Album Review: ‘Rise’

In 2012, rapper Trip Lee released his fourth studio album, “The Good Life,” to critical acclaim success on the charts. He was one of Christian hip-hop’s fastest rising stars. So it came as a surprise when the 24-year-old announced he was stepping away from music. Lee started serving as a pastor in his church in Washington, D.C., and making music was not on his mind at the time.

Fast-forward two years, and Lee has come out of retirement, offering fans his fifth album, “Rise.” Lee presents listeners with a great rap album, proclaiming his savior with diverse sound and quality lyrics.

One of Lee’s strengths is his ability to rap in a variety of different genres, and “Rise” showcases this. No two songs sound the same, but Lee sounds comfortable on each one, whether it’s a poppy track, a slow ballad, or a pump-up song. Whenever an album has a diverse sound, it runs the risk of sounding disjointed, but “Rise” flows smoothly.

Much of rap today is more focused on the beats rather than the lyrics. Fortunately, Lee does not fall into this category. He has never been one to shy away from rapping about his savior, and “Rise” is no exception, but he also chooses to tackle a number of other subjects as well.

On “All My Love,” he tells the story of a married man struggling to remain faithful to his wife. Lee gives listeners a brief history of Reach Records on “All Rise Up” while addressing those who believe that Lee and his fellow Christian rappers are in it for the money.

“Beautiful Life 2” is a heartfelt letter addressed to Lee’s children, who make cameos in the song. Lee’s storytelling skills, while not on par with Tolkien’s or Kendrick Lamar’s, are above average, and they are only enhanced by Lee’s ability to switch up his flow.

One of the most fun songs on the album is “Manolo,” a song made to blare out the windows of your 1994 Honda Civic as you ride through your college campus. On first listen, it may sound like Lee is just rapping about guns (there’s no explicit references to God or the Bible), but a closer look shows that he is using the gun as an extended metaphor for God’s Word.

On the other side of the sound spectrum is the powerful album closer, “Sweet Victory.” Over a beat that would sound right at home on a Lana Del Rey song, Lee raps about the struggles that he has faced, specifically with his chronic fatigue syndrome. He goes on to talk about how we can rest in the knowledge that we have victory in Jesus, although we may be suffering right now.

“Rise” does have a few missteps, however. Although the album does not have any filler tracks, a 90-second spoken interlude in the middle of the album disrupts the flow and feels unnecessary, especially when the song that follows talks about the same subject.

Some people may have a problem with the album’s diverse sound. And while Lee is not the most intricate lyricist, his wordplay in a few instances is unimpressive. In the song “Shweet,” (a song that sounds strangely similar to Drake’s summer hit, “0 to 100”) the line “get an umbrella–God reign” falls flat, as does “My wrist froze like ice cream.” He does make up for it with a reference to Dr. Dre.

“Rise” is one of the best rap albums of 2014. It will inevitably draw comparisons to Lecrae’s “Anomaly,” but that shouldn’t affect how people listen to this album. “Rise” displays Lee’s skills in lyricism and story-telling ability, but he doesn’t let his talents take center stage. Instead, he plays the background to his creator, and in the end, that’s what we as Christians should focus on: bragging on our Lord.

Jon Gallardo is a junior journalism major and sports editor for Cedars. He loves playing basketball and quoting Napoleon Dynamite. He hopes one day to play in the NBA.

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