Hip-Hop’s roots have spread so far and wide that even in a small town like Ada, Oklahoma (population under 20K as of the last census) a young man can grow up with aspirations of hip-hop stardom. Kingdom City Records representative Dillon Chase would be more than happy to put Ada on the map the same way that Nappy Roots blew up Bowling Green, Kentucky almost a decade ago. He’s certainly got the legit credentials hip-hop’s thugger-than-thou hardcore aficionados demand – two parents addicted to drugs, in trouble with the law from a young age, a reckless street life that nearly took him under before turning to his love of music to make rap records. He certainly presents that wildside of Ada on his album cover, mean mugging with only a pair of dogtags hanging from his neck, suggesting he’s just as likely to punch you in the grill as make you punch your fist in the air at the club. The production on “The Pursuit” certainly reflects that bravado – crunk, hard and hella loud.
Oh wait – there’s something about Dillon Chase that you don’t know yet. Something important. Something REALLY important. In fact the entirety of this album hangs on this one fact. I think Dillon’s opening words on “Truly Representin'” will explain this fact even more clearly than I could:
“I gotta know though man
Are we truly representin or not? Because
Representin Jesus Christ is much more than wearin a t-shirt man
or gettin wild at a concert – it’s a lifestyle”
A-ha! Dillon Chase is GANGSTER FOR JESUS. He’s so excited about the Holy Ghost that he just can’t hide it. Over 18 tracks on his 2009 debut, Dillon is in “Pursuit” of a greater love of Christianity. Back in the 1990’s this type of rap found a cult-following among lovers of the holy who wanted their children’s music to sound dangerous without actually being dangerous. There were a lot of different names for this sound and some were perhaps unfairly derisive, from “drivebys for Jesus” to “ghetto gospel” to “Christian crunk.” A lot of Christian crunk artists brought it on themselves by being unfathomably corny though, because replacing bullets with bibles leads to silly visuals of Bloods and Crips flashing hand signs while pulling up shirts to show King James is tucked in their waist. It’s incredibly hard to mix something that’s by nature supposed to be violent, rebellious and foul-mouthed with something that offers praise to the Lord without sinning to either your fellow Christians or even more puritanical rap fans who will crucify you for sounding like a DC Talk dweeb.
The best Christian rappers usually try to downplay the gangster sound and style while simultaneously keeping their references to the Lord sly and subtle, usually opting to lead by example rather than throw bible verses at you. After all it’s not corny to help out a friend in need, show your parents love (after all Father’s Day was yesterday) or overcome the temptations of evil to ultimately live a life of success and (moderate) wealth. As Dillon Chase said himself, Christianity is more than just talking about Christ or wearing a t-shirt praising Jesus, and for the faithful of any religion the same is true. At its worst religion divides us and makes us distrustful of others who don’t share our faith and beliefs. At its best religion makes us love and trust each other more, bonded in spirituality and the thought that even those who have different faiths or speak in different languages are ultimately expressing the same tolerance, humility and compassion.
On “The Pursuit” Dillon Chase tries to walk that fine line, but usually winds up smacking you so hard in the face with God’s love you’d either (A.) appreciate his sincerity as a fellow believer or (B.) be completely turned off by his relentlessly crunk turn at the pulpit.Songs like “Get to Know Christ” have a synth funk whine worthy of Bone-Thugs thanks to Apaulsoul on production, but lines like “Let me make it clear why I’m here in the first place/I was born again, man I got a new birthdate” make it wreak like stinky cheese. It’s very hard to get away from Dillon’s love of the Lord, because even his song titles seem to have an excessive need to prove just how faithful he is: “Back to the Cross,” “I Pray,” “Die for the Brethern” and “Live Holy” among others. Even songs that might seem to avoid the cliches of ghetto gospel like “Don’t Cry” ultimately fall right back into the same trap:
“If I die at 80, or if I die tomorrow
Peep the way it’s gravy it shouldn’t be any sorrow
Paint a future like Picasso, guess that you don’t know my motto
If I die, don’t you cry, cause heaven’s where I’ll go
… and it’s a beautiful thang”
The Regis Jones beat is heavy enough to be a Three 6 Mafia song, which makes it all the more mystifying to not hear one reference to drinking or smoking. I get that Dillon Chase is very sincere about his savior Jesus Christ and far be it from me to knock that for him or anyone else. In fact you might have gotten the mistaken impression that Dillon Chase or “The Pursuit” are completely intolerable from this review and that’s simply not true. His flow is average (if not exceptional), his vocal tone is average (if not exceptional), his delivery and breath control are slightly above average and the production of the beats is by and large bumpin’. The downside to this album is that it has placed itself into the narrow niche of Christian music, into the more narrow niche of Christian rap music, into the even MORE narrow niche of Christian faux-gangster rap music. Fortunately with target marketing and distribution from Life-Line Worldwide they’ll find each and every person in that niche and put a copy of “The Pursuit” in their hands. The rest of the world will go on their merry way content to not mix crunk and Christ in their life, either not looking to be converted or preached to, or happy in a similarly devout faith that demands prophets be praised and commands of righteous living be obeyed. I appreciate Dillon’s sincerity but for me it’s bordering on “drivebys for Jesus.”