Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Album Review: Promise - Awakening

Get the album HERE.
            For those who are thus far unfamiliar with Promise, Awakening is a good time to get familiar. Originally from Toronto, Promise moved to the US in recent years and is currently being managed by Duck Down Music. Released in 2011, Promise’s most recent album, Awakening, is a musically rich and lyrically engaging listening experience.
            Right from the get-go, the first track on the album, The Wake, engulfs the listener into the context in which Promise writes and pursues his life and a career as a rapper. Promise is a devout Christian, and he isn’t shy about making this fact known in his lyrics. Throughout the album, P touches on his internal conversations with God and how his spiritual connection and religious upbringing influence his life and the message in his songs. While Christian themes and religious overtones may turn off some listeners, Promise is committed to stay true to himself and his convictions and makes no apologies for keeping it real to his core values. More astute listeners won’t be taken back by Promise’s lyrics – he manages to walk the fine line between delivering a conscious-minded message and being preachy very well. Most of the time, he’s able to infuse his spiritual beliefs into his music in an empowering and uplifting manner, encouraging his listeners to look at themselves, their lives, and encourage them to be better people in the world. For those who are averse to hearing about promises of a better afterlife/heaven, you may want to avoid track #4 (Hereafter).
            Being a rapper and at the same time being religiously oriented makes for an interesting dichotomy that can be heard in Promise’s lyrics throughout the album. It’s often the case that rappers/MCs are expected to be egotistical and self-aggrandizing in their content, which Promise does delicately at times, while at the same time striving to be humble and giving the credit for his talents, skills, and blessings up to God (check track #2, Clark Kent). And make no mistake – Promise is not lacking in talent and rapping ability on the mic. His vocal presence is strong and melodic, while his vocal tone and cadences come across as sincere and heart-felt. When it comes to flows, P definitely doesn’t follow the cookie-cutter approach that is all too prevalent in the world of rap music, and he isn’t afraid to change up his rhyme patterns quickly between bars. Having seen some of his live performances as well, I can safely say he’s an all-around great MC, and holds it down just as properly live as he does in the booth.
            Lovers of Tupac Shakur’s song Changes should enjoy track #3 (Something Better), which melodically and lyrically seems to be a bit of a tribute to the late artist (albeit with a more religious and less “thug life” message). There are an abundance of talented vocalists on Awakening, which makes for a very rich listening experience, and it would be hard to simply classify the album as a “hip hop” record. Awakening definitely fits into the “soul” category and, some may say, the “holy hip hop” category. I encourage listeners to give up their labels for this one, however, and simply sit back and take in the album (suffice it to say that it fits into the category of “good music”). For those looking for straight lyricism, punch-lines, and creative flows, check out track #7, Against the Odds. With a contagious hook by Jhene Aiko and an in-depth look into the mind of the artist, this is easily one of the best tracks on the album (close second/possibly a tie goes to track #5, Everyone Knows feat. Tony Williams). Check some of the lyrics from Gonna Make It:

“Labels that I wanted to sign, would want to me shine, they don’t want me to rhyme, they want me to lie and sign posters/ I was like, “you outta your mind?” so I had to decline, and now I’m just rapping to find closure/ I know, when the sun shines it’s over/ compromise my art? no sir/ if the sky don’t part, my hopes will help me to smile in the Dark Knight – Joker” –Promise

            Another personal favourite track on the album is #9, Somebody Else. Featuring Slakah the Beatchild, this song has an excellent crowd-sing-along type chorus with a positive “be yourself” message and smooth production with some nice organ/piano sounds. Followed up by another great track with heavy organ-laden instrumentation, Don’t is a powerful song about the dangers of making bad choices and the fallacy of victimhood (in this case by blaming God) in such scenarios. The track’s hook and bridge, saturated which distortion and synthetized sounds effects (reminiscent of Kanye West), can be a bit overly abrasive at times, but works quite well in the song overall. After this track, the album’s theme shifts focus into the empowerment of women (tracks #11, 12, 13), which is clearly a cause that Promise is passionate about. Men trying to run game on women everywhere will probably dislike track #10, Down, because Promise comes straight with the type of advice that cuts through all the bullshit that can often encapsulate dysfunctional relationships: “Just because he’s in you doesn’t mean he’s into you” and “When’s the last time your man said he loved you and in return wanted nothing from you? huh? huh? huh?” "Huh? huh? huh?" indeed! Kudos Promise.
            While there are some definite gems on Awakening, there are also some tracks on this album that aren’t nearly as strong as the others. There are times when Promise falls into the trap of spitting recycled clichés, which wouldn’t be so glaring if his lyricism didn’t shine so brilliantly at other times. The quality of the all the tracks in terms of production, mixing/mastering, and vocal performances is solid throughout the album. It’s just that a few of the tracks on their own seem to be a bit weaker in terms of their overall vibe and the messages behind them. When taken as a cohesive whole, however, the vast majority of the album flows quite well and the tracks fit together nicely.
            The final track on the album, Skin Deep, which has a beautiful guitar-based melody, does a good job of summing up Promise’s mission in life and the overall theme of the album: “But why me?/ I guess in a world that seems Godless it’s hard to be Godly/ so God please, give me words when I speak to help fix the worst that I see.” It’s clear that Promise is an artist who puts his heart and soul into his music, which is probably the main reason why he resounds so well with his listeners. In an industry where most rappers seem to be out just for the green, not to mention a world that seems to run on much less than values and principles, it’s refreshing and hopeful to know that there’s an artist like Promise out there, working, building, and creating art for the promise of a better tomorrow. 

All lovers of GOOD MUSIC are encouraged to check out Promise's entire discography.
And read up on the artists HERE.

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