After getting an advanced copy of Sho Baraka’s Talented Xth album, I arrived at one important conclusion: Sho Baraka is Hip Hop’s Bill Cosby. No, not in the cranky old man, frumpy hoodie, why-is-he-wearing-sunglasses-indoors type of way, but something much deeper. Sho embraces his fatherly role in restoring true manhood. His boldly discusses society’s void and God’s solution. Talented Xth is the definition of a true crossover album. It’s for bastards and church pastors, and everything in between.
The review is super long, so if you don’t have time to read it, just check out the bold section titles!
Talented Xth Begins With This Foreign Accent Guy…On His Icebreaker, Uh, Intro Song
When you name your album after a term used to describe African-American intelligentsia who lead and empower the rest of their race, you’re setting some pretty high standards. So imagine my surprise when my ears were greeted to a thick accent that was barely decipherable. After the initial shock, “Bethesda” begins with a steady Civil Rights march rhythm and a muted piano melody of “Wade In The Water”. Sho’s lyricism establishes the tone of the album in avoiding the church hating route (“every pastor ain’t corrupt/every church don’t suck”) while examining very real flaws (“but the people are thinking who will speak for us?”). The song is a nice, getting to know you icebreaker; kind of like Hip Hop speed dating. But if you listened to the album to hear Sho’s “offensive” lyrics, it really begins with the next song.
Sho Is The Heathen We Thought He Was Right? Um No.
I listened to “Michael” several times, and I’m pretty sure he said fag (“watch your mouth!”). It’s as if Sho burned up his youth leader card and did all the evil things people expected him to do after leaving Christian friendly Reach Records. But if you listen closer, his “vulgar” approach is sprinkled in between insightful observations about a culture built on senseless greed and perversion. ”Michael” has the orchestral arrangement of a gangster film’s tumultuous end. Sho dissects society’s demise with one phrase that could easily be overlooked: “They heard Hail Marys but never knew Our Father.” A culture not knowing God as a Father is blind to the worth they have as a child of God.
Why Is This Song Here? Award Goes To….”Get Happy”/”Mahalia”
Okay, so this is where I got confused. “Get Happy Intermission”? Is the Sunday morning praise break (with clearly a man impersonating a big voiced female singer) a parody of church dysfunction? Where are we going here? Sho resolves to “Mahalia” featuring Duce Banner by using a sped up sample of the previous track. The call and response song has a hazy purpose. Is it about celebrating God and the black church or is there something deeper? It’s a feel good diversion, but it just seems out of place.
Favorite Boo Song Award Goes To….”Mrs” featuring
Lenny Kravitz JR
“Mrs” featuring JR is another sonic departure, but one that I prefer. JR channels his inner Lenny Kravitz on the rock tinged breakbeat anthem for proud husbands everywhere. Sho is at his most accessible when he talks about marriage and the “crazy drug” of loving his wife. As a female who gets annoyed with Christian Hip Hop’s hyper-masculine, martyr obsessed culture, “Mrs” is needed in the genre.
The Album Gets Back On Track With “Ali” and “Denzel”
The album returns to its intended concept with “Ali”. Somber chords and vocals (by an artist who bears the song’s name) brings the listener back to the crux of the matter: removing the low expectations of society that brings people down.
“Denzel”, featuring Suzy Rock and the the blissful vocals of Chante Cann (where has she been?) is grown (wo)man Hip Hop at it’s finest. With celebratory horns and catchy lyrics (“we got class, let them boys have swag”), Sho revels in the rewards of maturity. He makes marriage and manhood something to be desired, not shunned.
Favorite Part Of The Album (That’s An Album Within Itself)
“Madoff”, “Jim Crow”, and “Peter Pan” represent the heart of Talented Xth. This is my favorite part of the album. Each track builds off the meaning of the other so perfectly, that these three songs are an album within itself.
The percolating rhythms of “Madoff” and the angst driven chorus touches on the dysfunction of abusing the poor for the sake of the rich. Yes, the song ends in an awkward (is he over?) spoken word piece, but the spine-tingling wah wah guitars and live strings make up for it. That and his proclamation, “watch me dance!”, leads to one of the most controversial songs in Christian Hip Hop.
Sho Said The N-Word!! (And It’s Arguably The Best Song On The Album)
I’ll be honest, “Jim Crow” should have been named “Nigga Island”, since that’s clearly what the hook says: (“I guess I’m stuck here on Nigga Island/Where niggas be wilin’). But we do not live in a perfect world. The N-word opens a wound that centuries of racial oppression created. It’s easier to name the song “Jim Crow” so at least your white friend can mention the song without feeling uncomfortable (and scared).
Interestingly, Sho boldly begins “Jim Crow” with the provocative hook while ethereal chords and a mournful chant reminiscent of a field song play underneath. He discusses a struggle that many African-Americans experience: the pressure to “coon” and pose as a dumb peon though greatness lies within.
What makes “Jim Crow” revolutionary is how this dynamic lies in the church. His biting remark, “I guess they want me to make more songs for youth groups”, touch on the challenge of being a grownt Christian rapper forced to make teenagers happy with mindless jingles. With “Jim Crow”, Sho completely abandons this limiting position and embraces his identity as a leader of the culture. He makes a huge sacrifice in potentially offending the same people who write his concert checks. I’m proud of Sho for prioritizing the truth over his reputation.
“Jim Crow” Kinda Beyonces (Read: Overshadows)The Rest Of The Album…So Here’s The Highlights (Because I’m Tired Of Writing)
-“Peter Pan” is my favorite song on the album because it has a cinematic feel that immerses you in Sho’s coming of age story from street corner freestyler to college educated husband and father. The song’s audio flashbacks, funny scenarios, and introspective dialogue could have been used throughout the entire album. In my humble opinion, Talented Xth is an album of good songs, but it could have been a brilliant conceptual opus on the level of Kendrick Lamar’s venerated Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City album.
-“Cliff & Claire” Sho gets his Dr. Phil on in the marriage revival story. Just like Lawry’s, Christon Gray makes everything better.
-“Me!” Is it me (pun intended) or does Theory Hazit sound like Andre 3000? And can Lee Green make an album already?
-“King” -Is this the obligatory Reach Records reunion song with Tedashii? Cuz if so, I want the whole roster on here. That would be amazing. Liz Bailey sounds like Norah Jones to me. I’m glad she’s on this record.
-“Nicodemus” A very obvious, “this is the end of the album so I’m going to do an altar call” song. ”We get the Savior from a prostitute’s offspring.” Sho could drop the mic right there. What must I do to be saved?
CONCLUSION: THIS IS HOW YOU AGE IN HIP HOP!
Talented Xth can be boiled down to the spiritual principle of embracing the Father’s heart in order to walk in full maturity. Sho is a great example of how a rapper should age in dignity, leadership, and self-acceptance. On Talented Xth, there’s no old-man-in -the-club auto-tune or Lil Wayne gurgling. There’s just an honest man parenting a young generation needing to know Christ. The true essence of this album goes far beyond the surface, and that’s the way it should be. Website Twitter Buy Talented Xth On Sphere Of Hip Hop For Exclusive Tracks