Christian rap continues to evolve and improve. Relegated in the 80's and 90's to the kind of cornball antics of "I love God and God loves me" raps of DC Talk and silly militancy of Grapetree Records (would YOU do a driveby for God), artists like Japhia-Life are continuing to push the envelope towards more realistic and listenable positive hip-hop, blurring the distinction between Christian and Secular rap in the process.
With production by South Philly's own The Architect on his album, the music is kept upright and tight in ways that any apt metaphor to describe them would likely offend a bible-thumper. If you close your eyes for a minute and zone out while listening to "Fortunate" you could even imagine it as early Nasty Nas, before he left behind Large Professor and went Escobar. The haunting strings and pianos of "Precious Memories" allow Japhia to weave narratives of his own life into rhyme.
"In tears, I remember my first love playin hard to get
Open arms, and stolen moments
Holdin pennies beholds livin hopeless
Catchin flashbacks when I focus
Heaven's gate is open - so is Hell's
My eyes seen even the chosen; thrown in jail"
Wherever the album might tend to get didactic or preachy, the music brings things back into focus while Japhia's raps avoid bashing you over the head with God. The presence shines in his rhymes without being overbearing. Thus, how could you not help but love tracks like the smooth flowing wind instruments and guitar licks of "Pages of Life" or the Wu-esque flavor of "God's Kids"? Truly, the former could be mistaken for Blackalicious and the latter for Ghostface Killah; they're that good. Japhia is not thumping the pulpit - he's showing you darkness and watching the starved and poor yearn for a better life through Christ. "Nightmares, thanks for the light today; I admit, my sins in a fight today. I know you understand, why I get in so much trouble and the ones like me, who fell victim to the struggle." Pure poetics and unquestionably mathematical hip-hop.
With six full length tracks and two skits, this album's only flaw is that the track listing on the back is inaccurate - "Love is the Answer" is actually the last song and not the "Outro." It's a good way to wrap an excellently produced album, lyrically and musically. "The realest love, comes from above." Some people may shy away from Japhia because it's not HARD but his rhymes are just as lyrical as the next man and beats are as strong IF NOT stronger. Any underground rap fan would fiend to add this album to their collection and put these tracks on their mixtapes.
Music Vibes: 9 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 9 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 9 of 10
Originally posted: August 1, 2000