"We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober." 1 Thessalonians 5:5-6
The parallels drawn between sleep and deception are not new, as scripture proclaims, but has recently been a focus in literature and cinema, often interpreted on the grandest scale in Hollywood. When looking at Inception or the series of Matrix films, each plots' premise is built around the manipulation of a person(s) mind while in the vulnerable state of sleep. Akron's own, Swoope, weaves together the concepts of those blockbusters with the infallible scripture on his sophomore studio album Wake Up.
How ironic that an album of this title makes you want to close your eyes and visualize what you're hearing, right from the start? I was there, once the "Ideality Prelude" kicked off, visualizing someone laying on a couch about to go into deep sleep, Inception style. As an alarm sounds, "Ideality" introduces the summarized concept and direction of the project. Basically, the life that we are born into is one that we consider an "idol/ ideal reality" when it is actually far from one. The Word of God (or even The Holy Spirit) serves as a "totem" to help us navigate out of the sin that so easily entangles us, but we often choose to put it to the side. "Thought I was living my dreams, but things ain't always what it seems", Swoope starts "Fantasy" off with these words and proceeds to paint the picture of how his plans were many but steps were ordered by The Father. This song kind of deviates from the theme slightly, bringing the unlearned up to speed on his route to his current position in the scene.
"Schizo" is a hard driving track, created by Street Symphony, that touches on the double minded ways that plague us pre- Christ. Convinced that what's created mentally as "the good life", Swoope speaks from the vantage point of someone who's satisfied being enthralled with the pursuit of the temporal. Tedashii adds a few bars on this track but, honestly, his verse did not add to the song. One of the main parts of this project that pushes it to "genius" status is the musical blending/ transition between songs/ interludes. Helping to bridge the thoughts shared across the playlist, Swoope masterminded the production to consistently push a fresh sound that matches his lyrical acuity. Possibly the most impacting song, "Blind Eyes", reformulates the story of the Good Samaritan. But, instead of the wounded waiting on a Good Samaritan's assistance, the selfish American dreamer consistently ignores he who is considered the least. I had a non-CHH listener check this album and he felt this track stood out in the "Kanye influence" department, resembling "No Church In The Wild", which is interesting because this can serve as a rebuttal of sorts to that cut. On another note, labelmate Christon Gray did a great job on the hook and may have one upped Swoope with the bars he spit on his half-verse.
As the project continues with the excellent "Mirage" (produced by Wit), featuring Bleeker, Swoope speaks about the generational delusion that runs rampant in the U.S. of A. This song is special because of the lyrical barrage that Swoope hits us with, as it appears the individual who is stuck in this perpetual sin sleep is drawing nearer to being awaken from their slumber. Next up is probably my favorite track on this project, "Dreamslave", a driving track that features stellar contributions from Christon Gray and eshon Burgundy. Conviction sets deeper as the subject begins to be extracted out of the layers of the dreamworld, realizing that "to live is Christ, and to die is gain". The "Murder Me Prelude", which melts into "Murder Me", is the declaration of faith, appearing to snatch themselves out of the depths of the levels as self is put completely under. Galatians 2:20 and 5:24 are in full effect here, with sin's sting being removed from the equation and the awakening of regeneration beginning. This seems to be sonically illustrated from the 3 minute mark, on the "Eulogy Interlude", as the "evil" guitar solo battles the "righteous" piano rolls and drums.
Swoope speaks as someone awaken in Christ, saved from death's sleep, on the Big Juice composed "Faith Walk" which features Nicole Serrano. I can almost visualize someone completing the kick out of the dream word, back to reality and free from the threat of complete inception. DJ Official produced "Time", a track that sets things up perfectly for Swoope to spit from the viewpoints of Yahweh, Satan, and also "the reborn", describing the fight that awaits the newly awakened to His will. Swoope flips the verses using some bars that will ring a bell to listeners of his first album, The Zoo. "Lullaby" comes through next, urging the believer to rest in Christ after snapping out of the senselessness of sins' slumber. I like the infusion of scratches by DJ promote on this otherwise mellow track, this creates a beautiful conundrum of a sound. Encouragement, exhortation, and worship describe the next few songs "No Impostors" (featuring G Skinn & Malachi), "Aesthetic" (featuring Christon Gray), and "The Beautiful Rise" (featuring Sho Baraka) as the album comes to a cinematic close. "WLAK", or We Live As Kings, is the perfect close to this album with its triumphant horn and strings. Sho Baraka, Alex Faith, and Christon Gray celebrate the future of eternity to come with Swoope, discussing how we'll be fully awakened to worship the Most High once the sky cracks.
The biggest draw of this project has to be it's musical makeup, period. From the solemn piano solo to initiate the rap version of the Inception to the finality of the trumpets as the album came to a close, this project was not about collecting beats and finding a way to make them fit together. This was about creating a musical masterpiece that had a flow without disruptions or gaps. Although I've caught rumblings of folk disliking the mix, I thought it was crisp and helped bring out some of the subtle instruments layered into each song. In the area of creativity and originality, which can be considered in chorus or separately, there is a little bit to wrestle with. By all reports (including Swoope's own admission), the influence of Kanye is strong- with a touch of Lupe as well- in his writing and delivery. That said, there's difficulty docking him too much because he sounds different in his tone (not to mention content) and executes what he writes as well as musically composes, in his own way. Let's also take a moment to be thankful that in the midst of the parallels, we are not dealing with another Universal Concussion (those who know, will know what I mean). Conceptually, to basically live up to his moniker of being the "Christopher Nolan of rap" by extracting the plot of a psychological thriller and superimpose it to the Word was no feat unappreciated. The song order was on point, almost every feature brought their proverbial "A- game", and Swoope showed us that it is possible to leave the CHH yard without leaving the Faith. Overall, I think this is an album you must listen to now, will listen to five years ahead, and can still listen to about 20 years in the future.
Categorical Ratings Breakdown:
Beat Selection/Production: 5/5
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