I don’t often do reviews on this site. That means two things: (1) It’s not ‘professional, Challies-esque’ quality, but also, (2) I’m doing it because I want to and you know I mean it.
When I first heard that one of the members of Grace Fellowship Church (Rexdale) was a rapper, I assumed a few things. One of them was that if he’s local he probably can’t be that good. Another is that he was probably one of those guys whose life and faith must be somehow compromised if he’s actively engaging the hip-hop scene in Toronto.
I’m thrilled to say that not only were my arrogant assumptions about ‘Spoken‘ flat out wrong, but through Role Model Records I’ve also been introduced to several other local Christian rappers who are skilled and dedicated to using their art for the glory of God.
The occasion of this review is the release of Glass House, a Role Model Records compilation album.
About the Album
Glass House features Role Model Records recording artists Spoken, Julien, and Boogie as well as DJ Lagit. Glass House is the label’s first group project. Features from other labels include; S.O. (Lamp Mode Recordings) and Promise (Duck Down Records) to name a few.
This is from the label:
The concept of Glass House is two-fold. First, all humans are glass houses. We are all fragile, in constant need of cleaning, and we are all transparent. Even when we try to cover our weaknesses and insecurities, we still lay bare and naked before an awesome God. The project explores this fragility deeply rooted in the human existence. Second, the artists are very transparent in the songs. Spoken, Julien and Boogie are not content to simply wade in deep and controversial waters. They boldly dive in, speaking on profound heart issues. In doing so, they unashamedly present their strengths, weaknesses, successes, failures, and most importantly, their God; their God, who is great enough to use them despite their weaknesses.
Each of the 14 tracks on the album, in my view, succeeds in maintaining this tension of transparency and brokenness while finding strength and hope in God. Because of that tension Glass House is an emotionally heavy album. Though the tempo varies from high energy tracks like ‘We On’, ‘Everywhere’, ‘On & On’, and ‘Better’ to the catchy sing-along choruses of ‘#FOLLO’, ‘Just Dreams’, and ‘Ain’t Worth It’, to the more reflective offerings of ‘Everyday People’, and ‘True Religion’. The tracks pull on a variety of emotions that engage the soul while the rhythm moves the body and the lyrics stretch the mind.
According Spoken, this album aims to
contrast the stark realities of human fragility against God’s unchanging love, grace, compassion and judgement. … Glass House is a transparent project designed to reach both the believer and non-believer alike.
And that, in my mind, helps to identify one of the more significant successes of this album.
Why Glass House Matters
The Christian rap scene has always been a curious one to me. It seems that so often it is white middle-class Christians in good churches, surrounded by friends, pastors, and good theology books who are into the music. But this album aims to reach a different crowd all together. The transparency of this album marks it out as expressly missional.
These artists are aiming to reach the scene they live in. The songs graphically relate the brokenness of life in the poorer neighbourhoods of a city like Toronto. They are honest about how lives are broken by sin (both their sins and the sins of others) and about how Jesus is the only answer.
The quality of music, combined with genuine reflection on life in a broken world give this album potential to reach the urban scene powerfully for Jesus.
Why I Love Glass House
In the ever-expanding world of Christian rap, this album stands out for a number of reasons:
- While the production quality is professional and first-class, you can tell that these guys (as guys with day jobs) still have joy in their craft; their love of their art shines through in each track
- In keeping with the identifying theme of Role Model Records, this album features several tracks that emphasize the importance of not going it alone as a Christian; they urge the audience to find someone to follow as they follow Christ, and this reflects a sound ecclesiology
- The first test I put an album through is putting it on in the background while I do something else to see if anything stands out and grabs my attention: and it did!
- Another test I used for this album was to use it while running: I ran my fastest 1k! This album makes you move
- I know that Spoken is an artist who lives what he sings; that level of authenticity can’t be purchased
Check It Out and Pass On the Word