A group of elders, some gadgets from Q branch, Iron Man Mach 3 and your local fire station; are some of the things you may need because I fear a firestorm will be hitting the Christian blogosphere. The new LP from Sho Baraka entitled Talented Xth is sure to cause a ruckus in terms of its very real and at times raw content. My first listen through of this album cemented my view that Sho was right to leave Reach Records. This album does not mesh with the Reach sound and to try and release it on reach would have clashed with Reach’s brand of music.
“I have a Chris Rock goal/ to keep my daughter off the pole“
Lyrically the album is on point; Sho brings out his full arsenal for this project and holds nothing back. In the opening track “Bethseda” featuring L.I.B.E.R.T.Y & JK, he says, “I have a Chris Rock goal to keep my daughter of the pole/That’s two fold stripping and politicking /Because to me homie I don’t see much difference.” Also in “Mahalia” featuring Duce Banner, has Sho displaying some great wordplays, “Black belt in a bad may/You don’t know I did what my sin say (sensei).” Contrast this with “Peter Pan” — he keeps the rhymes straightforward and at face value. This works because this song is more of a personal story.
Production on this album is tight. Producers on this album include Blue, ALi, J.R. and others.The beat selection is excellent whether it’s a dark choir-and-string-fueled beat in “Michael” (Prod: Swoope) or the smooth brass sounds of “Denzel” (Prod: theBeatBreaker) featuring Chantae Cann & Suzy Rock . My personal favorite is the track “KING” (Prod: theBeatBreaker) featuring Tedashii & Lizi Bailey, which has an almost nursery rhyme quality to the instrumental that contrasts with the verses that highlight the fallenness of this world by the artist relating their fantasies of a better world. Another highlight was “Cliff & Claire” (Prod: Swoope) featuring Christon Gray, which sports a slow and melodic beat that is perfect for the storytelling rap Sho often does well. The track goes over the raw reality of marriage, both highs and lows.
Causing a Ruckus
The dividing line between your love or hate verdict, will most likely be drawn on the mature content throughout Talented Xth. The main theme of the album is tied loosely with the the title — a reference to an essay written by William Edward Burghardt Dubois (WEB for short). Dubois used the term “Talented Tenth” to describe the class of leaders and intellectual elites within the African American community. Thus the album contains heavy sociopolitical commentary on race, poverty and classism. In his quest to shake people out of stone-hearted ignorance, Sho Baraka employs strong language to convey the gravity of the issues he presents. The track with the most use of strong language is “Jim Crow”, a song discussing multiple issues that blacks have when it comes to how society views them and how they are taught to view themselves. In the song Sho Baraka makes a similar lament to that of Dubois who once said: “In my own country for nearly a century I have been nothing but a nigger.” The words only get stronger than this, but I assure you, there is a worthy purpose*
The only negative on the album is the song “Mrs.” (featuring J.R.); it is the black sheep of the tracklist. It’s not the song or beat is bad it’s just that stylistically it seems misplaced in comparison to the overall feel of the album. J.R. sings falsetto and Sho Baraka’s voice is highly synthesized — it harshly contrasts with the raw and real tone present throughout Talented Xth. Also while I did overall enjoy the track “Denzel” the whole dichotomy between “swag” and “class” has been done many times before but this again doesn’t ruin the song.
In his quest to shake people out of stone-hearted ignorance, Sho Baraka employs strong language to convey the gravity of the issues he presents
Talented Xth is a bold new direction for Sho Baraka but ultimately what is felt throughout this LP is how passionate he is about these issues. It is this passion that makes this a quality album and one that will start many interesting and hopefully fruitful discussions.
*I will quickly touch on the subject of Christian artist using strong language since many songs on the album either use or allude to words that are regarded negatively in Christian rap circles. I believe that the admonition found in Ephesians 4:29 does not refer to a defined set of words but instead to the use of any words to malign or dishonor either man or God. Thus using the word “bitch” to refer to a human being is wrong but to use it to refer to a female dog is permissible. However, that means that if you were to call a person a “dog” out of malice you have allowed corrupted speech to leave your mouth. I see no real problem with Sho using the word in the context he did because it was done as a rebuke rather than endorsement. Words such as “nigga”, which is used heavily in the hook of “Jim Crow” become much more complicated because it has not really ever been officially established as a curse word in the English language thus it all comes down to the context of usage and the specific culture that gives the word meaning. Sho purposely uses this word to refer to a negative state of being which he does not praise and thus it can be permissible. However others will say that Christian artist must use language that would not act like a stumbling stone to others and that is a valid concern.