by Sam Robinson
Three years after his last release Talented Xth, American Christian hip-hop artist is on the cusp of dropping his fourth studio album, The Narrative. Blending soul, funk, jazz and ‘Kanye rants’, Baraka’s first release on Humble Beast Records is easily one of the year’s best albums. The album hops around different eras of history and sound, providing not only a musical lesson, but stories of social consciousness, showing the impact of sin threading through all of time.
The album starts with a growling narration of 2 Peter on Foreward 1619, urging the hearer to resist the Devil, who prowls around like a lion. Using biblical stories, Sho weaves history into song, bringing up race and colour, but sharing the common problem – ‘Do I serve God, or do I make my own agenda?’
Soul 1971 explodes with James Brown soul, with strong snare hits and some crazy funk. Kanye 2009 recalls West’s Gold Digger, and guest Jackie Hill Perry slays her verse. Sho asserts it as his Kanye rant – ‘I have an opinion but might change my views next week.’ It leads into Love 1959, an school dance number (think Marty McFly in Back to the Future) set around a 12-bar blues, with a clapping breakdown. It’s super cool, with a hook that sings of unconditional love that sets free.
One of the standout tracks on The Narrative arrives on Here, 2016, which features old label mate Lecrae. With super slick live production, and the right concoction of bounce and swagger, the pair assert that they are there for ‘love over hate’, and ‘truth and faith’. It’s a song that encourages the church to work harder, in particular, husbands and fathers.
30 & Up, 1986 has a stomping bass, and leads into Profhet, 1968, which is a darker number sonically, and moves people to stand up and take action: ‘I’m undervalued but I can be a prophet.’ Maybe Both, 1865 takes aim at how Christians can turn a blind eye to injustice – ‘I hear disturbing things come from so-called Christians’ – and brings up such current issues as voting and that God is for racial diversity. Considering the year of this song is the year that the American Revolution ended, it’s a grim reminder that there is plenty that has not changed – but Christ is still coming to bring justice: ‘He took a wrongful death and yet he remained silent, and he said he’s coming back, and he is, bringing violence.’
The timeframe of The Narrative heads to the future on Excellent, 2017, and talks much of the problems of today. The need is salvation, but people focus on the finite: ‘We don’t want a heart transplant, we want facelifts.’ Road to Humble chronicles Sho’s life, much like Lecrae’s 2014 track Non-Fiction. As Sho works through his life, he expresses gratitude to God: ‘Thank the Lord for his grace, cos now I got faith.’
Words, 2006 talks about Sho’s struggle as a family man, both as a father and as a son. It’s a very personal track – ‘I try not to doubt the power of prayer, but some days I feel like the power ain’t there…’ It is paired with soft jazzy track Fathers, 2004, which is a call out to fellow fathers to join Sho in sticking around their kids, and spending time with them. Sho asks ‘How do you spell Dad? It goes L-O-V-E.’ The album closes on Piano Break, 33 A.D., which, as the date suggests, brings all the glory to Jesus. Over syncopated beats and sweet piano, Sho spits out questions about God, admits his brokenness and shares our place before him.
Sho Baraka is a masterful rapper, storyteller and theologian, and here has released nothing short of a stellar album. The Narrative has dropped at the perfect time in American history, and moves the believer to stand up for injustice and question the norm. Sho is an excellent fit at Humble Beast, and has worked with the team to produce a musically diverse album that moves from bright and punchy to dark and contemplative. The whole record is a journey that uplifts Christ and his cause. Get The Narrative, and play it on repeat until the lessons sink deep, and move you to prayer and action. 4.5/5
The Narrative by Sho Baraka will release this Friday, 21st October. You can support Sho’s ministry by pre-ordering it on iTunes, and it will also release as a free download at Humble Beast. Like us on Facebook and Twitter for our interview with Sho about the album in coming weeks.