In their quest to get their message across, Christian artists often put the music second, and the results ape mainstream artists and trends without bringing anything new or interesting into the mix. The very tag "Christian" can often seem like a negative, and some spiritually-minded artists have gone to great lengths to disassociate themselves with the Christian music scene as they court the mainstream. In hip hop, the divide between mainstream and Christian gets even more confusing, because 90% of rappers proclaim to be deeply religious, but send mixed messages in their music. The same rapper who proudly claims to be a wife-beating, gun-toting, drug-dealing thug also has scripture tattooed on his arm and drops God's name as often as he drops curse words. Listeners craving hip hop that reflects Christian values either have to accept a dip in quality, or ignore a mess of sinful lyrics before getting to the good stuff.
Enter GRITS. Nashville duo Teron "Bonafide" Carter and Stacy "Coffee" Jones have been making Christian-leaning hip hop for a decade now. They've released at least eight albums, two of which, "Factors of the Seven" and "Redemption," were highly reviewed by this publication. "Reiterate" is their first album on their own label, Revolution Art. GRITS are authentic hip hop heads, not just preachers using rap as a vehicle to get their message across. They have skills on the mic and on the boards, and offer listeners real hip hop with a Christian message.
The sound on "Reiterate" combines the funky experimentalism of Outkast mixed with the pop R&B that does so well on the Billboard charts, and a little Euro club music thrown in for good measure. The album starts off with "Reminds Me," which has an 80s-leaning synth beat, over which Bonafide and Coffee offer rapid-fire verses. "Walkin My Way" is a slick romantic track that manages the seemingly impossible feat in rap of talking about women without calling them out of name. "Turn It Up" offers a bouncing, reggaton-influenced club track that proves they can generate some bounce. They even get convincingly crunk on "Let's Get It," complete with whining synths, but free of the typical lewd subject matter of a club track. "Fly Away" throws in some techno synths as the boys entreat the listener to spread love. The duo give props to their mom, and then describe how they were rescued from a life of drama and hustling into the church:
"Sat down with the dad of a friend
Voice sounded like God in my head
He said, 'Son you too young to lose
Living to fast on a short fuse
Man, God got his hand on your life
So he gave you the gift and the mic
And he made you to speak to souls
Of the young and the old in a world so cold'"
GRITS never hide their religious leaning, but they don't hit you over the head with it, either. Their faith clearly informs every aspect of their life and their music, and they are definitely not trying to pass as a mainstream act, unlike a lot of Christian rock bands. However, GRITS' music isn't solely about religion, and it doesn't come off like Christian marketing, or a pastor trying to make his music palatable to the kids. GRITS' message is more subtle, like product placement in a TV show. Those seeking the Christian message will find it, but listeners who are merely looking for some positive hip hop will be able to enjoy this without feeling like they are being preached to. "Reiterate" also addresses the need for hip hop music that is family-friendly and free of profanity. The vast majority of rap music would get an NC-17, or at best an R from the ratings board. That's all well and good, but there is definitely room for hip hop that you could actually share with your nephews/kids/parents/grandkids/etc.
The pop R&B and club elements might excite more casual listeners, but they won't convince hardcore hip hop heads. The songs are well-produced and technically sound, but there is a overly-polished feel to the album that I wasn't into. Part of this has to do with the pointedly clean and postive bent of the lyrics. The chaste love jams and sober, sexless party anthems have an anemic quality to them, and the album ends up feeling like a virgin margarita, containing some of the flavor of hip hop but lacking its kick. Christian hip hop fans will definitely want to cop "Reiterate," but more secular listeners might find this too sanitized.
Music Vibes: 6.5 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 6.5 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 6.5 of 10
Originally posted: September 2, 2008