Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Review: Jovan MacKenzy - Jihad

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September 11th. The date is forever etched in American hearts.

It’s the day our world changed and we woke up to the very real threat of global terrorism. Shamefully, just six years later, the memory of nearly 3,000 lives is pushed aside in the name of hip hop consumerism.

It wasn’t just 50 vs. Kanye - although their well-orchestrated competition did spur album sales. Wine-0 (fka Nuwine) pimped the memorial day with an expletive-laced diss track video for Ye, Curtis, and his former gospel rap brethren so that listeners would know his new album would be in stores on that date.

Godchaserz Entertainment also saw the 9/11 anniversary as a prime opportunity for pub by dropping Jovan MacKenzy’s disc titled Jihad* and carrying the idea to its cover art with Arabic font faces and Crusades-era battle imagery. This from a [gulp] Christian MC.

Fortunately (?) this offensively brash and exploitive theme doesn’t go much further than the packaging and title song track. However, it’s not the first time J-Mac has courted controversy. His “Shot To Ya Soul” track on the Dat’s Gospel Mixxtape also struck nerves by calling out mainstream rappers (Mobb Deep, 50, Jay-Z, R Kelly) and explaining how their public words and actions appeared to contradict or conflict with modern Christian practices.

Pushing aside such distasteful promotion tactics to evaluate Jihad’s overall content is admittedly hard to do. But there is substance underneath.

MacKenzy has rhyme skill talent and delivers a solid Biblical message about the struggle to lead a sacred life throughout the project. However, this spiritual strife is not the same thing as the “holy war” referenced in the title. “Jihad” and “sanctification” are not synonyms!

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On the album Jovan employs a throwback East Coast type flow over serviceable synth-heavy beats by Godchaserz artist/CEO Brinson. Early tracks like “Capital G” with Dae Lee remind the listener of golden-era mic tag teams and up-tempo party flavor. Later, “I’m So Glad” utilizes Uncle Reese’s soulful pipes on the hook to make a nice, smoothed-out praise joint that is ripe for radio.

Jovan also attempts some concept records with “39 Lashes” and “Class of 08.” The effort is appreciated but the execution could be improved.

“39 Lashes” recalls the beating Jesus took before his crucifixion by illustrating each whip with a description of sin that we, as a global people group, have committed against Him. However, it seems like many of these offenses are external and in somewhat of the same category.

For example, masturbation, fornication, adultery, and prostitution are mentioned but aren’t they all sex issues? What about gossip, rage, greed, envy, pride or other, more internal, transgressions? A few are noted, but it seems that the obvious, exterior behaviors have them outnumbered despite Christ devoting equal, if not more, of his words toward the internal struggles we face.

“Class of 08” brings a bold “spirit of Joshua” from young voices MacKenzy, Rigs, and Readywriter as the new holy hip hop (HHH) torch bearers. The fire and drive is encouraging, but while there are passing mentions to those that came before them, it would have been cool to actually hear a few “Moses” names dropped.

Shout out cats like Fred Lynch of P.I.D., martyr D-Boy Rodriguez, Sup the Chemist of SFC, or even more modern legends like Lil Raskull, T-Bone, and Cross Movement who are still adding titles to their discographies. Perhaps the young cats are simply ignorant of their musical genealogy. If that’s the case then maybe they get a pass. Still, a more overt acknowledgment of gospel rap trailblazers would have been a nice addition to this message.

The inclusion of a live “Freestyle” track (over a HHH beat no less) is great, as is the smooth wordplay of ingenious Knine atop handclap drum kicks on “Red Carpet Treatment.” The “UFC Cypha” with Excelsius and other MCs is also a fun, pass-the-mic insight.

There’s real meat on Jihad to be sure. One just wishes the way it was delivered was more palatable.**


* “Jihad” is an Arabic/Islamic word used in the Qur’an. Today it is typically used to define a Muslim holy war against unbelievers or campaign against doctrine, policy, etc. One could say that the New York and D.C. attacks on September 11 were part of a Muslim terrorist jihad.

** Am I making too big of an issue out of the album’s marketing?

I can honestly say I never got a real Christian vs. Islam vibe from the project, but I definitely got a "Let's-exploit-their-terminology-and-imagery-in-our-promo" feeling.

Maybe that's the issue.

It's tacky and exploitative – particularly from one who claims to follow the teachings of Jesus.

It doesn't even make sense. Once you get past the cover and suspicious drop date you don't really get the "Us vs. Them" or "conversion-by-force" thematic sense from the rest of the album.

The packaging (not just the physical thing, but the whole concept, 9/11 date, etc.) doesn't match the content. When that outer wrapping is offensive and distasteful to boot, you're just doing yourself a disservice.

It would be like a CD titled The Abortionist Killer Chronicles with cover art that featured rifle crosshairs on a clinic and was released on the anniversary of one of those tragic shootings.

But what if, inside TAKC, when you actually listened to the lyrics, you didn't hear that vitriol? Instead, you got a personal story song about an unwed father who regrets letting his lover abort their child (an actual HHH song I recently heard that really moved me). What if you got lyrics about love and respect for the emotional turmoil these women are going through? That's the true message of Christ.

However, who would know that from the outside? Would they be willing to buy this CD with that kind of outer shell?

And what about the people who WOULD want to purchase a project called The Abortionist Killer Chronicles? What would that say about them?

I guess with Jihad I feel there's a bit of a bait-and-switch going on. And the bait, as it often does, stinks.


Shellee said...

Jason, I really enjoyed reading this. I am not fimialiar with the HHH world so I feel at a loss as how to digest all of you thoughts. But i think it is very distasteful that this was released on 9/11 and fully agree with your comparrison to the abortion concept. On a completely different level we just went thru an issue with " the band that kent manages" and there was tons of discussion on if the art work choices represented not only the band as a whole but also the individual project. The guys spent tons of time listening to the album while looking at different art work before they made a final choice. Interestingly, the initial cover that they liked which was way more "artsy" and forward thinking, if you will, ended up getting tossed (and everyone LOVED it) but they ended up going with something that they felt captured the essence of the band and project more as a whole. Kent really encouraged them to think about... if someone picked up this album off the shelf and did not know anything about you, what would they think about it? They might buy it merely off of the cool packaging concept, but would they be getting what they were expecting???? I realize we were not dealing with anything controversial, but at the heart of it I think it was a similar issue. Just my thoughts...thanks for getting me out of my world and in to yours for a few minutes. I figured if you could read my mommy musings then I could venture into Holy Hip Hop! :)

Anonymous said...

lol all i'm saying is i'm gonna pray for you like any other person should for the lost...rapture's close, this world has become even that much more corrupt, i stand by Jovan M, all the way. At times you people can be so spiritually ignorant and blind...but i cant say i wasnt there at some point, that was until i was saved by J.C. "Dont let the secular singers sing you a sweet lullabye, w/o giving the King of Kings sweet love a try."
God bless-shalom(peace) (prayin fo ya)

~Daddyz Gurl

"Jesus died for us all and took 39 lashes!"

"And with his stripes we are healed!"

"Jesus died on the cross-" Body piercing saved my life.

GodChaserz PR said...

First of all Thanks for the review of one of our cds. God Bless you for your work. Now according to websters JIHAD is a HOLY WAR or Personal struggle. Since we are not Islamic the Holy War ( JIHAD ) we declared was on SIN.

I respect your opinon but if this meant as music review then It really was I believed it was an editoral (which is cool). An Editoral of your opinon on the Name of the album and however it was promoted. 75% of this review reflects the name and how it was promoted. So the 25 % of the "meat" that was not really talked about. Maybe a column should have been made one on the Music, Lyrics, Message, Beats and overall quality then one on your opinon of JIHAD.

We covered what our mission was on the WADE O show. EPISODE 38

But forget what I got to say..... Here is a email I just recieved about this album. SO let the fruit speak. MAN CUZ WE ARE PREACHING JESUS.....

Your music is such a blessing to myself and my teen son. Your words are
sermon all in a song. You beats are also what my teen son likes & it helps
him want to listen to the word because to him its not "corney" Praise God
for you!

Let the Fruit Speak-

Anonymous said...

Please listen to the album again. This review isnt even legit. Actually sit down and listen to the whole thing. Dont just skim through it. The fruit of the lyrics speak for themself.