We last heard from the pioneering Christian hip-hop group SFC (which is an acronym for Soldiers For Christ) in 1992 with their third release Phase III, which many Christian hip-hop heads consider to be a classic. Over the years the line-up in SFC has seen a few changes: the group started out as a 4 man crew for their debut, went down to two for their second effort, then for Phase III, back to three. By 1994 there was only one. Sup The Chemist would carry on the SFC name single-handedly for the fourth and final SFC album, Illumination.
Like the previous three SFC albums, Sup would handle most of the production load on Illumination, receiving a helping hand for a few of the album’s tracks from a couple of his Christian bredrin along the way. Illumination is a Christian hip-hop album, so of course it didn’t sell a ton of units, as it was released in 1994 at a time when Christian hip-hop wasn’t as well-received as it is now, with artist like Andy Mineo and Lecrae charting and making platinum selling albums.
But here at TimeIsIllmatic we don’t care about charts and record sales. We only care about good old entertaining hip-hop music. So, without further adieu lets see if Illumination fits the mold. And the church said: amen.
Intro – Illumination opens with what I’m left to assume is Sup playing deejay, as he places a collage of cuts and scratches over a drum beat and a very soothing loop for this short intro.
One Time – The first actual song of the evening finds Sup playing with the pace of his flow while displaying his wordplay and making innocent emcee boasts (“now I be tearin’ up this mic like a rent-a-car, straight beltin’ negatively like snow upon the mountain, wisdom be shootin’ out like water from a fountain, my formula is very complex, when understood its more satisfying than sex”). In his first verse Sup makes reference to it be 1995 (even though Illumination clearly came out in 1994), so maybe this is Sup’s way of saying he’s a head of his time, or he didn’t think Illumination would come out until ’95, or it was an honest mistake. Regardless, he sounds dope on this one, and I love the heavy drums, the melodic sample placed over them and the pretty horn loop brought in during the hook.
Illumination – Sup gets a little more serious than the previous song, as he speaks in parable and chops up some of his theology, but manages to keep it light-hearted in only a manner a wily veteran like Sup could do. Once again he makes reference to it being 1995 as he signs off with “It’s not just a rap song, but something encouraging you to do right not wrong, Sup, peace, ’95, I’m gone”. Lyrically, the title track is solid, but Sup’s instrumental is lacking and Jurny Big’s hook is way too wordy to be effective.
C-Mode Fizzunk – In case you’re curious, our host explains in the song’s first verse that the “C” in the song title is for Christ. Sup and Peace 586 concoct this mellow yet simultaneously hard backdrop that has Sup “expressin’ his beliefs over beats” and reppin’ for Jesus without sounding preachy, or as he puts it in the song’s final verse: “They look closely, then they see, that I’m not that ordinary everyday rhymin’ hallelujah in the pew, but I bring reality to you”. This was a solid joint that sounds better the more you listen to it.
Interlude – We Can – Someone named Red Bonez performs a spoken word piece and is nearly drowned out by the laid back jazzy after hours club music playing behind him. Next…
Respect – LPG (which is Jurny Big, who did the hook on “Illumination”, and Dax) joins Sup on this cipher joint, as they discuss the long lost virtue know as respect. Sup easily sons his guests on this one, and I’m still trying to figure out what the hell Jurny Big was talking about with his line “Through eyes of Andre Dawson playing basketball in Atlanta”, since he’s got the wrong sport and city for the MLB Hall of Famer. I’ve definitely heard better verses from all three emcees involved, and I’m not crazy about Peace 586’s instrumental.
The Vibe – Meh…I could take it or leave it.
How I Cope – Sup’s instrumental reminds me of the remix version of Outkast’s “Player’s Ball”, and I dig it. He uses the slightly R&B tinged instrumental to discuss how God’s word (aka The Bible) helps him maintain in his struggle against the craziness and temptations that this world brings. One of the reasons Sup is one of my favorite “Christian” emcees is because he’s never been afraid to be honest and vulnerable; I’m not sure how many other “holy hip-hop artist” would be willing to admit “I hate being broke, sometimes I wanna go sell dope” on a record. This is arguably the best song on Illumination.
Interlude – Mighty Gun – The band from the “We Can” Interlude are back for this spoken word piece, as DJ Cut No Slack Cartoon (definitely an early candidate for 1994’s Worst Moniker Award) recites a piece written by Michael Washington about…yep, you guessed it. Next…
Don’t Nap – Sup hooks up a soulful backdrop as he gives all the fake emcees some lessons and advises them to simply grow up. Nicely done.
Make Money – The production credit is given to Tunnel Rat Productions (which is the crew both LPG and Peace 586 were a part of), so props to who ever created this soothing instrumental built around a beautiful guitar loop. Sup uses it to discuss his quest to make a million dollars while staying true to his Lord and Savior in the process, which isn’t difficult when you “don’t love it (money) but just respect it”. Our host’s flow kind of collapses at the end of the song, but I still enjoyed this one.
Phat – The loop on this one sounds like waking up at 5am to get ready for work on a Monday morning, but in a good way, if that’s possible. The warm loop comes alive when Sup drops some drums underneath it and has fun spitting random rhymes and even kicks an authentic freestyle at the end of the song, where he once again talks about it being 1995.
Interlude – If I – One last spoken word piece (which the liner notes credit to a J.T.) with the same band from the previous interludes playing behind him. And like the two previous spoken word pieces, this one did nothing for me.
Existing In Time – Sup hooks up a bootleg Premo-esque instrumental and does a weak Jeru Da Damaja impersonation on the mic, stringing big words together like “Algebraic comprehension, the homosapiens alliteration” and “Perpetuity ceaseless, imprisonment in the hourglass, the chronometry theorized” that would even put Albert Einstein to sleep. Side note: J.T. and Red Bonez, who both appeared on one of the album’s spoken word interludes, are given co-writing credit for this bore-fest. This was trash.
Ladies and Gents – For the final song on Illumination Sup lays down a mid-tempo jazzy groove with a lovely horn loop and invites his friends The Caucasian (another candidate for worst moniker), Small-Boy Slack and Cartoon to join him on this short and sweet farewell.
On Illumination Sup does a pretty solid job bearing the brunt of the load on both the boards and the mic, providing a jazz-infused soundscape that will please the ear, as he proves to be a skilled charismatic emcee that can entertain. Like most hip-hop albums, there are a few ideas that should have been left on the cutting room floor (i.e. all three of the spoken word interludes and “Existing In Time”), but Illumination definitely has more bright spots (no pun intended) than dull moments.