Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Kanye Needs Some Ivory...Soap That Is

OK. The gospel community has been supportive of the clean version of "Jesus Walks"; and of course, it should be written in stone that anyone can rap, sing or say whatever they please about Jesus Christ. Even if they don't believe in what he preached, we do live in a free society that has the right to free speech, at least that is what our government tells us.

Just today, my sister was destined to pick up the debut project of John Stevens, better known as John Legend. The new R&B sensation is taking the nation by storm with his clean approach and with his talented array of song writing and vocal skills. He conjures up deep emotion when his silky voice is heard and the lyrical power of his songs are reminiscent of the neo-soul movement, with a tad bit of originality attached to it.

Let it be said though - that John Legend is no gospel artist at all.
So why am I speaking about it???

Well, Kanye West, who is very much instrumental in Legend's current success, appears on his project and even helps produce this worthy collection of smooth R&B/hip-hop flavored songs. And he appears on the cut, "Number One", which features one of my favorite jams from back in the day. Using the backbone to "Let's Do It Again", penned by the late great Curtis Mayfield and sung by the Staple Singers, this song is like ice in a warm Pepsi in the summertime. It's just delicate. UNTIL - Kanye West opens his mouth to utter a senseless rap using words like "penis", "suck" and "shit" and "ho" and several other words - and using them in very bad usages. I mean, c’mon, I don’t need to repeat exactly what the young emcee said - like you really can used the word "ho" in a good way!!!! Please...I don't need to go there.

It's very sad that John Legend has to be attached to West's current controversies. It's not really his fault. He wants to put out good music and with a contract with Sony Urban and Columbia, he is doing that. But to be connected to one bad track like "Number One", it could hurt Legend's "legendary" status later on.

As for our good friend, Kanye West, I pray he doesn't fall into the same pitfalls as his fellow contemporaries, because it's not worth it. Just for money...just to please ghetto-minded folk...just to satisfy such sinners...why? Give us good music, and leave the filth out. Gosh, I prolly listen to Gospel, but I do expect to listen to wholesome R&B every now and then. And these days, it's getting harder and harder for artists with that frame of mind to even exist.

Sad to say, when the music stops - Kanye fails to present his integrity to J. Matthew Cobb, such as when he was singing about Jesus on "Jesus Walks". That's why us, the believers, shouldn't be so supportive over events like "U Saved Me" and "Jesus Walks" just because they talking about our Savior (that goes for you gospel radio, gospel retail, industry vets and e-zines). Talk is just what it is...TALK. I'm beginning to believe that's all "Jesus Walks" is.

Talk on, Bro. West. Talk on.

Friday, December 03, 2004

mini-VIEWS #1

People have been wondering when am I going to post my so-called controversial reviews back up. Well, I had no real plans to do any - since they are so time consuming. Even though I'm a very dangerous analyzer, most of the time I go into detail about things and sometimes that can be nerve-wrecking since things are becoming more complicated now to describe. But the Word of God declares that we should "write the vision and make it plain...". And I try to my best at that. So below are a few mini-VIEWS (a PRAYZEHYMN perspective) of some of the newer album releases out in the gospel music industry along with a grade point on its quality. Enjoy!

Stephen Hurd
A Call To Worship
(Integrity Gospel)

Stephen A. Hurd, by far, is no stranger to gospel music. After making several appearances on Gospel Music Workshop of America (GMWA) projects and writing for artists including Dottie Peoples, the late Rev. Donald Vails and CeCe Winans' Born Again Church Choir, Hurd began presenting his own compositions on his own, with his independent projects "Volume One" and "Volume Two: In The Overflow". And he has a definite reason to do so. Take the vocal mastery of Calvin Bernard Rhone and merge it with stylish praise-and-worship leading and you have yourself a fledging winner. Taking his presence internationally is the situation for Hurd on his Integrity Gospel debut, "A Call To Worship". This live recording, taped in Washington D.C., reveals Hurd in a very comfortable setting and poised to create a healthy atmosphere of worship for his audience. Things kick off in fast gear with a rendition of the popular P&W chorus, "Let It Rise". Steven Ford's brassy, horn arrangements definitely marks this cut and only prepares listeners for what is to come. For over twelve minutes, the praise party continues with high-octane jumpers such as "Cry Out O Zion" (originally recorded by GospoCentric's Lawrence Matthews) and the mid-tempo, traditional jamboree, "Rejoice". Though these songs may get very tiring, Hurd slows things down and and delivers his best on "Lead Me To The Rock". By time the following reprise comes on, Hurd breaks down the lyrical content a little further and ministers strongly: revealing his greatest asset musically. The mega-hit, "Undignified (I Will Dance, I Will Sing)", works perfectly for Hurd (along with some creative energy stemming from album producer Steven Ford) and the arrangement is a success. Important cuts also include "We Magnify Your Name" (though the time is cut way too short), "Philippians (Stand)" and "The Oil Of Your Anointing"; which are all Hurd's compositions. Overall, the album brings too many remakes and repeats to the table. So if you are new to Hurd, this album is a great way to learn more of the artist and his passion for worship. On the other hand, if you have the albums that feature the "repeats" (which is seven of the eleven tracks represented), you may not appreciate this album as expected. But with clear production from Steven Ford and an engaging flow of praise-and-worship, this album superbly introduces Hurd's ministry to the world. It is clear and evident that this was the purpose of this particular project - job well done.

Twinkie Clark
"Home Once Again...Live In Detroit"

Being one of the commanding innovators of contemporary gospel's brighter years, Elbertina "Twinkie" Clark has earned a mighty reputation of creating infectious grooves, delivering her specialty on the Hammond B-3 and delighting thousands with her crafty compositions; which could be compared to the likes of Rudolph Stanfield, Thomas Whitfield and Walter Hawkins. And it's because of that reputation that Twinkie probably feels she should not deliver "Grade A-quality" music these days, since her management along with Verity Records' marketing team already know that her albums will sell just because of her name. How we treasured the days when Twinkie baffled choir lovers with her works on the "Twinkie Clark-Terrell Presents the Florida A&M University Gospel Choir" project and how she dazzled us with her mighty collection of songs that she recorded with the renowned Clark Sisters. "Home Once Again...Live In Detroit" appears to be a homecoming celebration for Twinkie, as she journeys back to the "D" to bring us what we have grown to cherish. Unfortunately, there's not too much to treasure on this particular collection, in comparison to the hits in her "hey-day". Twinkie opens things up with "Twinkie's Organ Prelude (The High Place)"; which almost comes off as being sloppy from the very beginning but is accented with classical framework revealing Twinkie's quick fingerwork. Then comes a lifeless, urban track, "Everything You Need Is Right Here", that appears to make Twinkie look and feel fifteen years younger - but it's not the Twinkie we are accustomed of hearing. Vocally she impresses as she hits the notes and throws out her usual growls and riffs. But it is the thumping five-string bass that shines the brightest on this track. But all is not bad on this project. When you weigh in Dorinda Clark-Cole's "I Made It" (a ten-minute adventure featuring the Clark Sisters delivering their classic vocal interpretations and improvising), Twinkie's traditional-flavored "Intercession" and hearty remakes of some of Twinkie's classics such as "He Was Hung Up For My Hangups" and "For Whatsoever A Man Soweth", you are bound to smile and declare this album is a little bit more energetic than her previous project on Verity, "Twinkie Clark & Friends: Live In Charlotte". But Twinkie fails in capturing her audiences when it comes to that wonderful word called "originality". It is lacking here and it kind of gives you that eerie feeling that you paid too much for what you got, or were expecting. Even though Alex Asaph Ward, Joel Smith, Jonathan Dubose and a zealous choir spruces up things a little, all eyes should be on Twinkie: the star. Instead you begin to appreciate the background work a tad bit more. One good listen to "Let Your Anointing Be In This Place" and you are definitely feeling the spunky rhythms and musicianship, but the song lacks creativity and really feels empty lyrically. With a little more creativity and effort, this project could have become a "must-have" for 2004. Maybe after a few keen observations from her parent company, things will much better the next time around.