Amongst hip-hop's many cluttered styles and sub-genres, Christian rap doesn't get much play. In simple terms, the idea of religion is contrary to the music's own established ideals, which place macho behavior and self-aggrandizing over service to God. Plenty of rappers claim allegiance to a higher being, but very few spend a significant portion of their time speaking on this allegiance. The fanbase for Christian rap is incredibly specific, and since most listeners are looking for something very different from religion, such music goes largely unnoticed.
The Missionary Men are well aware of the stigma attached to gospel rap, but they are marvelously unyielding to the stereotypes that their sub-genre carries. The first thing to be noticed on their debut, “Home Sick,” is that both Jahdiel and Mr. Monk are natural rappers. They can carry a tune and both exude the confidence of seasoned veterans. There are club songs, introspective cuts, and a couple of concept songs, and all are serviceable, which is something rarely seen on any record. I could hardly expect a religious group as adamant as the Missionary Men to pull off bouncy tracks such as “Make it Hott” and “Move,” but they manage with relatively few bumps. With such a wealth of rap music geared for top-40 airplay, it is slightly bizarre to hear a rapper recommend abstinence and sobriety, but the duo avoids sounding terrible in these cases.
For those that are purchasing for the music, not the message, there is plenty of subdued material to pick through. Very few of the track productions, all of which are credited to JahRock'n Productions, offer anything outstanding. There is a wealth of smooth loops to complement the rappers, but none will tickle your eardrums in a new way. The music seems to have been selected for the ease with which it can blend into the background, so instead of enhancing the album, the deadened beats act as pillows for the rap, softening the edginess of their words. There is an occasional curveball, such as the sitars on “The Scriptures,” but this only adds an uncomfortable eastern tint to the otherwise western music. This type of experimentation is promising, but doesn't frequently succeed. For the most part, though, JahRock'n Productions is too wary of trying anything new, so the music is stagnant and lifeless.
The best song on the album is “Girlfriend,” a sincere questioning of the behavior of certain women. Monk and Jahdiel both drop their best verses on the record in preaching about clean, innocent living. Even a mention of God's inspiration, something that is refreshingly absent from most of the song, avoids reminding the listener of the artists' agenda. Ultimately, on a record where “The Gospel,” “Heaven,” and “We Pray” fall in succession, it is a rare treat to be exposed to material devoid of religion. The airy loop featured on “Girlfriend” lightens the mood and allows the rappers to maintain a conversational pace, which enhances the effect of the song.
Most of the disc achieves a comfortable and understated feel, which makes for difficult listening simply due to a lack of musical variety. While the rhymes are somewhat versatile, the underlying theme of God permeates the entire album on a line-to-line basis. Even the clubby “Move” is crafted as a sort of subversive twist on a club song because of the dichotomy between their name-dropping of famous artists and their direct dismissal of the usual club behavior. The beat bounces around with no real purpose, and the various elements combine for an anti-club dance track, a strange final product. Maybe they just wanted to prove they could make a functional club song without the usual sexual and violent parading. The question remains, though, as to why they would borrow the blueprint for such success while simultaneously attacking the behavior condoned in most clubs.
“Home Sick” has a wealth of somber, contemplative songs, all of which feature the artists exploring their own beliefs in a fairly simplistic, orthodox manner. Most of the record consists of softened edges and lyrical preaching, which is why the radio attempts and the two non-religious concept tracks are so notable. “Happiness,” which follows “Girlfriend,” is pleasant without being memorable, despite its uplifting positive message. Almost every other song is introspective nearly to the point of boredom. I am not a terribly religious man, but “Home Sick” achieves the same effect as a mediocre gangsta-rap record, because regardless of the subject matter, too much of one topic hinders the album unless the material is breathtaking. Beliefs aside, the Missionary Men will sound far too preachy to the average listener. They are wholly competent emcees, but both their wordplay and rhyme content are strictly average. If the whole concept of salvation doesn't grab you, or if you'd just rather have it left out of your music, the record will drag even slower. Unless the mixture of rap and preaching is especially gripping to you, this record will be tough to praise.
Music Vibes: 5 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 6 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 5.5 of 10
Originally posted: August 23, 2005