1K Phew & Lecrae
No Church in a While
Reach Records (release date: December 3, 2021)
By Robert M. Marovich
Christian hip hop artists don’t need the four walls of a church to spread the good news and save souls. They never have. Quite the opposite – they do their best work ministering along humanity’s highways and byways.
Nevertheless, that didn’t keep 1K Phew and Lecrae from wondering about those who haven’t been to church in a while, because of the pandemic, because of church hurt, or both.
On their ten-track No Church in a While, the Reach Records artists declare that, regardless of circumstance, God always invites souls back into the fold. They make these declarations with rapid rhyming, minimalist beats, and melodies that stick to the ribs after repeated listening. They trade leads with the dexterous rapidity of Harlem Globetrotters passing the ball. It’s what 1K Phew calls “street gospel.”
There’s a lot to unpack in an album with a running time of less than thirty minutes. The first single, the loping “Wildin’,” is a good example. It satirizes the notion that you can’t have church outside the four walls, rhymes about Lecrae’s mentorship of 1K Phew, and spotlights the popularity of Christian hip hop and its no-walls philosophy at a time when church services moved from the sanctuary to streaming. “Born Sinner” and the album’s second single, “One Call,” with its memorable whistle riff, examine the tension between temptations of the streets, the sometimes bewildering messages of the church, and what it truly means to live a good life.
The title track continues the discussion by addressing the complex relationships one can have with a church that claims to be open to everyone but denounces a person over a variety of presumptions. Lecrae and 1K Phew use lines like “I’m not a bad guy,” “We are on the same team,” and “I’m nervous that these folks won’t let me in.” At the same time, the rappers own that part of the problem lies in their own guilt and fear.
Interestingly, the album’s most infectious track shifts the focus from the street and the church to the home. “What We Gon Do” is radio-friendly hip hop celebrating the perfect life mate: “When He made you, He made you with no asterisks.” It follows a recent trend in gospel music to deliver odes to love that are grounded in a spiritual connection.
“Save Us,” featuring Hulvey and WHATUPRG, is the album’s final argument, summing up two of the album’s principal themes: a heavenly love that defies earthly convention, and hip hop artists and rappers who celebrate nihilistic individualism and consumerism (“Why would I rap ’bout the things that I own?”). Opening with what sounds like plaintive voices crying for mercy, the song finds the team feeling “closer to heaven when I’m on my knees.”
The last words on the album go to Hulvey: “Heaven’s an open door.” Yes, you can “have church in the wild,” Jay-Z and ‘Ye, because you can get on your knees anywhere.
Four of Five Stars
Picks: “What We Gon Do,” “Wildin’”