Holy hip-hop can at times inspire outright cynical hatred. It’s easy to see why when you hear emcees who could otherwise be taken seriously make silly statements about doing “drivebys for God” with the gospel word. As Ed Lover would say, “C’MON SON!” As a whole though I’m neither for or against spirituality in hip-hop, which is far more omnipresent than most listeners ever realize. Some go out of their way to make it obvious by talking about a pilgrimage to holy places like Jerusalem or Mecca. Many are far more subtle, talking about praying for hope or forgiveness, without explicitly stating what or who they are praying to. Even a rapper who claims to worship the devil and practice Satanism is still declaring a belief inSOMETHING. It’s all about the level that you want to take it to in your rhymes and whether or not you believe it will hurt you with hip-hop heads who only put God or Allah in their lives when it’s convenient and otherwise don’t want it put in their face.
The rappers of musically or lyrically, but in some cases it’s surprisingly refreshing. Either way there’s nothing apologetic about it and they are upfront and clear on every album they release so there’s no need for caveat emptor concerns. When you buy an album like CStraight’s “So Not Cool” you know exactly what you’re getting, and if you don’t want your music to have that kind of message you can take a pass. What DOES come as a surprise though is that the hard copy version of “So Not Cool” came with a full bonus DVD in the pull up tray, something I haven’t seen from rappers with OR without explicit religious faith in a while. Unfortunately there’s not enough time to review both the album and the bonus disc so the video half will just have to wait. Let’s take a look at C’s flow on the opening song “God 1st-ness”:
“I’m trapped in this dirt, but the curse slipped off
at his feet, like a tee when he kicked off
Now I’m plannin by the river where life flows
Light intertwined, shine though it might grows
And I’m not ashamed, I am not a bastard
I am captured, I carry the name
of a father who leads them disciples
Conditions are hard so it’s pliable”
The piano backdrop and drum track work well here, and C’s vocal tone and delivery are reminiscent of a West coast underground rap cafe lyricist. There are references to Christianity here and there, but I don’t feel like I’m being pummeled with a holy driveby – this is simply a good beat and a good rhyme from a good artist. The label recommends the title track to “So Not Cool” with production by Juice2020 though, so here’s a few bars from it:
“Welcome to the first time visitors, thanks for your time
Glad you considered us, hope you feelin fine
Please do remember us, keep us on your mind
If you ever need encouragement, keep us on rewind
Rewind this, you are now gathered ’round your stereo
Be prepared to witness the death and the burial
of the uncool, mic check one two
You are at the scene of a crime like a gumshoe”
I think it’s obvious to this point that even though CStraight professes to put God first, he’s not using that as an excuse to phone it in and let God do all the work. On that mythical list of hip-hop’s greatest word slingers, he’s probably not getting penned in, even with invisible ink. That doesn’t change the fact he’s got a quiet confidence to his delivery and he’s telling stories in a way that proves he won’t embarrass himself, his label or potential listeners musically. “3 Words” finds CStraight talking about his faith and professing it in a frank matter of fact way that’s not didactic and pushy on one hand, nor weak and undefined on the other.
CStraight’s confidence allows for quality collaborations throughout the album, writing songs like “Nothing In Particular” with Knine where he stands “around his throne, singing songs that lift the kingdom up” proudly. It can also be heard on the bumping beat of “Sucker Free,” a track Three 6 Mafia would be at home rapping over, but instead features fellow Godchaserz emcees Disciple (D.I.) and ReadyWriter to get down, and on the slow and thick groove of “Not An Option” featuring Brinson. If faith has swag, CStraight’s got it. If you define yourself within the limits of Christian Rap, this guy is exactly what you’d want. If you’re open to emcees of all creeds and religions though, he’s still going to win some converts (no pun intended). “So Not Cool” is above average, but the most interesting thing to me is that he shows the potential to be even more if the lyrics and beats continue to improve. All he needs to do is keep God first and keep working hard.