Of all the divergent subsets of contemporary religious music, none is more explosive, intense or subversive than underground Christian hip-hop. Since the dawn of the movement in the early ’90s, Uprok Records has been on the creative vanguard, constantly pushing the envelope with artists like the Tunnel Rats, LPG and Peace 586.
For reasons unknown Peace 586 (a.k.a. Rene Vasquez) has decided to hang up his mic, leaving behind Generations as a swansong. Though Peace retires without ever having become a household name, it isn’t because he didn’t make waves. As the founder the groundbreaking “holy hip-hop” group Freedom of Soul, Peace has bared his personal spiritual struggles to crushing breakbeats since 1991. Generations fully documents the rapper’s stunning collaborative career, bringing together many of the most talented figureheads in religious hip-hop and generation-Y gospel.
The masterful production by Dert (Tunnel Rats) somehow manages to give the record a semblance of continuity, while guest stars constantly tag each other in for short rounds of lyrical jabbing. “Hear Me Now” opens the record with a trance-inspired drum loop and jazz keyboard lines. When rapper Soup The Chemist commences the rhyming it brings to mind an early, G-rated Wu-Tang.
But just because Peace dodges profanity and never glorifies sex or drugs, Generations is hardly kids’ stuff. “Bonds Like These” brings together rapid-fire verses from Dax, Jurny and Peace that are challenging, deathly serious and every bit as “street” as their secular contemporaries. “Hard Ballin’” has the beats and bare-knuckled intensity of the Puerto Rican club scene. Aside from a couple forgettable dance tracks (“Welcome to the Show,” “Progress”), Generations is a historical document of the Christian hip-hop underground that should be required listening for anyone hoping to understand the genre. But be warned, this is hardly candy-coated Sunday school fluff. It’s more like a Saturday night brawl.
Nate Cavalieri writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.