Chron Smith, better known as Hell Razah, has been making rap music since I was still in my teens. That also means we’re not that far apart in age (two years), and while I wouldn’t expect anyone to “acknowledge me” Roman Reigns style for being around that long, I will certainly do it for Razah. As recently as 2021 Razah released a new album that was well received (at least here) and showed his ability to make music hadn’t wanted. Despite a health scare in the early 2010’s, Razah seems to be stronger than ever today, which makes me more optimistic about aging in (hopefully) good health.

We’re not here today to discuss his recent work though. We’re here to discuss “Renaissance Child,” Razah’s first solo album outside of Sunz of Man, the Wu-Tang affiliated group that put him on the map. Why would rap fans want that? Simple — even in a group spun off of another group, Razah’s flow was easy to appreciate for its distinctive nature. Razah speaks in a very serious, deliberate, methodical way. Every bar feels like life or death. Even when he’s delivering the outro to a song like “Buried Alive” his intensity comes through. “This goes out to all them fake-ass record companies, and them fake-ass record labels, who just thought they was gonna toss some fucking dirt on our graves, and walk out the door with our masters and shit, knahmsayin? Nah man.” You don’t want to fuck with Razah.

Before the album even came out Razah released a track on the Nature Sounds compilation called “Renaissance” that sounded like an underground rap supergroup, combining with Tragedy Khadafi, Timbo King and R.A. the Rugged Man over a Dev 1 track. If you missed that joint back in the day it’s included here though, and the next song after it is equally loaded. The late great MF DOOM produced and stars on “Project Jazz,” which also features Talib Kweli. Razah was going hard for rap fans and not just relying on the fame of his name from Sunz of Man to make this project succeed.

I could go track by track and laud the producers and guest stars, but I’d rather stop for a moment and ponder why this album allegedly only sold 4,500 units. That’s what Wikipedia says anyway, but it offers no citation or proof as to where this number came from. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that the number is genuine and not just someone with an axe to grind against Chron Smith vandalizing the page. A well respected member of a well respected group who themselves have ties to the immensely large Wu-Tang Clan fanbase only did 4,500 albums sold? That doesn’t make sense!

Maybe it does though. As fond as I am of songs like “Musical Murdah” featuring Ras Kass, I’m not blinded to the fact Razah may be TOO serious for some people. A collaboration like that shows he’s serious about reaching across coasts to link up with the best of emcees, but consumers care more about hits and trends than skills when it comes to paying bills. What was popping in 2007 when “Renaissance Child” came out? Crime Mob. Lil Flip. Young Buck. T.I. Yung Joc. Chamillionaire. Soulja Boy. Kanye West and Jay-Z. It was decidedly a commercial sound. Songs with Biblical overtones like “Lost Ark” weren’t pushing albums or artists to the top of the charts.

Hell Razah was always a square peg in a round hole in the rap landscape, but even so “bringing it back raw for the streets of New York” wasn’t what listeners wanted. “I ain’t trying to be Jay, Pac, Nas or Biggie Smalls” quips Razah on “Thankful,” as if he needed to make it any more obvious what he’s not. Hell Razah was not commercial. Hell Razah isn’t commercial and never WILL be commercial. He is proudly obstinately not going to concede to the mainstream even a little bit. There are no R&B crossover songs on “Renaissance Child.” The biggest song off the album was already on a compilation album before this one even dropped. Could you flip a bigger middle finger to the industry than that? I don’t think so. So let’s say that 4,500 units is accurate. I bet if you asked Razah right now, he’s proud of that shit. He’d rather have 4,500 people who get what he’s about than a million people who don’t. Maybe after reading this you’ll be number 4,501.

Hell Razah :: Renaissance Child
7.5Overall Score