Disclaimer: All views presented in this Album Review are those of the album reviewer and not of DJ Wade-O.
For those of you who do not know, Benjah is a critically acclaimed GRAMMY®-nominated and Dove Award-winning song writer and producer. It is safe to say that singing is only one of his many talents. He has worked with many of the heavy-hitters in our genre like Lecrae, Json, Andy Mineo, Tedashii and more. For a guy that does not have much content out, Benjah seems to know everyone. This mainly comes from the songwriting/producing side of his career. I remember getting his Filtered mixtape at a “Don’t Waste Your Life” concert thinking, “Man, if Lecrae and them are pushing this guy, he must be alright.”
Benjah’s last project, The Break Up was a solid album, so I was excited to hear that he had something new album coming. When the news dropped, the title alone had me wondering what the listening experience was going to be like. A creative title has the ability to set the stage for a great album. Vanity Fare was unique because of the spelling and definitions. It was not spelled like the magazine, but I knew there had to be a play on words that related to the magazine. Let’s take a look at the definitions for each word:
- : something that is vain, empty, or valueless
- : the quality or fact of being vain
- : inflated pride in oneself or one’s appearance
- : the price of conveyance or passage in a bus, train, airplane, or other vehicle.
- : a person or persons who pay to be conveyed in a vehicle;paying passenger.
With those definitions in mind, I made an assumption as to what I thought the album was going to be about. I figured that this album was going to talk about the price that people pay for things that are vain, empty, or valueless.
Before we jump into this review, I must admit that I am not the biggest fan of Benjah’s voice. I think it has something to do with the raspy sound. Ironically, I do think he makes some great music. With that being said, I did enjoy different aspects of this album. I really appreciated how well he weaved the Gospel message throughout it. His songs have the ability to reach many people in different stages of their life’s. Vanity Fare had more ups than downs, and I’m going to discuss a little bit of what caught my ear.
Two Things That I Liked On Vanity Fare
When the content of an album compliments the title, it is like a Cinnabon. The title is just the beginning to a rich and fulfilling experience. Okay, maybe that was an over-the-top analogy, but you get what I mean. Vanity Fare did not disappoint when it came to sticking with the overarching theme of the project. The first song, “Rainbows” featuring Tedashii, was an amazing song that reflected the title. It talks about how so many people chase “rainbows” (money, material things) in life, but they are never satisfied. The production on this track was marvelous. It was a great first track and had me eager for more. Tracks like “Work”, “Left Right” and “Last Call” beautifully captured the concept of vain pursuits. Each song provided the ultimate solution and satisfaction, Jesus.
Although songs like “Love Signs”, “Grizz”, “Stones” and “Don’t Shoot” did not carry the explicit theme of chasing valueless pearls, they did encompass what it looks like when we don’t. The chorus on “Grizz” (featuring God’s Servant and Canon) shows us exactly what it may look like when our lives our spent pursuing things of eternal value. “Putting work in, we don’t always see return. We still working, ’cause it’s not for us to earn.” Songs like this one were definitely needed on the album. It let the listener hear both sides of the pursuit. The way Benjah weaved both perspectives throughout the album was not only wonderful, it was encouraging. I felt edified while listening.
Many people can relate to chasing after creations rather than the creator in life. The emptiness we feel can be paralyzing. In “Abandon,” Benjah sings a heart-warming song that share’s God’s heart with the listener. It touches on how at times we feel we’re so far away from God, when all we have to do is turn around and see He is right there. This was a beautiful message of redemption.
Vanity Fare definitely had the Cinnabon effect to me. The title was just the icing, prepping the listener for a rich, uplifting experience.
Features, when done well, can add great value to an album. Vanity Fare had so many features that I was nervous. I was wondering if Benjah would get blown away by all the talent that he had on the project. To my surprise, I left each track feeling like it was his song. This may partly be because he sang most of the hooks, but either way, I liked that he did not get drowned out. Instead of listing everyone that is on the album, I’ll point you to the track listing here. It is easy to get excited about who is on it, but I was impressed by who was on a track with who.
When you’re used to hearing artists individually, you can get a feel as to who else they may gel well with. Creating chemistry and continuity on a track takes intentionality. A lot of that intentionality is finding which artists may sound well together. This record completely killed what I thought I knew. I did not think Canon would sound well with God’s Servant, but they helped create a great first single. I also did not see Json and Eshon Burgundy sonically flowing well on a track. Again, I was blown away listening to how well the artists captured the feel of “Flowing.” Beckah Shae and Trip Lee did not surprise me on “Left Right,” but they both killed their verses. Trip took me back to his flow on “I Love Music,” which I am a big fan of. Lastly, Da’ T.R.U.T.H and Propaganda were great on “Last Call.” They kept to their personal rap styles, but it did not sound out of place. Everyone fit so well. I could picture Sho Baraka with Propaganda or Da’ T.R.U.T.H., so that is why he did not surprise me on that track. Overall, it was great to hear so much talent and cohesiveness on each track.
I can’t pinpoint exactly what I felt when I was listening to these songs, but there was something about them that stirred up hope in me. His features displayed what many people are wanting to see from the CHH community, unity. He had artists paired together that we have never seen on the same track. Simply seeing them on the track together displayed that they were for one another in my opinion. It was beautiful.
One Thing I Did Not Enjoy
The Rock Theme
I stated in the beginning that I like Benjah’s music despite my issue with his voice. That was not what bothered me on this project. Admittedly, I am a hip hop head. I try to say I am eclectic, but my iTunes library proves that to be a lie. I was looking for reggae hip hop like he has done on his previous projects, but I felt this leaned more towards reggae rock. The heavy guitars and gritty feel was not for me. Also, the bonus song at the end of “Last Call” completely caught me off guard. If I had trouble with the rock, you can imagine my face when I heard that bluegrass sound. I did not think it was necessary at all. The songs were great individually, but I could not take the overwhelming rock sound as a whole.
This Album Fared Well
All personal preferences aside, this was a good project. I think Benjah’s fans, as well as people looking for a different sound in CHH will enjoy this album. The production on this album was top-notch. I am not sure if he produced it or who helped, but the mixing was great. Great production allowed for balanced listening. I heard great beats coupled with clear, crisp vocals. A personal highlight for me was how well Benjah intertwined the Vanity Fare theme. The emotion on each song was captivating. Some may be encouraged to stop chasing success for fulfillment. Some may be encouraged to keep chasing Christ and not look for a reward. Some may need to hear that God has not abandoned them. I believe Vanity Fare will benefit many of its listeners. I may not be able to take the rock sound, but I definitely enjoyed the message that he brought.
You can purchase the project here!
What are your thoughts on this album? Do you think the features were good?