Friday, January 13, 2012

Worth It In 2011: #10 - Thi'sl

Chopped and screwed Christian rap exists! It's creepy for, like, a minute, and then it gets sort of tedious, but hey -- that's what you expect with chopped and screwed rap, right? Anyway, call me rockist, but Thi'sl's music sounds to me like the equivalent of "edgy" Christian metal back in the day -- just as bracing and calculated-to-offend-parents as its secular inspirations. (Which reminds me, my best music writing this year was probably this long take on three Christian metal albums from 1990 -- Holy Soldier, Stryper, and Extreme. If you read it, you'll be in very select company!) 

(Way better than Talib Kweli's Gutter Rainbows, which, I'll admit, did feature some amazing rapping.)

Beautiful Monster

The Sheep & Goats review:

Besides all the Jesus talk, there are two basic differences between Thi’sl’s stupendous slap of ghetto noise and comparable epics from Jeezy or Gucci: 1) no cussing, and 2)-count-’em-two Momma songs. Good call — Momma songs sound even better amid a bunch of music that Momma would HATE. There’s a lot of ugliness here, especially in the first half, more ugliness than the bigger-name Christian rappers on Reach Records allow themselves — beats built from gunshots and guttural “HUNH!”s, layers of synth screams offset by chimes and theremins and all sorts of melodramatic hokum. Even Thi’sl’s chorus hooks revel in his worldly trappings: “Let them guns go POW!” “Money! Money! Money! Mo’… / Trynna stack that paper from the ceiling to the flo’!” This is radical stuff for holy hip-hop, but it’s also loose and refreshing, not at all concerned with toeing somebody else’s imaginary line of acceptability.

Over all this noise, X-hustler Thi’sl rasps out gritty details, bloody bodies in the streets and babies searching through rubble for their Moms. His mission is letting brothers and sisters know he’s legit — a tactic that gets old pretty quickly when Rick Ross uses it — and then showing them that Jesus is the way out. And here’s the great thing: that contrast actually helps him aesthetically. It mixes up the light and shadow in his songs, lets them breathe. When the martyrs in his crime stories proclaim, “I signed up to DIE,” their freedom speaks louder than their bravado.
This is Christian music that comes out of the trenches, like Holy Soldier: “We born in the ghetto, we raised in the ghetto / They call us rock stars ‘cause we wave heavy metal.” Thi’sl speaks to the unchurched first, and if the choir wants to listen — well, he won’t wave his heavy metal at them, at least. He might even make them rethink the value of those nihilistic Jeezy and Gucci epics. Like, maybe those secular guys aren’t merely reveling in their hustler tales. Maybe they’re showing us how the hopelessness of the hustle is wrapped up with the revelry, depicting why it’s so easy to get sucked into the game. At its best, gangsta rap is nihilism that lays bare a nihilistic real-world system. It sounds exhilarating, and it can make you feel like some sort of amoral superhero. And Thi’sl’s music is ultimately different for one reason: he found a Way Out.

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