Apply the rules of supply and demand to the music business and it’s evident that the relatively young Uprok Records has been able to create a demand for faith-based hip-hop artists big enough to supply it with a roster of over a dozen acts. But as even the biggest label boss will tell you, the music biz has never solely followed the simplistic rules of capitalism (at least not up until the past few years, one might add), and there have always been and there will always be dedicated record labels who put music and message before sales. Newcomer Propaganda is proof that Uprok’s audience continues to expand, and so we got us another Tunnel Rat.
In regards to the Uprok catalog, the Los Angeles resident fits in nicely with his upbeat, punchy delivery and confident attitude. Donovan Luke Henry is in charge for most of the production (with assistance from Don ‘Dert’ Baker), marrying thick-padded bass and crisp fresh beats with feelgood melodic bits, whose identity as an instrument takes a backseat to the creation of a certain mood. Listen to tracks like “Time and Place”, “We Are” or “You Ain’t Ready” and you will hardly notice the horns, the strings, the guitar, or the piano that make them up, but they will tease your eardrums all the same. That wouldn’t be that much of a surprise if “Out of Knowhere” would be sample-based. But if you go by earlier releases, Donovan Luke Henry is known to play his own instruments.
The opening “Keep it Live” and “I Know” are both powerful ensembles that defy any notion of positive but punchless music. “Time and Place” is in the same vein in that it’s short of melodical elements, but for some soul-stirring music look no further than the Jay Dee-influenced “We Are” and especially “My Life, My Music” with its sweet Latino flavor (by way of Macho singing the Spanish hook), where we witness Propaganda “tryin’ to crush 20 years of experience into a 2-track.”
Just like in real life, the “crooked-way-make-straighter / track rider, 50-50 Rail skater,” is on a mission to balance and straighten things out while staying true to himself: “I rode it clean, the go-between the Christian and the secular, no rhyme compromise.” True to one of the most distinguished qualities of hip-hop, Propaganda uses rap as a means of empowerment, the only noticeable difference to other rappers being that he practices his faith more openly. Yes, there are no curse words on this record, but that doesn’t mean that this MC has been tamed in any way. It doesn’t prevent guest rapper Dokument from using a line like “If you’re married to the mic, just know I’m touchin’ your wife,” or Props from threatening: “Y’all wonderin’ if my pens got venom in ’em / I sketch a chin-check, you gon’ swear that you feel ’em.” It’s its confidence and certainty that makes hip-hop such an attractive form of expression for Christian rappers. Just check “I Know” and its firm chorus: “You can’t underestimate / no army could ever infiltrate / no man can tell me who I am or tell me who I ain’t / cause I know.”
In fact, sometimes that symbiosis of hip-hop and faith can be so tight that they seem made for each other, coming together in some sort of musical ministry. In Propaganda’s words: “Take my life and I will die with a mic in a clenched fist.” Placing himself somewhere between an elevated status and that of an underdog (“I’m a Christian, remember, bein’ hated is normal”), he boasts: “I’m like David, don’t talk / I got that slingshot with five giants traced in chalk.” Not to give a wrong impression, though, as “Out of Knowhere” is a thoroughly positive album. “You Ain’t Ready” is much more than a simple “Y’all ain’t ready for this”-type joint, it actually tries to help people to get ready for whatever challenge they may face:
“I learned wisdom is stay out of grown folks biz
It’s better to stay silent and let ’em assume you’re foolish
than open your mouth and prove it
Yo cool, don’t lose it
I expose a blueprint, of my movement
Don’t know what you meant
You said you’re conscious; you out chillin’
I’m feedin’ po’ children
Man, you ain’t ready”
A particularly inspiring song that should appeal to us all is “Don’t Let Us Lose It” which speaks for all hip-hop heads, breakdancers, graf writers and musicians, asking that hip-hop may be kept safe by God’s protecting hand. Wouldn’t you know, these Uprok people will have you saying thank God for hip-hop… But even if you prefer that God is kept out of hip-hop, you and Propaganda have one thing in common, that is you’re “lovin’ the intensity and the yes y’allin’.” In that regard, “Out of Knowhere” is a solid piece of hip-hop by an artist who is able to “bounce around your lethargy” with an animated flow, a positive outlook, strong convictions and a fairly unique way to express himself. It won’t hurt to check him out.