As someone who is not very religious, I rarely find myself venturing into the realm of Christian hip-hop. I have no problem with the message that artists are trying to convey, and while there are some exceptions, my inability to relate to some of the lyrics makes it difficult to fully appreciate the music. In addition, some artists seem more focused on preaching their message of spirituality than on making quality music, and while their lyrics are certainly meaningful, it often makes for a one-dimensional album. I was interested, then, to see where CY's latest album would fall along the spectrum of Christian rap, as it was clear after listening to just a few cuts that his talent level was not in question. Rather, I wondered whether "High Wire Act" would be too spiritually-oriented to appeal to a more casual listener such as myself.
CY's skills as an emcee are evident from the very opening track, "Musical Castle," as he raps with the hunger and aggression of an artist who has something to prove. Over heavy organ chords and ominous cackling and chanting scattered throughout the background, CY paints a picture with three verses full of vivid imagery, as he kicks off the second verse rapping:
"Before you enter the premises
Outside, look at the sky, moonlight shinin' and glistenin'
What a beautiful sight to behold
Creative juices rightfully flow, from God's artist as you listenin'
Come in step away from the door
Notice large corridors marble floors, not a bore, cause CY sick with it
The only difference is I fight with my lyrics against wickedness
So listen 'til the CD finishes"
Although the second track, "Work For Hire," is less impressive, with lackluster synths and piano keys and a simple drum pattern that has a very synthetic sound, CY bounces back on the album's title track. A catchy drum loop and a driving brassy bassline lay the foundation for the head-bobber, with short, funky electronic synths to complement, and it's hard to ignore CY's swag and confidence, with lines such as "Some don't know me so my bad for interruptin'/ Let me start off with a formal introduction/ I'm CY, I specialize in rhyme, turn noise to production/ Top notch without corruption." One of the best lyrical performances, though, comes from guest artist D. Steele on "Computer World," over an instrumental that sounds like it was constructed by sampling music from an 80's arcade game. Steele delivers a powerful message to listeners about the problems of endorsing the hood lifestyle in rap songs for America's youth, as he spits:
"I don't glorify the hood and its ignorant trends
Some people can't pay their pay bills but they're drivin' a Benz
Impressin' their friends, with their 20 inch rims that spin
Their pockets are fat but their spirits are thin
Go to the hood, you'll see a church on every block
But you'll also see a young minority slingin' some rock
Bound to get shot by a cop for pullin' out a knot from his sock
Click clack, the nine milli blows and his body drops
Moms cry, "somebody shot my baby"
All because he wanted to live his life like Jay-Z"
While CY's lyrics are generally the star of the show, equally impressive is the variety of beats found on "High Wire Act." "Balance" has a g-funk vibe, with a high-pitched synth and a hard-hitting drum kit giving the track some West Coast bounce, and the smooth, sing-song chorus brings back memories of the late Nate Dogg. "Comin' Up" has even more of a gangster-rap feel, and the deep rolling bassline, soft orchestral synths, and aggressive drum loop sound like they could just as easily belong on a Three 6 Mafia album. The sample-driven "Step By Step," on the other hand, has a much more upbeat feel, with the triumphant horns and light jazzy piano keys laying the foundation, and the smooth trumpets on the chorus only add to the vibrant sound of the track. In a similar vein, "As the World Turns" exudes feel-good vibes, with live instrumentation offering a nice change of pace from some of the more artificial sounding tracks.
"High Wire Act" is not without fault, though, as there are several tracks that aren't up to par with the rest of the album. Godz'illa, for example, features gangster rap influences and sparse production, with little more than a heavy drum loop and a driving bassline, that simply are not well suited for CY's straightforward delivery. "Keep it Movin'" also seems out of place, as the constant punchy kicks and electronic synths give it more of a radio-friendly, mainstream feel. Luckily, though, there are enough quality tracks to outweigh these few lackluster efforts, and CY's ability to switch up his flow to match the wide range of beats found on "High Wire Act" is a testament to his ability as an emcee. What's more, CY makes his strong religious views clear from the beginning without coming off as preachy, as he uses religion as a springboard to reflect on his place in the rap game and provide insight on some of the social problems facing America today. The bottom line is that you don't have to be a fan of Christian hip-hop to appreciate CY's latest release, as there is something for almost everyone on "High Wire Act."
Music Vibes: 6.5 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 7 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 6.5 of 10
Originally posted: March 20th, 2012