Many of us may be familiar with Big R by this point and his hard hitting southern swag. We know him to be a cat that can speak to the streets just as easily as speaking to a congregation of believers – and make them bounce in their seats or on their feet while doing so. So I’m certain many people were looking forward to a new Big R project. Well, you got it!
The album is called “Last/First” after the Matt 20:16 parable that “the last shall be first, and the first shall be last.” Well, it may prove an interesting irony that this album is also better heard from last to first. Certainly, one could skip all the way to track 7 (“Grand Slam”) of the album and save themselves the difficulty of struggling through a series of very sub-par tracks. The only downside is you have to skip another few tracks to track 11 (“Can’t Breath”) to get to another decent track. The problem is that there is probably just an EPs worth of decent tracks on this barely average album. But there are certainly some bright spots. So let’s start there.
Let’s start with the end – yes, I do intend on keeping this theme going as long as possible. The last track of the album, “B-Leave” and the “Interlude” to B-Leave are what would normally be “call to salvation” type tracks. But Big R specifically went a different direction with it. Instead, he chose to go the way of Romans and focus on Christians (which would be most the people listening to the album) to “continue to grow in every spiritual blessing and mature into every good work,” becoming “the vessel of honor that God has called us into.” And to take it a step farther, Big R even gave out his digits for prayer and for spiritual encouragement. Now that’s a serious heart to minister right there! Big props.
“B-Leave” is a personal expression of that very application of spiritual growth and maturation that he desires other believers to also consign themselves to. This is a decent track in general. My only major issue with the track is that Autotune was used throughout nearly the entire track, and was poorly used as well. Only the outro and maybe some of the background vocal melodies really benefited from it. But to use it on the rapped verses was just a major drawback and disappointment. In fact, the use of Autotune in the verses made Big R sound like he was rapping underwater or that the vocals were recorded on tape and the tape got warped. It might have been one of the worst uses of Autotune in my personal experience. Worse yet, this theme of using Autotune, and using it poorly, continued on throughout most of the tracks on the album – and typically in the worst of the tracks.
Continuing from back to front, the next hot track is “Up In Da Trap” and this leads into a small set of quality tracks “We Go Hard” & “Can’t Breath.” (Told you it was small.) “Up in Da Trap,” certainly has a track that really grabs you from the beginning and doesn’t want to let you go. (See the pun?) This might be my favorite track on the album. It focuses on the premise of being trapped in things like drugs, alcohol and other stuff popularized in much of rap and the urban communities today. These are things we know we shouldn’t be into, but gets us trapped, and then Big R presses to where our focus should be, and when it’s not what the results are.
“We Go Hard” has a wonderfully aggressive approach to it, as one would expect by the track title. This is one of those anthem type tracks for cats who want to “Go Hard” for the Lord in all they do, especially as emcees. There is nothing super profound in this track, it’s just good.
“Can’t Breath” really fits in with “We Go Hard.” Have you ever felt that without Christ you couldn’t breathe, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat, couldn’t speak and just couldn’t be with the Lord? Well that’s the concept of this solid track as well. While the beat itself leaves a little to desire, the overall product and the vocal presentation by Big R more than makes up for it. In many ways I would consider this a kind of anthem track as well. And this is one of the few tracks I really enjoyed listening to. These two solid tracks back to back definitely pumped me up.
I could certainly see some Christ Krumping with Can’t Breath and “We Go Hard.” These are two powerful and solid tracks that are buried in what is a poor album over all. So, since I got the good stuff out the way, let me take a quick voyage describing the rest of the album.
“Grand Slam” was a kinda fun song (good Onyx reference Big R btw). The beat is decent and the hook is actually really catchy. The baseball theme was s a good metaphor to growing in your faith. And Grand Slam is the last of the decent tracks. And while I liked the concept of using the baseball announcer at the top of the track, it’s important to keep consistency with the little stuff, like baseball commentary. What was just a “hard hit,” and somehow by going in reverse around the bases, became a homerun? So while this is not a bad track in general, the intro should be nixed and redone properly.
The poorest aspects to Last/First are quite basic. This is an album with really simplistic rhyming and really simplistic beats which tend to make, at least for me, a really boring album that get’s shelved and ignored very quickly. Where’s the creativity? Where’s the excellence? Look, if we’re going to use a tool like Autotune, and put it on the album, we should at least know what we’re doing. Maybe the sound of warped tape was the desired goal, but I don’t know why. We should also be beyond cheap Casio keyboard sounds when there are so many quality production kits available. We should be beyond corny single syllable rhymes and being overly repetitious when writing had come so far. And we should be beyond twisting secular concepts and popular secular themes and then trying to make it seem Godly, especially while still lacking congruity with scripture. Come on, industry, we’re better than this!
As an example, Big R took us on a throw back to the miserable Christian rap of the 90’s with “Murder.” I understand giving some props to the predecessors like T-Bone, but taking out spiritual Uzis and murdering demons? It was preposterous, ignorant, unbiblical and just horrid in the 90’s. Resurrecting this nonsense is one “Big” mistake, however well intentioned.
So my overall assessment of Last/First is a sad one. I long for quality work in an industry that is starting to feel saturated, even though it’s so miniscule. I want the artists I like and admire, especially when seeing their love for Christ and ministry, put out quality work. I want to see them succeed in so many ways. But today I morn and will try to remember the few good bits.
1. Music – 3
2. Flow/Delivery – 5
3. Lyricism – 3
4. Content – 5
5. Creativity/Originality/Relevancy – 2.5
6. Credibility & Confidence – 5
7. Personality & Character – 6
8. Presentation Quality – 5
9. Overall Production Quality – 4
10. Potential Impact – 1.5