I invite you to explore the imagination of Jerrell Johnson who recently released a mixtape entitled, "Dream SODA" available at www.jerrelljohnson.bandcamp.com. After listening I was thoroughly impressed by his creativity and display of artistic excellence in terms of album construction. In the age of I-tunes and a culture impacted by the digital revolution it seems that artists no longer know how to put together "projects." In contrast to the previous generation of artists, the music industry seems to have an emphasis upon the production of "hit singles." Perhaps, this phenomenon is the result of listeners now having the ability to purchase individual songs opposed to an artists' entire body of work. However, it is my conviction that there is difference between a rapper and a rap artist. To make a good album takes more than the ability to make a hit single or even rap itself; it requires more skill than just being able to use intricate rhyme-schemes, word-play, catchy hooks, flow, delivery, etc. A good album constructionist must also have proper discernment in beat selection, flow of track-transitions, variety of instrumental structures and so forth. In this post, I will not provide a review of Dream SODA in its entirety but I will briefly explain how Jerrell excels in the areas of good album construction mentioned above: 1) Discernment in Beat Selection; 2) Flow of Track-Transitions, and 3) Variety of Structures.
Proper Discernment in Beat Selection
Unfortunately, some Christian rappers are "sound-blind" and tend to write concepts to instrumentals that simply do not fit the song, however, for Jerrell this is not the case. He demonstrates this skill of discernment in songs like D-75 (Episode 1), about an evil genius who programs the typical mainstream rap artist condoning sexual immorality, materialism, pride and greed. He chooses a futuristic musical backdrop with an unorthodox drum-pattern that is conducive for the song's setting. He practices what many have called, "cinematic rap" in which he incorporates sound FX to help tell stories that listeners can visualize. He understands sound, what effects and musical backdrops that are able to effectively convey stories much like film-composers. Listening to this album is similar to the experience of listening to a motion-picture film. The mixtape not only demonstrates proper discernment in beat selection but it has smooth track transitions which we will now consider.
Album Flow: The Art of Track Transition
Secondly, Dream SODA has smooth track-transitions. As Json of Lamp Mode recordings once noted, not all those who can make good verses can make good good songs and not all those who can make good songs can make a good albums. One ingredient for producing artistically excellent albums is having smooth track-transitions. A good artist not only knows how track three will sound but he knows how track three will sound in light of track one to the end of the album. Have you ever finished listening to an album and said to yourself, "Wow, every instrumental sounds the same." Or "Man, the beats are everywhere; we go from indie rock, southern crunk, east-coast underground boom-bap to alternative hip hop; it lacks cohesiveness." (Note: In stating this I am by no means asserting that every artist that incorporates different styles in terms of production in their projects are aesthetically displeasing; few artists do it well. See Lecrae: Church Clothes). I believe artists should understand that the order of production style(s) are often determined by the"sound" of the project (See Beautiful Eulogy - Satellite Kite). Dream SODA is a sonically cohesive mixtape that balances the range of human emotion demonstrated by his choice of track-order.
The Variety of Structure
Thirdly, Jerrell incoporates a variety of structures which essentially increases the replay and enjoyment factor. As an Christian artist, I study the art of rap and try to listen to as much albums as I can for critical analysis. The projects that I found to be mediocre were typically those that lacked variety. What I have observed is that a lot of albums tend to have the same instrumental, flow, scheme or song structure. However, every instrumental structure does not have to be patterned after three sixteen bars verses, three eight bar hooks and an outro. Every flow does not have to be the same or every rhyme scheme does not have to be strictly intricate or strictly simple. I think the constant repitition of particular structures song-after-song makes an album flat and dull. Seasoned rap artists, know how to incorporate different types of flows throughout their projects (See Lecrae and KB). Listen closely and you will soon notice that they tend to switch their flows after every four to six bars or choose an apparently distinct flow after three to four tracks in an album.
If there is any aspiring artist that wants to study the art of album-construction, you do yourself well to study the work of Jerrell Johnson. He has a mind for the forest and not merely the trees. What I appreciate about Dream SODA, unlike some albums I hear every song-structure is not the same. For example, in D-75 (Episode 2) Eons-D is interrupted in the middle of his verse (1:37) with a coninutation of the story-line of Episode 1 through the use of sound effects and acting. Or in the introduction of the album that does not start with a song or a preparatory instrumental but a skit in which he is looking for the Dream SODA tape and a brief speech by Trip Lee introducing the theme of the mixtape.
Summary and Conclusion
In conclusion, Jerrell Johnson's mixtape, "Dream SODA" superbly exemplifies characteristics of well-constructed projects such as fitting beat-selections, smooth track-transition and a variety of structures. As Gene Edward Veith said, "If God gives us an aesthetic experience - a glimpse of a sublime landscape, the satisfaction of a good novel, the pleasing forms of a painting or sculpture, - we must not cover our eyes, spurning God's gift of beauty. We are obligated to linger over it, enjoy it fully, and to glorify God." Veith understands well, "If God gives us an aesthetic experience" he said. In contrast to secular humanistic understandings of art, Christians affirm that all artistic talent and ability are gifts of God (Ex. 31:1-5). Scripture teaches that God cares about beauty and our enjoyment of it. In creation, we may observe that God is not only concerned with function or utility but aesthetic delight. Gen 2:9 - "And out fo the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food" (emphasis added).
God the Ultimate Artist, created the universe out of nothing (ex nihilo) and made man in His image (Gen 1:16). Human beings reflect His image when we desire to create works of art. The Lord has redeemed a sinner, Jerrell Johnson, baptized his imagination for His glory and has graciously given us his music, and most recently the "Dream SODA" mixtape to enjoy and be edified. So, do not cover your ears and spurn God's gift of beauty; be encouraged to download his project and share it with your friends. For updates on upcoming events, interviews, reviews and music you may follow Jerrell on Twitter: @JerrellJohnson or suscribe to him on facebook at www.facebook.com/whoisjerrell
Download Now: The Dream SODA Mixtape
|Now available for free download at www.jerrelljohnson.bandcamp.com|