As the eighties rolled on and hip-hop became more and more commercially excepted we begin to see all types of hip-hop sub-genres popping up. One such sub-genre was Christian hip-hop (sometimes referred to as gospel hip-hop, or holy hip-hop). Due to the fact I was a pastor’s kid and pretty much born and raised in church, I was well versed on Jesus and the ultimate sacrifice he made for man kind. During the late nineties I began my “spiritual journey”, which eventually led to me diving deeper into christianity (which also led to my temporary insanity, as I broke and threw away all of my “secular” cd’s…which a few years later I would buy all over, again), and finding “purer” forms of music. Since I was a hip-hop fiend before I became a teen, one such sub-genre I began to take interest in was christian hip-hop. I’ve always disliked the term “Christian” hip-hop. In the late eighties and early nineties Hip-hop was flooded with emcees who sprinkled their rhymes with Islamic, Nation of Islam, and 5% Nation teachings, but yet were never coined as “Islamic hip-hop”. Maybe the labeling was brought on by the Christian Community to separate this sub-genre as holy and set apart from the secular world. In my opinion, hip-hop music doesn’t need labeling as the lyrical content of a song will speak for it self, quit insulting the listener (can I get an amen?)! I’m stepping away from my soapbox….now.
Being that I didn’t start listening/buying “Christian” hip-hop until the late nineties, SFC (which released their debut in 89′) is far from the first christian hip-hop album that I’ve purchased, but since we’re working in chronological order, this will be the first one of said “sub-genre” that I’ll cover.
SFC, an acronym for “Soldiers For Christ”, was formed by lead emcee Chris “Super C” Cooper (also refered to as Sup (pronounced as “Soup”) who later go by Sup the Chemist. Along with Chris was DJ Dove (who would later get the Gospel Gangstaz (whom some of you may be familiar with) career started…yeah I know, it’s corny group name), emcees Brother G, and QP, all hailing from the sunny state of California.
SFC independently release their debut EP Fully Armed in 1987 before signing to the christian label, Broken Records, where they would release their official full length debut Listen Up (which includes a few of the songs used on the Fully Armed EP).
Man, that was a long intro. And now, the review…
Listen Up– SFC waste no time getting the album’s title track out of the way. Unfortunately the Casio keyboard instrumental sucks, and Sup The Chemist’s flow sounds severely dated. Even with the dated flow, Sup uses the final (in what feels like the 6th) verse of the song to share his testimony, including his “Damascus Road” experience. While it’s not technically efficient, you definitely hear his heart in it.
Drugs – Wow. This sounds like something you would have heard on one of those late eighties ABC Afterschool Specials. This is your dad’s hip-hop. Over another Casio keyboard quality instrumental, Sup and who I suspect to be QP (the insert only gives Sup credit for writing the song but there is clearly another voice reciting the lines with Sup), spit verses about the negative effect drugs have on the user’s life. The song sucks, but I would definitely put this on my 10-year-old’s Ipod…but it probably wouldn’t get much rotation there, either.
No Stoppin’ – Yes, SFC does sample the Gamble & Huff classic of the same name title, and like all other hip-hop songs which have used the same sample, it doesn’t quite work. Being this is a Christian rap group, predictably their message is there’s no stopping them from serving God. Sup would become a much more polished emcee on later SFC projects and his solo work, but at this point his flow left a lot to be desired.
Say Ya – Sup’s gets in reggae mode for this story rhyme. By 1989 standards he sounds okay, I guess, but everything I mentioned about the instrumentals and rhymes on the previous songs can be applied here as well. There is absolutely no reason this song should have dragged on for 6 minutes.
Transformed – No, Sup isn’t a Autobot or Decepticon (although he does managed to sneak in a reference to the Gobots…there’s a blast from the past). He uses this boring instrumental to share about his transformation (again) to Christianity. Hey, I love Jesus, but these songs are starting to sound identical.
You Are Worthy – This is SFC’s version of a “praise and worship” song. Even though it’s not that good, the concept should count for something, right? Why, why, why is every songs 5 plus minutes long? Geez.
Dope Dealer – Picking up where “Drugs” left off, SFC uses this one to spin a tale about the neighborhood drug dealer (yes, another afterschool special, folks). By the way, if I don’t mention anything about the instrumental work on any of the remaining songs, just assumed that it sucked…starting here.
It’s Like That – Sup handles mic duties on verse one, and while he doesn’t sound great he manages to sound better than any of his previous output on Listen Up to this point. Brother G handles the second verse and quickly brings the song crashing down (i.e. 500 lb woman jumping from a 30 story building). They actually sample the theme song from Happy Days, which manages to sound okay, surprisingly.
Mr. Brain – This is dedicated to the religious scholars who deal with God only on an intellectual level, leaving faith out of the equation all together. Sup sounds okay, but as expected the instrumental sucks. Oops…I wasn’t suppose to say that anymore.
This Is What He Went Thru – Over an instrumental that makes a blatant attempt to stir up emotion (but just ends up sounding cheesy), Sup shares a 7 minute spoken word poem about the preceding leading up to and the crucifixion. This was a gruelling listen, and the off-key-uncredited singer on the hook only adds to the pain. Even Jesus himself would have begged to be crucified rather than forced to be listen to this hot mess.
Plain And Simple – Brother G shares mic duties with Sup on this one, clearly displaying why Sup is the chief emcee of the crew. I’m still not sure exactly what the title and the lyrics have to do with each other (this is hip-hop and that’s definitely not the first time that has happened). By the way… the breakdown near the end of the song is hi-larious!
Brothers & Sisters – Sup’s breaks out the reggae chant again, to share with the listener his perspective on racial issues in America. Man’s not responsible for the race issue in America, it’s all on Satan? I think that’s what he’s getting at but he never quite confirms. Either way, this was terrible.
Fully Armed – This was the title track on SFC’s independently released EP of the same name. The song begins with what is apparently a conversation between Satan and one of is emps, who fails in his mission to bring back SFC. Over what is probably the most interesting instrumental of the entire album, Sup and Brother G shares verses about being fully equipped (or armed) to take on Satan and his devious plans. I didn’t love it but compared to the previous songs, this was gold.
I Don’t Know – Sup and Brother G put away the sermon notes and let loose to have a good time over this simple drum beat. I don’t know if it adds anything to the album…then again, I don’t know if this album should even exist. And with that we’re done, folks. Thank you, Jesus!
Props to SFC for going against the grain and standing firm on their conviction and passion. Unfortunately, conviction and passion doesn’t necessarily translate to quality music, which definitely holds true on Listen Up. While Sup would go on to vastly improve his microphone skills a few years later (on future SFC albums, and later his own solo projects), there isn’t a whole lot on Listen Up that makes you want to…listen up. And if you’ve read the rest of this review there is no need for me to reiterate my opinion on the terrible instrumental work. In 1989 this might not have sound as bad as it does in 2011, but I can’t imagine time would have had that big of an impression on this train wreck of an album. Which raises the question: if fine wine grows better with time, what happens to the stuff that starts out bad?