Album Review: Sam Ock – Grey

by Sam Robinson

If you’ve never heard of Sam Ock before, get ready to be impressed. The Maryland local has got incredible musical ability (he plays most of the instruments on his records himself), he can sing with soul, and to top it all off, he’s a fine rapper. His Move EP caught my eye earlier this year as he melded together hip-hop and soul stylings, and went on to achieve great success in Japan – landing at the top of the hip-hop charts – an amazing feat for a Christian artist (read our interview with Sam about that here). Just a few months ago, Sam and his buddy John Rhee released an album of hymns called Laus Deo, which was mostly a departure from the sound of his Move EP.

Now, that funky fusion returns on Ock’s latest album Grey. But while there’s stacks of soul and bouncy pop, you may be surprised by the lyrical content. Grey goes deep. There’s a lot of personal, deep questioning and soul-searching going on. The album is beautifully structured from beginning to end, as we join Ock on a journey, searching for belonging, and as the album plays out he realises and reminds us of our need for dependence on God.

Grey begins with Never Ending, and it might just be the time of year, but there’s certainly a Christmas carol edge to the sound of the track. This track showcases Ock’s return to his hip-hop and musical prowess. It’s a big hit of bouncy, joyful pop as Ock talks about the problem of building castles on earth, when our joy is to be everlasting into eternity.

A softer, restrained sound arrives on What Have I Done, a track which as I mentioned above, is stark in the way it acknowledges utter helplessness and the need for something greater than ourselves. Sam moves between singing and rapping, and he shares a sense of self-desperation: ‘I can’t trust my own heart because it keeps feeding me lies.’ The song cleverly grows into a more hopeful vibe, both lyrically and musically. Near is a song of brokenness, and highlights our lack of reliance on God.

Made for More moves cleverly into All (More II), a ballad-ish turning point on Grey. The questions continue – ‘Maybe I am more than what my feelings tell me?’ – but as Sam reflects on the agony of what Jesus endured on the cross, he sees this as a catalyst for change. This is a hauntingly beautiful song, just Sam and a piano, and it’s very moving.

Out of My Head contains a tight groove with an upbeat swagger, and well-utilised dynamics. It’s a song that highlights our need for Jesus, and our need for community as believers. Sam’s resolve to self-pressure and reliance is to ‘hope in the light’. Long references Ecclesiastes and boasts a very slick arrangement, complete with an electric guitar instrumental.

Ruth Cho’s high and sweet vocals open Crown, which also features J. Han. It’s a song with a killer beat, and speaks of dying to the old self and living for the new self, found in Jesus. Cho also appears on Possible, where Sam Ock spills his heart that true life is what he craves – and Christ is the one who can make that possible. This is a jazzy number with yet another infectious, bouncy beat.

The last few tracks are both bright and joyful. On Got a Love, Sam affirms what he believes, and (in comparison to the first few tracks on the album) he exudes confidence in his faith, and in himself. It’s a moving forward sort of song. ‘No death, no life, can move me from your side. Your love will shine all the while.’ What a joyful, Biblical response to God’s love! And if that doesn’t convince you that Sam is excited about God’s love, he encourages us to do a ‘boogie’. Final track Make Me Smile sounds like a cross between a Prince song and a 90s pop hit. It’s probably my least favourite track of the album, but it is the biggest jam.

I found the structure of Grey quite compelling. The way this album moves is so clever – from self-questioning and doubt to certainty and security in a new identity in Christ. But most of all, this album is a call to depend on God, and find security in him. On Grey, Sam Ock is at his hip-hop-soul-fusion best, and shows his talent, vulnerability, joy, and most of all his love for Christ. I’m giving Grey three-and-a-half out of five stars.

sam-ock-greyGrey by Sam Ock will be released Friday 2nd January and can be pre-ordered now on iTunes.

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