip Hop. One of their great features is their daily download. The download can be gotten manually [by clicking here] or if you are an itunes user (and let's face it, most people are) you can schedule it to download as a podcast each day [by clicking here]. To catch up with all previous downloads there is a long list of tracks to choose from. [available by clicking here]

I think one thing that is important to mention is that as a listener you should always test what you are hearing with the Bible. Some of what pupports to be Christian/Holy/Gospel Hip Hop can be as damaging as listening to Hip Hop that only pushes sex, violence and all round immorality. If you hear something you're not sure about - look to the Bible, or someone who knows the Bible well and find out whether what the MC is saying squares with the Scriptures.

Some tracks will teach you new and exciting things about God, Jesus, The Holy Spirit and Christian life - so long as the artists are engaging in study of the Scriptures. Sometimes things may sound radical - but the Bible brings a radical message so don't be too quick to slam an idea - look into it. Use your musical preferences to initiate your own study and meditation.

'Grassroots Vol. 1 & 2' - Lamp Mode Recordings (free downloads)

If you haven't found anything from Lamp Mode Recordings yet then the best way to start is by downloading their free downloads. There are two volumes of Grassroots - volume 1 and volume 2, strangely enough.

Volume 1 is a much shorter affair than its predecessor at only 7 tracks long but with tracks like Timothy Brindle's 'Let's Kill Sin', Shai Linne's 'Christ Crucified' and 'World Wide Web' you get a real feel for this label's gospel centred output. [download Volume 1 by clicking here]

Volume 2 continues with the classic sounding boom bap Hip Hop with MCs like Hazakim, Stephen The Levite, Json, Evangel and Shai Linne spitting real biblical truths in the least cringe-worthy way; this is real Hip Hop with the most real message.

Stephen The Levite's 'The Choir' is a brilliantly produced track - fans of Brother Ali will be into this. His track 'What's Your Proof?' proves that his lyrics come directly from scriptural study (check the last verse); this is God's word in rhyme format - a rare thing even in the world of Christian Hip Hop. Shai Linne's 'Testify' is a great example of how powerful people's different testimonies can be when they contain elements of the gospel and apologetics. Json's 'I Do' is a heartfelt plea to his mother for her to follow Christ. [download Volume 2 by clicking here]

I haven't had a chance to check out any more of the releases from this record label but I fully intend to - this is some of the most uplifting and doctrinally sound Christian Hip Hop I've ever heard.

Monday, 22 February 2010

'No Freedom Without Sacrifice' - Homecut (review)

‘No Freedom Without Sacrifice’: never has a more beautiful flower sprung up from the dirt of UK Hip Hop.

The album opens slowly over the course of three tracks and by the end of the opening trilogy the flower is in full bloom. Homecut’s debut album is one to set aside an hour for – sit back and relax… and listen. This LP is relaxing and calming in a way that only instrumental Hip Hop achieves, although there are exceptions – ‘Innovators’ is funky and ‘Night At The Fair’ has a rock edge to it. Homecut sings and raps his way through 14 tracks and is joined by many talented musicians along the way. And that’s what this album is; musical – these are proper songs.

Jazz, funk and disco all provide an influence for Homecut’s production and ‘No Freedom Without Sacrifice’ is a melting pot of musical styles. Homecut (AKA Testament) is an accomplished rapper with a laidback style and introspective lyrics – prepare for your thoughts to be provoked on subjects such as mixed-race relationships, modern escapism, financial woes and crime. But don’t prepare to be depressed – that’s just not Homecut’s style – positivity is the way. Listen out for Homecut’s playful lyricism (“I breath in the analogue and breath out the digital” or “I appreciate the feedback…”).

‘No Freedom Without Sacrifice’ is out now on First Word Records and is available at itunes, Amazon and First Word's shop.

Introducing: Testament

Here's the unedited version of my piece on Homecut, written for and published in HHC Digital 002:

When a friendly cuppa becomes one third of a collaboration and a case of stalking makes up the remainder, one should expect remarkable results. So it was that Homecut, the alias of MC, beatboxer and singer Testament, built his single ‘I Don’t Even Know’. The track features the vocal talents of chart topping songstress Corinne Bailey Rae who heard the track when she popped into the studio for a drink and subsequently demanded to sing on it. Then, after tracking him down and hijacking a radio interview Homecut also managed to get a sax solo and 16 bars from Birmingham jazz/rap cat Soweto Kinch.

Homecut’s debut album ‘No Freedom Without Sacrifice’ boasts contributions from over fifty musicians plus a couple of rap cameos. Ty firmly stamps his approval and American MC J-Live trades bars on ‘Time Difference’, a track that covers three concepts: time zones, the day in the life of a rapper and coming to terms with growing up. Working with a hero via phone and email after supporting them at a show may be unconventional and difficult but as Testament explains, “J’s really on it… he always comes correct” – in fact the hook-up deserves full marks.

Thematically, Testament raps about reality: “Life can be tough – I think everyone can identify with that. This is my attempt at expressing this…” Don’t get it twisted though, he continues: “…but also the sense of hope and perseverance that got me through it”. Moaning and negativity have no place in the Homecut repertoire - positivity is key to the overall sound.

When Homecut isn’t roaming the country recording in all manner of places (boats, dressing rooms, churches…) he’s busy being a part of Shlomo’s Vocal Orchestra, performing with a 6 piece band and running music workshops in prisons. It’s this unique combination of factors that makes for the refreshing musical output of this London-born, Leeds-dwelling, full time musician. Carving his own groove in a 30 year old genre, Homecut is stuck in no rut and fits in no mould.

HHC, in their new tradition of giving an mp3 of a track by each featured artist put up Homecut's collaboration with J-Live, 'Time Difference', for you to listen to. The album 'No Freedom Without Sacrifice' is out on Monday 25th May.

Knew Jeru'slum Interview

"It’s very important to us to be ourselves in this, to speak about what’s important to us and let people get an insight to our lives, none of that’s any good if its confined to the bottom shelf in a Christian bookshop – who’s gonna hear it then? We make hip hop for all heads, where ever you come from."

With an agenda like few others, West Yorkshire based UK Hip Hoppers Knew Jeru'slum bring it hardcore on their new single 'Non-Apologetix'. The boys answered a few of my burning questions about their music and their faith:

Beats Rhymes Christ: Introduce yourself please:

Jonny Alpha: We are Knew Jeru’slum: Myself and Watson G on the spits, my beautiful missus Belinda Hards on the vocals, and on the most part, production from Yorkshires illest - Brutal Artistry. We’re from various ends of West Yorks - Hudds, Falihax and Bradford. Knew Jeru’slum is a project we started a couple of years ago really, me and Watson were getting some ideas together, then he and his lass introduced me to Belinda – her sister, and when I was chatting her up I found out Belinda’s an amazing singer too, it all linked there, then we met Miki B and loved what he does plus we all got a love for the gospel, so that’s us.

Jahaziel Interview

Two years ago, almost to the day, I had the uplifting experience of seeing Jahaziel live at Leeds University thanks to the Christian Union there. After a succesful show that saw many students (dressed up for Chav Night) wandering in to witness God glorifying Hip Hop, I got the chance to catch up with the man for a chat.

BRC: For people who haven’t heard your music, can you describe your sound and your message?

Jahaziel: My sound I’d describe as hip hop really. I’ve got influence from all sorts of different music genres. On the album you got some reggae influenced Hip Hop, Rock influenced stuff, some soul, some R&B, so Hip Hop in all its different facets musically. My message is really a pro-live message, a message that encourages righteousness and positive living and Jesus Christ and his role in that.

BRC: Yeah that definitely comes across in the music, it’s not ashamed and I guess that’s a main aim for you.

J: Yuuup Yep. When I used to rap before I was a Christian I wasn’t ashamed of what I believed then even though it was wrong so how much more bolder should I be now I know the truth. You know you see guys out there, like, y’ know, to name a name, 50 Cent for instance. He says he’s a thug and he believes it and he says it like he believes it and im as bold as they would be doing what they do.

BRC: So you’ve talked about how different music has influenced you but you’ve got some kinda famous family, yeah?

J: Ah yeah yeah. My uncle Maxi Priest was a real big inspiration when I was younger. He was a popular reggae singer in the 80’s, early 90’s. You know, growing up and seeing him and being able to be in the studio with him when he recorded and other artists been down the studio, people like Shaggy and what have you. Seeing them gave me the belief that I could do something with this music thing. It started off as a hobby, I didn’t plan to be a musician but people said it was good so I carried on doing it.

BRC: So you’ve been involved in a few things, briefly, what have you done?

J: Yeah, my catalogue I guess is that… I’ve done a lot of remixes. In a space of about two years I was doing mad remixes. I was at a bit of a crossroads, I was a bit discouraged about how things were going financially so I figured, let me use my talents to try to get paid. My mind wasn’t really as settled as it is now that I will use my gift exclusively for God. I hooked up with some guys and I started doing remixes, my name got around and I was getting phone calls from Sony and BMG to do remixes for the likes of Lamar’s first few singles, couple of joints with Craig David, I did a song with a guy named Raghav and Daniel Beddingfields album too, couple of songs on there.

BRC: Yeah we were always like, who’s that rapper on the end of there? Who is that?!

J: So yeah, I was keeping busy man but I got fed up of featuring on other peoples things and not doing my own thing. I said, let me focus on my own stuff and that’s when the album started to come together.

BRC: You were in ZionNoiz, you were featured on the Channel U compilation CD. I’ve actually got that vinyl. Were you on that track?

J: Yeah, ‘And What?’, I think I did the chorus on that. Yeah ZionNoiz; all friends. I kinda had to part from that because, to get an album done if you haven’t got a label behind you, to get an album done it’s more easy. I had to cut off a lot off other things to prioritise and focus on my album.

BRC: Cut off the hair?!

J: Yeah cut off the hair, went through a few changes.

BRC: When people in church ask me what music I like, I tell them I like Hip Hop but I think people are going to judge me for that. How do you respond to those sorts of opinions? I’m sure you must get it: How can you be a Christian and like Hip Hop? How do the two go together?

J: It’s difficult to separate the art form of hip hop, the music side of it from the negative that is associated with the culture but nevertheless they can be separated. Just like I can look at a drawing and appreciate the persons artwork. I can listen to a sogn and be able to appreciate good craftsmanship, good guitar playing or good mic skills or whatever, I can appreciate all of that. But because hip hop is closely associated with so many negative things: violence, the love of money, derogatory terms for women and stuff like that. Especially the hip hop culture, I say that cos that’s where I’m from. I do find it difficult to separate the two. Nevertheless it’s a style of music that comes naturally to me. It’s what I enjoy, I like the rhythm, I like the style of expression. There’s ways you can express yourself on a rap song that you can’t do in another way. I don’t hear songs that make me wanna tear down satans kingdom, I hear songs that make me wanna worship God, great and Hip Hop can do that too but there’s a useful energy and passion that you can express through it. So, I don’t knock people who say I don’t agree with Hip Hop whether it’s Christian or none Christian, I wont argue with that if that’s your opinion. I’m trying to use my talent to glorify God. If I could preach, I’d preach. If I could sing, I’d sing. I rap, that’s all I do.

BRC: Yeah, it’s God’s gift.

J: It’s not for everyone. Maybe those people in a church they wouldn’t appreciate the album anyway cos it’s not their style of music. But then saying that, the amount of people who’ve come to me after a show and said ‘You know what? I don’t even like Hip Hop, I don’t listen to Hip Hop but I really appreciate what you’re doing and I really like it’. So maybe they’ve never come across Hip Hop that’s been inspiring, motivational and encouraging. Maybe when they do hear that, they’ll be like ‘Whoa. I have to rethink my opinion’.

BRC: This question is more related to Hip Hop. What are your thoughts on the state of Hip Hop with Nas saying Hip Hop is dead and the reaction to that? Talk about that from a secular point of view or a Christian point of view. How do you think about it? We can’t separate the two anyway.

J: Yeah, the state of Hip Hop is that there is a need. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. I’m totally cool with a none-believer expressing their thoughts and opinions because I expect them to show the same respect to me. However, there seems to be a predominate culture within Hip Hop of a certain way of thinking that might not relate to the way a person genuinely think but just what sells records. Let’s say for instance, a guy like Snoop gets up and raps about hoes and bitches but then goes home to his wife. So the values that he communicates are not necessarily the ones he thinks and believes. I think that’s the problem with Hip Hop. It’s cool to promote drugs, even if you’re not a drug seller, still talk about drugs. Even if you’re married, still call women bitches. Even if you’ve never had a gun in your life, talk about violence, talk about guns. And I think that’s the problem with Hip Hop. If it was somewhere like a speakers corner, where everyone is entitled to share their genuine thoughts and feelings I think we’d get a lot further. And I think back in the day that’s more what Hip Hop was about but now it’s kinda come down to this. There is such a great need for people like us to show an alternative to the young people, to be a voice within Hip Hop, the culture, saying ‘Hey, you don’t have to be a gangster or a pimp. It’s not cool to be dumb. It’s not cool to be a thug’. Not a lot of people like that, some people think ‘ah, you’re whack’ but I’m providing an alternative and I think that’s important.

BRC: From the style of the music it’s obvious that you’re trying to provide an alternative. How do you use your knowledge and experience in a positive way?

J: You can learn thing either through teaching or experience. I learnt mine by experience. I’ve been down a lot of the roads a lot of young people wanna get down. I can testify that the bible is true, that the wagers of sin are death but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. I can say that not just cos it says that but because I’ve experienced that. The bible says oh taste and see that the lord is good and I’ve tasted and seen so I’m on a track trying to say ‘Yo, this is where life is at and those dead end roads they’re telling us to run down don’t lead where they tell you they lead to’. It’s a narrow path that leads to life and I just use the mic and use Hip Hop as an opportunity to share that with people. The kids, I don’t know what it’s like in Leeds but in London, it’s a big thing, lets say for instance; violence. To resolve conflict with violence is just standard. If a guy says or does something to you, you resolve that with violence and if you don’t you’re an idiot. But Jesus gives a different way of thinking, having been down that road trying to be tough and ending up in situations where, but for the grace of God, I could be in prison now. I talk about my experiences, I don’t people to think I was born a Christian and I’m perfect, I made mistakes, I still do. I try to share that.

BRC: Do you think it’s essential to have testimonies like yours?

J: You need every testimony. Wherever you’re coming from there’s someone who can relate to you. It’s real important that you be real about everything. As Christians, it’s important we share victories and difficulties and challenges. The bible says there is no trial or temptation that comes to you that’s not common. You might think I’m the only person going through this, every other Christians got it all together but chances are, they’re not just bold enough to talk about it.

BRC: I guess it all comes down to Jesus’ command to us to all be out there on the mission.

J: Absolutely bruv. And everyone has the ability to affect their surrounding. If there were a hundred levels and you’re only on level two, there’s someone on level one who can do with your help, there’s always someone you can help.

BRC: Well, we’d better wrap it up. Is there one verse you just want to share with us from the Bible?

J: I can share verse that I’ve been thinking on. ‘In a great house there are many vessels, some for honour and some for dishonour. If a man therefore then cleanses himself from that unclean thing he will be made a vessel unto honour, fit and ready for the masters use, prepared for every good work’ and I just encourage anyone who is a believer to strive to be a vessel unto honour. Not just to warm a bench but to be used in some capacity. Whether it’s like you on a computer or me on a stage, let God use you and affect this world, man.

BRC: Amen.