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J Spence – “Ascension”
Released: 2011
Reviewed by: Neil Christian
Rating: 6.5 (Out of 10)

Music albums have, in my very short life, held my hand as I have navigated my of life’s gorges. For example, I can recall when I entered into a public high school from primary school and discovered, to my surprise, that I was the one of the few ethnic kids there. As a result, I didn’t have any friends and used to eat my lunch by myself in the classroom. I was afraid to go out as I knew I would get beaten up because I was different. During that time my only friend was my Sony CD player (with 4 batteries). It was Me Against The World.

During a particular family crisis, when it seemed like the family would break up, it was Masta Ace who comforted me & told me that I wasn’t just another Disposable Art. And after becoming a Christian, losing many friends for choosing not to club and smoke up, it was Lecrae who guided me through my Rebellion. Now I can add Ascension to that list.

This is a deeply personal album from J. Spence. But not in the vein that you would expect, where artists bare all events, down to the minute detail. Rather, this album is vague so the private life of the artist is protected, nonetheless you walk away from the project feeling encouraged and edified in any situation you are in. That is skillfully done. Just take Ya’ll Don’t Know. J. Spence goes in over a somber beat, accompanied with dark strings, talking about his struggles without being specific to his circumstances. That in fact allowed me to relate the lyrics to my own experience. “Ya’ll don’t even know, that I cry myself to sleep, but what hurts more is that I can’t even sleep…I can’t see the smile that I put on your face, can’t see the track but I am running the race…” This is just fantastic. And I haven’t even got to the production as well.

The album is entirely produced by J. Spence and Danny Rosario. Artists, who are reading this, jump on the phone and book them quick, as their production talents will be a hot commodity very soon! This is just astonishing production that matches the message of the track. Just take the final and title track, Ascension. With beautiful keys and a subdued bass line, Spence crafts a gorgeous track that moves one to tears. All this before the lyrics even drop!

The production is also very varied. So In Love starts off with a deceptively slow, keys solo which is built into an R&B-ish track for Spence to talk about Jesus. This variance in beats does backfire on Incredible which is a rock track with the hook being screamed. I am not a fan of heavy metal music so I could just be bias. And straight after being hit by that, I was completely taken by surprise by the next track Friend Like Me which is a funky, jazzy track with a Latin feel to it. You just need to check it out yourself. This is just incredible.

The album however drops in the production value. The mixing and mastering is at times, on point while at other times falls quite short. The vocals are too subdued on Friend like Me while the bass line on the title track needed to be brought forward more. These small issues affect almost every track. Ya’ll Don’t Know’ hook feels off, with the vocals being really soft, to point where the listener has to strain to hear the hook and the horns are too loud.

And can someone please explain to me why we still have songs with swag in them?!! Even Soulja boy is wise enough to know when a word is old, but somehow “swag” just refuses to leave CHH like that clingy girlfriend. Life Strength and Swag could have been a great song, but add that horrible word to it and there is just no way you can redeem a song. No way at all.

However with such noteworthy production, the flaws in the rhymes shine brighter than they normally would. Don’t misunderstand, he’s not bad. He’s very good. Lyrically he can hold his own but there is definitely room for improvement. Spence needs to experiment with more flows and different rhyme schemes over those marvelous beats. The beats shine brighter than the rapper themselves, which is unfortunate, since the lyrics are excellent. But that’s a compliment in itself.

Despite the flaws, the one thing that will keep this album in heavy rotation is the immense production and the heartfelt lyrics. This album will sit with you through any situation. It will inspire you, encourage you and ultimately point you to Christ. Did you fall with your girlfriend? Repent and Pray. Are you going through a tough time? Then you need Ascension.

Comprehensive Ratings:

1. Music – 8
2. Flow – 5
3. Creativity / Originality – 7
4. Relevancy – 7
5. Content & Character – 7
6. Credibility & Confidence – 6
7. Personality – 6
8. Presentation Quality – 6
9. Overall Production Quality – 6
10. Potential Impact – 7

President/CEO of The Corelink Solution and Holy Culture

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