In 2009 Reach Records artist Tedashii released one of the best albums of any genre, Identity Crisis. 2010 looks like being the year of stablemate Sho Baraka and his amazing album Lions And Liars.
What's so special? Like all the Reach rappers, Sho is very worded and hard hitting, but he's humorous with it. He has a gift for handling even the most serious themes in a playful way.
The album is packed with references, both cultural & biblical & is bursting with musical styles & lyrical themes. Manhood & racial identity, sex, drugs and violence, thug culture & the gospel vie for attention over a crazy mix of stadium rock, & europop anthems, Motown Soul & Black Gospel, sax solos & performance poetry.
Ever seen a film where the best 3 minutes were all in the trailer? Well this album is the opposite. Don't judge Oh Well & Revolutionary Died from the taster videos you`ve seen on Youtube. Like his master, Sho saved the best for last. Both songs will have you hitting replay again and again.
The man raps with a twinkle in his eye. It's apparent on Lions Anthem from the nod to Whole Lotta Love to rapping about the shoe salesman who's used to save soles (souls) and his cousin at the IRS dealing with false profits (prophets).
But he's just warming up. He catches fire on Mercy On Me. Over a powerfully penitent gospel chorus, the criminal & the cancer patient who'll "be dead by years end" are our companions at the mercy seat.
I'm Black - a creatively recorded performance poem by Tom Ason, serves as an attention grabbing intro to My Life
Nice aim! They taught us to aim for nothing
And look, we hit it, dead on the button.
Sho's personal journey through self-identity issues features superbly crafted lyrics - each line of the chorus recaps the line before, and the final line leads us back to the first line.
On Me, Myself & I he gets all Smeagol/Gollum on the mic, as he documents his battles against the flesh.
You're a liar, a jerk you're a creep,
So prideful, arrogant and weak.
Liar's Anthem is built on a sample from a Don't Waste Your Life video skit. Singing from the thug's p.o.v. could be dangerous move, turning this into a pro thug song, but Sho manages to makes the transition via looking at the sins of the rap industry, church & Nike(!) to straight out preaching.
Propaganda supplies the second performance poem Boys! and it is a killer. In 1:29 he manages to reduce wannabe gangsters to "silly boys." And sets the stage perfectly for the album's high point Revolutionary Died
It's still hip-hop minus all the thugging
Take the poet & the priest & put it in the husband
I know one song can't change the world
But maybe the dude next door [will] stop beating his girl
This song is a classic and there's only one reason for not downloading it right now! (and that's `cos you're gonna get the whole album).
Oh Well keeps up the pressure over a swaggering rock groove
They save whales, save dogs, save dolphins,
Save trees - but kids ain't really that important
All the money he wants can't buy joy
Dollar bills don't make men out of boys
By this stage Sho is relentless. When the beat drops he keeps going - right of the edge of the map.
No, there's a few weak points - all of them minor.
The early tracks struggle to sustain the weight of the grand concept. Who is the dead lion? Jesus? Christians? Does the cover mean Sho is a Liar? Or a Lion and a Liar? As well as making him look freakishly ugly it's trying to make a metaphor mean too many things all at once. BUT IT DOESN'T MATTER! The songs and the track listing are strong enough to tell their own story.
The album is 17 tracks plus 4 bonus tracks. Filling every second of the CD runs the risk diluting the album. There's nothing wrong with the bonus tracks - (Kobe Bryant On Em extended mix? Yes, please!) but why not keep the album tighter and include a unique download code for bonus tracks?
So to sum up, the only things wrong with this CD are Sho paid more attention to the music than the artwork and is too generous with his tracks. Shame on you Sho!
This is an incredible, inspiring five star album. It will make you laugh and make you think. It will move your heart and probably the rest of your body too.