by Sam Robinson
Ornithology is a branch of zoology that concerns the study of birds.
Searching Google for the new album from Humble Beast artist Foreknown will produce some surprising results. I’m not sure if there’s ever been an album released that champions birds, or that has used birds to illustrate a much deeper message. Phoenix rapper Foreknown has dropped a real pearler that stands out as the most intelligent album release of the year so far.
One of the reasons that proves Ornithology is so very clever is that Foreknown treads this line between tracks that are downright hilarious, and others that go crazy deep. Although the content of songs varies in nature, there isn’t one track that doesn’t cause you to stop and listen. Foreknown commands attention in his storytelling. But dig deep into this bird’s nest, and you’ll find eggs filled with Biblical truth, encouragement, and challenges to put sin to death and live for Jesus.
The album opens with beatboxing on Rebooted, a very short piece that sounds like a bunch of friends laying down some rhymes together. But it sets the scene: ‘Time for me to start filling them in on what I think.’ We launch into retro-heavy nerd territory on The Quartermaster, a track brimming with 8-bit arcade glitches and references to Star Wars and Mario.
Zombies are the focus on Double Tap, complete with a beat to strut to, but it all turns out to be a metaphor for our state of death since the Fall. One of the most addictive beats arrives on Bird in Hand (feat. JGivens). It’s a very interesting take on greed and materialism in Christian circles and the dangers of wanting our ‘inheritance here on earth’. Try not to move to that track – I dare you.
Minivan is one of my personal favourites on Ornithology. It’s a tongue-in-cheek take on the average hip-hop song boasting about a sweet ride, only for Foreknown it’s his family minivan. It’s a very clever song. Don’t be surprised to see dads zipping around your neighbourhood with this one cranking out the windows. It isn’t the only silly track on the album. #FootyPajamaPizzaDanceKaraokePartyGo! is a parody of the typical club party song, replacing the wild antics with a family night in. It’s very funny, and very clever.
Just when you think that it’s all fun and games on Ornithology, Foreknown changes things around and explores the dangers of sin through a number of stories. Embedded on a trippy beat Cathartes Aura (Vulture) focusses on a guy struggling with lust and sin, and describes the woman he chases as a vulture. But using clever imagery, things are flipped upside down. Shapeshifter is about a girl who lives a lie: ‘she had no sense of identity.’; while The Phoenix heads into some extremely deep territory. A yarn is spun about insults that bring people down, and the persecutors’ heartbreaking intentions – ‘They just want to see you crash and burn.’ But then Foreknown offers hope: ‘Because of his Son, he looks at you and he sees a child who he loves and with whom he’s well-pleased.’ It reminds us of where our true identity is found.
Title track Ornithology delves into the album title and bird theme in further detail. It seems like Foreknown is challenging himself on this track not to get too comfortable in family life: ‘You’re designed to fly but you’re content in your nest so you chill in trees.’ There’s some great 80s sounds and clicks on this track.
The best is perhaps saved for last on this album. Closer The Never Haves hits hard. It focusses on suffering, but then compares our suffering to what Jesus went through as he went to the cross:
‘Never had a crown of thorns jammed in my brow
stripped naked while my captors mockingly bow,
never been between two thieves nailed to a tree,
crying ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!’
It’s a very moving track, and the pounding beat enhances the emotion. The reflection turns to gratefulness: ‘Thank you for your grace so I never have the taste of death because you stood in my place.’ I found myself equally thankful as the track closed.
Ornithology is not your average hip-hop record. It’s a thoughtfully-crafted exploration into Foreknown’s mind, family life, passion for Christ, and his wonderful ability to tell a story and make us laugh. One of the year’s best albums has flown the coop. I’m giving it four-and-a-half out of five stars.
Ornithology by Foreknown is available now as a free download at Humble Beast. If you’d like to support Foreknown’s ministry you can purchase the album on iTunes. Read our interview with Foreknown about the album here.