Chronicles of an Ex-Hustler is a heartfelt love letter to the hood. More specifically, it’s a earnest plea for people stuck in the ghetto lifestyle to accept the hope found solely in the risen Lord. In a genre where being gangsta and hustling is put on a pedestal, this concept is nothing short of spectacular. Even further, in a Christian sub-genre that’s in love with being “hard”, littered with cornball emcees that attach Christian liturgy with hood slang every chance they get*, concept albums like these are near-vital. Unfortunately, the lyrical execution was not as strong as the direction of the message. Some increased artistic polish and creativity from This’l could have made Chronicles of an Ex-Hustler album of the year. But instead, it’s a solid but not spectacular album that I still recommend most should give a shot.
*Seriously, I’m tired of Christian rap gangstas. Absolutely sick of it. Jesus did not die so we could “push the Rock”, “hustle the Gospel” “shoot demons with my spiritual gat”, (I’m sure you all have heard analogies similar to this at some point) and so forth. I doubt redeemed life in Christ called us to glorify the lifestyle He’s more than able to pull us out from.
At it’s apex, Ex-Hustler can convict and touch you like few rap albums. “Picture on a Shirt” was particularly moving. The theme hits on a far too frequent ghetto scene. Namely, when a young person dies (especially when murdered), many families place their fallen loved-one on a T-Shirt in remembrance. This’l bears his heart about the grievous results of hood life, pining for a day when youth wouldn’t be pictures on a shirt.
Tight production follows the closing track, “I Ain’t Turning Back.” Victory horns and a well-implemented 808 (gasp!) follow This’l and fellow Midwesterner Flame as they spit about the freedom they’ve found in Jesus and the absolute promise that they’ll never need to indulge in ghetto-mentality. Flame gives a dope articulation of his redeemed change of mindset. It’s an potent message dropped on a banger.
“Where will we go? Back to our grave?/Leave a castle for some shackles and being slaves?/That don’t make no sense, no offense with the statement, man!/That’s like a Jew begging for concentration camps/That’s just like us blacks begging for segregation back!”
As I mentioned before, his lyricism won’t catch you. This’l doesn’t drop a lot of clever metaphors or complex schemes. More often than not, he gives the “nursery-rhyme ABC123” level of wordplay. It’s pretty rare to find two-syllable couplets on the project. Featured artists Flame and Blair Wingo (a spoken word artist that drops a fantastic poem in the interlude “Identity Shift-Brothers”) drop significantly stronger lyrics than This’l, which one never wants to see happen on your solo project. Once again, improvement here would have made such a difference.
Despite my fairly large disappointment with the quality of rhyme, I did enjoy This’l. As he grows as an artist, there’s no doubt that he could release plenty of well-rounded masterpieces. As for now, it’s a pretty nice listen, and an absolute must for those that can identify with his background.
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Review by: Bradford Davis
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