When listening to a rapper named Knine one would expect to be overwhelmed by some hardcore and gangsta-influenced lyrics. This Milwaukee native who now calls South Carolina his home clearly fights for the other team though, when the lyrics of “Underdogg” take center stage by promoting Jesus and Catholic beliefs. The difficulty with releasing a quality Christian rap album is in balancing typical rap mannerisms with the good word. Christian rap has historically been seen as corny by most true Hip-Hop heads, but as of recent years groups like The Grits have managed to change the perspective of some–Can Knine do the same with “Underdogg”?
Trying to change the mindset of certain thugs that bump Dipset or G-Unit in their cars can certainly be seen as admirable. Music is about saying something important or sharing life experiences with your audience. To be honest, Knine and a superstar like 50 have very different perspectives on things for good reason. Knine had his share of problems as a growing youth experimenting and selling drugs in Milwaukee and after a 4-year stint with the U.S. Air Force working as a jet mechanic, he began to consider a rap career and resorted back to the harsh ways of the streets. Ultimately, the time he spent learning about Christ as a young child that went through a private Catholic school is what shapes this album and Knine as an adult man. The goal of “Underdogg” is to save lives, souls and change hard-headed minds.
The self-produced opener “Real Talk” starts off the album with a funky guitar lick and Knine’s own southern drawl. He kicks it off with a self-narrative verse about his misguided early days. A time when he was hanging out with booster friends who haucked stolen merchandise. In his hindsight, he explains that he learned an important lesson in how this was not the right path for him to lead as all of those friends have found themselves in barred cells.
“Sister” featuring R&B crooner B.Reith is probably the highlight of the album as the peppy piano keys compliment the feel good message of the song. The sample is taken from the Quincy Jones orchestrated “Miss Celie’s Blues”. “Sister” is about women seeing themselves as special–sort of like a version of Brother Ali’s “Forest Whitaker” directed to the opposite sex, or a more directed version of Nas’ “I Can”. The opening verse is particularly memorable:
“To all my little sisters in the world
The beautiful little girls
More precious than diamonds and pearls
Stuck in a world where they criticize you
If you don’t fit in a size 2
If you’ve ever been told that you’re ugly
Then you’ve been lied too
Don’t ever let them tell you how to see yourself
It’s called self esteem, girl, esteem yourself
Look into the mirror and say
â€˜I am a queen, I am beautiful’
Everyday, make it a routine
You can dream, don’t let anyone hold ya
They used to call that little girl fat
But now they call her Oprah
They used to make fun of her teeth
But now she is Secretary of State and they call her Condoleeza
So you can be what you want to be
Do what you want to do
As long as you put Jesus in front of you
So keep your head up and don’t let them twist ya
Because you’re God’s daughter
You’ll always be my…. Sister”
“It Don’t Matter” is another that might have a positive impact on a young man that may decide to give this disc a spin. It is an interpretation of the popular â€˜screwed & chopped’ type of Southern Rap music that very bluntly repeats in typical deep-voiced fashion, “I’m representin’ J-E-S-U-S, you can tell â€˜cuz I stay so fly and so fresh, I’m representin’ J-E-S-U-S, do my thing for the king, guaranteed that I’m blessed.” It actually works better than it may appear, however, joints like this might come off as too forceful and blunt in their approach.
There are certain songs on this album that overstep boundaries and make you feel like Knine is a Jehovah’s witness standing at your front door in suit and tie. This is the balance that has been extremely hard to tightrope since the Gospel Gangstaz days of Christian Rap. “Mercy” and “That’s God” are both examples of this, though the latter does have a serviceable synthetic dance beat. “Something 2 Say” actually refrences this issue with the following line “They say I got beats, I got heat, Not enough Jesus, too much street, so I took the street out, put more word in, they got mad, said they don’t want sermons.” He remedies this â€˜problem’ by stating that he raps from his heart, but that does not necessarily mean that he has perfected this art as his heart always leads him to the Lord. This God-syndrome becomes more and more obvious as the album progresses as he sacrifices stories about himself for urging others to put faith first.
There are few musicians that have spit the word of God in rap form and succeeded, but those who do are, like The Grits, more focused on positivity rather than attempting to recruit. “Underdogg” befalls the same fate as most Christian Rap albums in the same respect by paying too much mind to how great God is instead of how surprisingly special humankind can be. There is no doubt that Marvin Hampton (Knine) is a talented man with the right idea, he may need to dig deeper yet to have the kind of impact he attempts to have on others.