Disclaimer: All views presented in this review are those of the reviewer and not of DJ Wade-O.
Christon Gray has one of the most dynamic voices in any genre of music today. The global public was introduced to him during his time with Collision Records – working with artists like Swoope, Dre Murray, and Alex Faith in the WLAK collective – and collaborating with many more artists within the CHH genre. His style, flare, and musical talent are all undeniable.
But many were wondering what would become of Christon once he left Collision Records. News quickly spread once we heard he had signed with Kirk Franklin‘s label Fo Yo Soul Recordings. While there was excitement, many were left unsure of what this meant for Christon Gray musically.
After some teaser videos were released, and ESPN featured a few songs on their sports programs, we finally have our complete answer to all of our burning questions: The Glory Album, set to release Friday, March 11. I’m sure you have high anticipation of what this new label situation could render us musically, so lets get right into it.
Glory is something that is spoken about in scripture with reverence, and by the grace of God, we are able to share in this revered experience with the Lord. 2 Corinthians 3:18 speaks of glory being something God uses to carry us through to new places and new levels.
But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.
I believe this album was setup with this scripture in mind. See, the album is split into 2 parts – Side A and Side B – similar to how cassette tapes and old records use to have side A and B on them. Sometimes one side would be the rest of the album or they would have completely different versions of the same song(s) on the other side.
But on this project, you get two parts of Christon Gray, splitting it into 2 portions: The Glory Pt1 and No. 51 (The Glory, Pt 2). The first glory speaks from places that seem to reference things that have already happened in his life as an artist up to this point– situations he has already faced and went through behind closed doors.
The intro “The Glory, Pt. 1” is peppered with anecdotes and quotes that any new artist would hear from veterans in the industry. And you follow that with “Stop Me,” which is a declarative statement of intent from Christon of what he desires to do/be/intends to make happen as an artist. But we see that even through those great intentions, things can go wrong, and they affected his family and personal life.
“50 Shades”, “Ft. Knox”, and “Afraid With You” all come from the place of the “threshing floor” – a place where work has to be done. “Ft. Knox” is a metaphor of the condition that the heart becomes once ideals aren’t met and miscommunication becomes rampant. We hear the crux of the things Christon has dealt with on his artistic journey so far in “50 Shades” – feeling misunderstood, trying his hardest to please people, and still falling short. And he gets real about his personal relationship in “Afraid With You”.
We get a glimpse of what’s to come on the project in “50 Shades” when we hear a voicemail message from Kirk Franklin, encouraging Christon to continue to push through with the art that God has given him. But overall, this half gets real with what Christon was dealing with that the public never truly knew about.
With Side A being a retrospective of his past, Side B is a present take of where he is now. These songs are a lot more uplifting and positive because of the wisdom Christon has gained from going through the trials of the past. You can tell right away with “No 51 (The Glory, Pt. 2)”. Its upbeat, something you can dance to, and christon raps about how he became comfortable to be the artist God made him.
From that point on, almost every song sounds like a side B to previous topics spoken about in The Glory Pt1. “Open Door (See You Later)” sounds like a goodbye to the old Christon Gray’s way of viewing his way of living life. “My Love Is Real” is a really great love song for his wife – full of redemptive lyrics of love and care. The only song that isn’t like that is “Blackmail (Black Male)” – which is a story chronicling the events of racial prejudice towards a couple comprised of black people who grew up on “two opposites of the road.”
And to top it off, there are two very nice worship songs to help round out the complete glory experience. “Nowhere” is about how God stepped into Christon’s troubles when he least expected it, making all things new in the process. But the final song is a triumphant shout to the Lord that Christon will “Follow You”. It’s big, it’s full, and personally, it led me to tears as I thought about how God has affected my own life. So through this Side A/B device, you can see how God has taken Christon from glory to glory through the ups and downs of his existence.
Fo Yo Soul
One thing I noticed about this project is that if your ear is trained well, you can hear the influences that Kirk had within some of the musical elements of this project, but it isn’t something extremely noticeable – and that’s a really good thing. Christon was very vocal about how Kirk encouraged him to be himself, and you can hear that all over this project.
We hear the Christon Gray we came to know from his days with Collision Records through ‘School of Roses’ production wise, but combining with Kirk’s musical knowledge, it has created a higher level for Christon’s talent to exist on. To start, The songs are more robust in their production, something Kirk is know for being capable of producing.
“Stop Me” is hard hitting, but the horn section in that song really rounds out the space. “My Love Is Real” sounds like there is a full funk/soul band playing live WITH him on the recording. And “Nowhere” and “Follow You” are huge records teaming with strings, orchestral drums, synths, piano, a choir etc., etc. The best part has to be that none of it feels contrived.
There are those nice piano ballads that we love from Christon as well, like “Blackmail (Black Male) and “Afraid With You.” Christon sings and raps on a majority of the songs, but there are a lot more tracks with him just rapping as well. You’ve got “Stop Me”, “50 Shades”, and “Conner McDees”. And you can tell that he had his hand directly in the production of this album too.
As A Whole
The Glory Album is a quality project. Each song is strong enough to stand on its own, so you wouldn’t have to listen to the album in succesion to enjoy it. This isn’t some earth-shattering, ground-breaking project from him, but if you’re looking for that every single time an album comes out, you will always leave disappointed.
This is by no means the same old Christon Gray though. You can hear a lot of the progress in his clarity with who he is as an artist, the growth in the sound of production for his music, and while his style of rapping is metaphorical at the foundation, he doesn’t rap in code so deep that you can’t understand the meaning of what he is saying.
It’s not laden with features, just a few from Skyzoo and his brother Taelor Gray, which allows Christon to control the picture he is painting with his songs more meticulously. If you enjoyed School of Roses, or anything that Christon Gray has done, you will enjoy The Glory Album, you can get it at all digital retailers on March 11th.