various artists :: Tunnel Rats Present - Underground Rise Vol. 1 :: Uprok Records
as reviewed by Tim Lavenz

There's many different forms of rap now-a-days. Whether it's hardcore, break-the-subs, gangster rap or laid back tracks with intelligent lyrics, there's something for everyone. One form of the art that is probably far less known than most is religious, or specifically Christian, rap. Due to an extreme lack of mainstream exposure, lack of religious rappers with talent, or just plain lack of interest, this sector of hip-hop just doesn't get much attention. The Tunnelrats are trying to change this.

"Underground Rise Vol. 1: Sunset/Sunrise" is collaboration of many of today's best known Christian rappers onto one album, led by the Tunnel Rats. Included on this album are: L.A. Symphony, LMNO and 2Mex, Remnant, Mass Reality, and Sekou the Misfit, manCHILD, Playdough, and Listener, and beats produced by Dert, Jerms, and Donovan Luke Henry. Chances are that you haven't heard of many, if any, of these artists, but don't let that mislead you. Each of them add to this album, mixing a Christian message with plain skillful raps.

The album begins with an introduction by a female rapper preformed as spoken word poetry, setting the tone for the entire album. The first song sums up beautifully exactly what the Tunnel Rats are about: spreading the Word through music. Check "How We Get Down":

"Out my heart my mind speaks, I hope speech will enthuse
I use urban intelligence so words never lose you
So pay close attention and I'll mention your thoughts
Mid-way through parables, you find yourself caught up
in the rapture, trap ya heads with words said
Now that I struck a cord, I tell ya how the Lord bled blood red
Until the very last drop shed, left for dead
Until the day He resurrected
But still neglected, as "mic checks" cross the globe
From the tunnel we emerge a new breed, brighter than strobe
With the flow, and people get excited at shows
They realize the reason for my life ain't doe'
You can stratch off the list clothes, flows, and hoes
Cause even hip-hop ain't got the power to save souls"

This impressive blending of wordplay and flow is followed up by four other verses by other artists that do nothing but strengthen the message of this song. One of the difficult things about any collaboration album is determining which artist is rapping which verse. The case is the same here, only enhanced by the fact that none of the artists are well-known enough to be recognized by their voice alone. As I navigated through this album, however, I found this to be a positive. Rather than listening for certain artists like we all often find ourselves doing (such as skipping to the track that features a well-known artist), you're able to just sit back, relax, and enjoy all 68 minutes of music.

Throughout the album, the beats are consistantly well made. At times, there are repetitive moments where I was waiting for a variation in the main tune, only to be left with the same ol'. Many of these rappers, also, have yet to refine their skills. Muddy vocals, practially incoherent lines, and an obviously forced, un-natural flow just to match the beat have a tendancy to occur with too many of these underground artists. One suprising aspect is the quality of the hooks in most of the songs. These, fortunately, save more than one track from falling into a simple string of un-interesting verses.

Though all songs include a Christian message, too many of them turn into mere battle raps, something that seems out of place on a Christian album. It's high points come when the most experienced rappers serve up innovative verses that spread the message. One such song is "Devil's Advocate", where Sekou the Misfit switchs between roles to get the message across:

"So I'm sittin' here havin' this arguement with my man, the Lord of Lords
I'm like 'I copped your book and theres some questions I can't ignore
First of all, why you gotta treat me the cruelest? Why you gotta do this?
Actin' surprised when I stumble goin through this, you already knew this'
He said, 'First off, why do you think weightlifters continue to add more weight?
How you expect to get stronger for great things if you don't wait?'
'Aight, fine, but how bout this: where the proof that you exist?
Now don't get pissed, I'm just sayin' the devil's all up in the mix
Babylon is sick, I'm startin' to believe what science evicts'
He said 'Science? Who you think is the original scientist?
Who you think taught the atom to split?
Whos the surgeon that pulled the cancer outta yo mom when she was sick?
Who keeps you strong when you goin' quit?
That truck that almost hit you, who you think
whispered to you to move from in front a' dat?
Whos blessin you with these hot raps over hot tracks, without simple raps?
Boy I oughta - Look at you, got me worked up hard as a normal man'
I said, 'Aiight, hold up God, I'm just tryin' tounderstand'"

This and tracks like "Ladder" and "Suffocation" do best to actually educate the listener about God, instead of just self-proclaiming religious battle raps. If anything, this album should open your eyes to artists like Sekou, manCHILD, Propaganda, and Ralphi. These are the best artists featured on this collection and it's easily noticed when a less experienced rapper takes the mic. Whether you're into Christian rap or not, what the Tunnel Rats and the many contributing factors are trying to do should earn them nothing but respect. This culture, almost especially hip-hop, often refuses to except any holy-related material. The same that turn a shoulder to such well made music without hearing it are the exact people that need to hear it. Hopefully, the Tunnel Rats and the rest of the Christian scene will achieve their goal of a true "Underground Rise" and maybe educate a few listeners along the way

Music Vibes: 7 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 7.5 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 7 of 10

Originally posted: June 3, 2003