I’ve mentioned several times on this blog that from 1997 to around 2003, I took a sabbatical from “secular” hip-hop, as I was on a spiritual quest, doing some soul searching and seeking clarity on a few matters. During that period, I started to get into Christian hip-hop (aka holy hip-hop). One of the groups I discovered during this period is the subject of today’s post, Gospel Gangstas.
The Gospel Gangstas (who would later change the “s” at the end of Gangstas to a “z”) were a four man group out of Los Angeles consisting of Mr. Solo, Chilly Chill, Tic Toc and DJ Dove (whose name, if you read my blog religiously (no pun intended), you may recognize from his production work with a pioneering Christian hip-hop group, SFC). All four members were gangbangers and street hustlers, until they met Christ on their proverbial Damascus Road, and gave up their guns and drugs for bibles and prayers. The Gospel Gangstas would release their debut album, Gang Affiliated in October of ’94 on their own independent label, Holy Terra Records.
DJ Dove would handle all of the production duties, while Mr. Solo (per the album’s liner notes) would pen the rhymes for the group. I didn’t get hip to Gang Affiliated until a few years after its release (years later, me and my group would actually do a show with the Gospel Gangstas, but that’s a story for another day), but I do remember the album causing some controversy in the Christian community, as some conservatives felt some of their content was borderline inappropriate, mainly because they loved to use “nigga” in their rhymes.
Although DJ Dove would leave the group after the first album, the remaining members would go onto release at least five more projects, all on independent labels, developing a strong cult Christian following.
But not on no Jim Jones or David Koresh type shit.
Death For Life (Intro) – Gang Affiliated opens with somber music and angelic voices singing, while Jesus is beaten and killed in what sounds like…the streets of Compton or South Central?
Before Redemption – DJ Doves lays down a funky-heavily-west-coast-flavored instrumental for Mr. Solo, Chilly Chill and Tic Toc to repaint the bleak and oppressed state they were in before they accepted Christ and started “bangin'” for him. All three rappers do a solid job of sharing their story, giving a raw and real street perspective that you can feel. 25 years later, this one still sounds great.
O.G.G. Intro – I’m not sure why they called this an intro, as it works more like an interlude. Regardless, DJ Dove cuts up and scratches a few records for a minute in a half, before going directly into the next song.
Mobbin’ (Gang Affiliated) – Dove keeps the west coast sonics going with this funked out backdrop, that comes complete with the Zapp voice box vibes on the hook. It was kind of
corny funny to hear Solo say “my bible’s in my waist” and then later on in the same verse, warn any would be challengers that he packs “a nine for those thinkin’ of making me a martyr”. Despite those minor discrepancies, the threesome sound pretty nice over the dope instrumental.
Testimony – The trio pretty much cover the same ground that they covered on “Before Redemption”, recalling their former lives of gang bangin’, drug selling and drug abusing. Solo testifies about the sexual addiction that Jesus delivered him from, that apparently was so extreme that it had him losing weight?? Now that’s a lot of pussy; I’m sure Wilt Chamberlain would even clutch his pearls at that amount of skinz. Dove provides a solid instrumental, and the female guest vocalist, Berlye Magee sings her heart out on the hook and the adlibs at the end of the song.
Ain’t Nuthin’ Changed – Another DJ Dove interlude
Vengeance Is Mine – Dove loops up an ill Curtis Mayfield sample for the backdrop, as the OGGs let you know that they won’t be anyone’s spiritual doormat; or as Solo so elegantly puts it: “So don’t get disrespectable, yeah I’m a Christian, but your chin is still checkable”. I love the message, the music, and the dope Special Ed and Whodini vocal samples.
Interrogation 1 -The first segment of the Gospel Gangtas interview with Pastor Freddy.
Y Cain’t Da Homiez Hear Me – Dove provides a somber backdrop for the threesome to question and ponder why their old homies won’t give up the street life and except Christ as their Lord and Savior. Wait…did Solo really just say he’s going to wear a black tuxedo to his homie’s funeral? I know some people call it a home going celebration, but that’s ridiculous. Speaking of ridiculous, Tic Toc gets a little carried away while singing the hook. The dude can sing, it’s just some of his high notes get a little wild at times and it makes me chuckle every time I listen to this song. All in all, it’s a pretty solid song.
The Holy Terra – Dove lays down a funky track and adds a nasty horn loop and some nice scratches to it. Apparently he was inspired by Solo and the boys to pick up the mic and spit a verse, which turns out to be a bad idea, as he ends giving a laughable performance.
Interrogation 2 – Part two of the Gospel Gangstas interview with Pastor Freddy.
One Time – For a second, I thought this was Ice Cube’s “How To Survive In South Central” (off the Boyz N The Hood Soundtrack), as Dove’s instrumental sounds very similar and Solo even opens the song rhyming in a Cube-like cadence. The OGG’s use this one to address police brutality and believe po-po giving their lives to Christ would remedy the problem. Interesting theory, but the song is poorly executed and the hook is godawful…no pun intended.
Trial By Error – A useless interlude that’s intended to set up the next song…
Tears Of A Black Man – Mr. Solo goes, um, solo, as he discusses (in a Chuck D-like delivery) the black man’s plight in the hoods across America: “My life was on the line for this country, society’s a bully cause they keep tryna punk me, you swoop down on me like a hungry vulture, and stripped me of my heritage, tongue and culture, you taught me history according to another man, you label me derelict but that ain’t who I really am, I got the mind like the kind of Benjamin Banneker, still I’m only good enough to be a janitor, my pocket is void, so I’m paranoid, I filled out thousands of apps still I’m unemployed, my baby’s running out of milk so I’m restless, don’t give me cheese, give me a job and some justice”. Dove’s urgent instrumental serves as the perfect canvas for Solo’s potent bars, making this easily the strongest song on Gang Affiliated.
Da Gangsta Prayer – Short interlude that sounds just as corny as it reads.
Gospel Gangsta Voyage – Yep. Dove
jacks liberally borrows from the Lakeside classic. It still makes for decent filler material, though.
A Gruuv Fo Sum Preachin’ – The title is super corny, but I absolutely love this outro. Dove places a melancholy and emotional instrumental underneath a portion of a sermon by Pastor Carolyn Harrell-Donaldson, who’s preaching from the depths of her soul. It then ends with Dove and Solo extending an invitation to the listener to accept Christ and leading those who do accept in a short sinner’s prayer.
Despite the corny group name, album cover and overabundance of intros, skits and interludes, Gang Affiliated is a decent debut album from the Gospel Gangstas. DJ Dove (who just might be the Dr. Dre of Christian hip-hop) laces the album with quality traditional west coast beats, while Solo, Chilly Chill and Tic Toc, do a solid job of holding the listener’s attention with a healthy dose of righteousness and a street edginess that keeps them from coming off as self-righteous. Solo is the clear standout on the mic, but Chilly Chill and Tic Toc bring their own swagger to the party (which is really impressive, considering they don’t write their own rhymes), and the threesome’s chemistry works. Gang Affiliated does have some mishaps (and laughable moments), but the good far outweighs the bad, and I’m sure even non-believers will find a few songs that they can appreciate.