Reflection Music Group 2010
During the first part of the 20th century, men and women evangelized on street corners to passersby, sinners and saints alike. Their songs were urgent calls to take immediate and swift soul-saving action. To press their point, the evangelists would base their ballad on recent events or current fads. They accompanied themselves on guitars, mandolins, harmonicas, and – at least in the case of Blind Mamie Forehand – finger cymbals.
Today, the musical descendants of streetcorner evangelists are not on streetcorners but in recording studios and in front of computers, spitting honest stories in rapid fire rhyme, accompanying their sermonettes with throbbing beats and electronic melodies. Like their predecessors, today’s Christian hip hop/rap artists use current popular music as their canvas to deliver a conversion testimony with such fervor that one imagines the stories will bubble out of them regardless of whether the tape is rolling.
One of these Christian hip hop artists is Derek Laurence Johnson, Jr., aka PRo (an abbreviation of “Prodigal”). Originally from Pontiac, Michigan, PRo grew up in a single parent/two child household without a father figure. He graduated from Middle Tennessee State University and in the past four years has produced five mixtapes, was featured on Trip Lee’s number one album Between Two Worlds (“Covenant Eyes”) and just released his second album, Redemption, last week.
If you like Trip Lee’s “Covenant Eyes,” you will like PRo’s Redemption. It is packed with 20 tracks that contain the same confident swagger as Between Two Worlds and offer similar life lessons, in street speak, for those whose future hangs in the balance. On “Aye You,” PRo poses a question with a double-meaning that ties the project together: “Everybody’s hustling for something, so my question is, ‘What are you hustling for?’”
What indeed? Hopefully for redemption, PRo raps, which can happen on the streets, in the clubs, to the rich and poor. The important thing is to not be a slave to one’s old, sinful ways. PRo speaks as a living testimony. “If you liked the old PRo, sorry, he’s no longer there.” He’s also no longer listening to the “My Space gangstas and YouTube thugs” whose philosophy of life “can get you merked.” And, addressing those concerned about his penchant for using slavery as a metaphor, PRo declares on “Slave to You” that he is proud to be a slave…to God.
Some of the most lyrically intense moments on Redemption are during “Know You.” Featuring Rick Trotter, “Know You” is a recollection of a stepfather relationship that was dysfunctional. Now that the stepdad is dead, PRo wishes he’d spent time forgiving and hugging him. He wasted time “hatin’ like a fool” instead of “loving like Christ.” Or as he refers to agape on “Power to Die,” “a Sunday kind of love, call it the Etta James.”
Tracks range from musically intense (“Fight Music”) to lyrically intense (“Know You”), but featuring engrossing techno-dipped female singers such as Roslyn Welch on the melodic “Blow My Mind” sweetens the tough love. By the end of the CD, PRo offers his mission statement: “A follower of Christ till they put me in the grave…that’s who I be.”
Traditionalists may not be able to wrap their head around Christian hip hop/rap in the same way that they did the streetcorner evangelists of yore, but PRo’s Redemption is worth at least two listens: one to absorb the energy and the second time to absorb the message.
Four of Five Stars
gPod Picks: “Hold Me Down,” “Blow My Mind,” “Depend on You.”
Reviewed by Bob Marovich for The Black Gospel Blog.