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Album Review: Derek Minor – Empire

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Disclaimer: All views presented in this Album Review are those of the reviewer and not of DJ Wade-O 

In the business world, momentum can be everything. When momentum is growing, a company has a choice. They can keep doing what they are doing to try and keep the momentum. Or, they can try something completely different, in an attempt to add something new to what they are doing. Trying something new can sometimes make or break a company. Not all change is good change and not all change is bad change.

In March of 2014, Derek Minor decided to leave Reach Records and solely work with his own company, Reflection Music Group. For some, the decision may have been looked at as crazy because Reach Records is probably the most successful company in CHH. Some also may have seen it as a decision to build on the momentum that he gained while working with Reach. Maybe he was using what he received from Reach, to use that momentum to build up RMG.

Regardless of why and how smart of a decision it was, Derek Minor is back with his first project post-Reach Records. The album is titled Empire, and the singles that have been released have had people curious – expecting something big. In this review, we will talk about what Minor did on his latest project.

Minorville Minor Or 116 Anthem Minor?

You may be wondering what this question means. Well before we go forward, let me explain.

The 116 Anthem Minor represents, the rah-rah-in-your-face, start a party rap. And the Minorville Minor represents the more calm, expressive rap. Derek Minor has done great with both, but even he said (4:28-6:00) that they are very different.

As soon as this album starts, the listener can feel they are about to experience something epic. Derek Minor raps with a hungry tenacity that lets you know he’s not playing any games, nor wasting any words. After you get through the beginning of the album, you will quickly notice that this project was not the relaxed, reflective Derek Minor that fans were introduced to on Minorville. On most of the tracks, Derek raps with the aggressive flow that many people fell in love with at the beginning of his career. If there was one word to describe how he rapped throughout most of his songs, it would be passionate.

On “Save Me,” Derek reflects on some of the worst things that have happened over the past year in his life. At one point, you almost feel the pain Minor is speaking through. It is captivating and convicting because when you listen, you know you are hearing raw emotion. He did not mention the song title, but he mentioned some of those pains in a recent interview with DJ Wade-O (5:25-6:40). The song exuded with authenticity and will have you completely zoned into what he’s saying.

So to answer the question above, this project is not full of songs that sound like Minorville. He does a great job at getting the listener to reflect and think, but the overall feel is not as mellow.

Production

The production on this project was next level. From the intro track all the way through, it didn’t let up. The first track sounded like the perfect beat for an album titled Empire. The beat makes you think of a movie like ‘300’, with the sounds of chanting and more. As you proceed to the next track, you get music from top producers such as Gawvi, Street Symphony, Black Knight, Dirty Rice, and more. While no song sounded alike, they did a great job matching the tempo and temperament of where the album was headed.

Ironically, the title track, “Empire” sounds a little like Kanye’s “Power” in the beginning – only at first listen in my opinion. He also has a sample that closely resembles a sample that was used in Kanye’s “Can’t Tell Me Nothing.” This may have been intentional, considering Kanye’s song was all about himself and power, and Minor’s song is about God’s empire and His power.

Another track that catches the ear is “Right By My Side,” where Gawvi channels some of the DJ Mustard sound, many of the synths, that flooded the radios in 2014. If the song makes you think of Chris Brown’s “Loyal” at first, just keep listening because this too, is a song with a completely opposite message and promotes marriage. Anthony Evans also showcases his pop-singing ability on this up-beat track.

The beats that made it onto this album were amazing, but one more area that Empire succeeded was on the interludes and transitions. The project starts with an epic feel introducing you to the Empire theme, then there are two interludes titled “Babel.” “Babel” does not consist of any rap. Just a woman singing lyrics that fit with the theme of the album. (I don’t want to share too much). These little details helped keep the thread of the album consistent.

Concept

When you see the title Empire, it’s easy to speculate. What kind of empire? Is he talking about his “team”? Is this about God? Is this about big entertainment forces in the world?

While speculating can be fun, for an artist like Minor, we should give the benefit of the doubt and expect that he is talking about God’s empire (rule and reign). If that’s what you guessed at first, then you are correct.

Looking back through Derek Minor’s catalogue, he’s no stranger to conceptual albums. Dying to Live was the first attempt at it with Reach Records, then he did a great job with it on MinorvilleEmpire may be his best conceptual album thus far. The project starts with getting the listener in tune with what empire means and is all about. The desire to want to build our own empire instead of God’s.

He has a song called “Kingdom Come” and it tells a story of two different people building their own empire. Within the song, there is a skit that helps bring home the message. It’s amazing how that song ended and how well it fed into the next song “Slow Down.” It made the theme of the album come to life when he added the song the way he did.

Between the song selection, interludes, and even a skit on the album, the listener should know very clear what Minor was trying to say on this project. The goal is to build God’s empire and after listening, people will be encouraged to do so.

Minor Critiques

Yes, the pun was intended. These are definitely minor critiques, because they do not take away from the overall album.

One critique that people may have is how some of the songs sound similar to songs on mainstream radio. I mentioned earlier in the review about “Empire” and “Right By My Side,” but the other one that we heard as a single was “Who You Know.” That song sounds a lot like a popular song by the Atlanta rapper Future.

On this song, it wasn’t the beat as much as it was the chorus. It sounded a lot like a Future song, but quite honestly, it’s probably the best “turn up” track on the project. People may not like the similarities, but if you give the music a chance, it really isn’t that bad. Minor is also not a stranger to the comparison and shares his awareness of the similarity in his latest interview with DJ Wade-O (28:04-31:00).

Another critique may be that songs like “Who You Know” and “Party People” didn’t fit into the overall theme of the album. Again, these are minor and they do not take away from the overall experience.

Conclusion

Empire was a quality album. The music, the sequencing of the tracks, to the content of the tracks all helped put together an amazing album. Songs like “Who You Know” and “Party People” are not indicators of the depth of this album. This album definitely makes listeners think about what they are doing with their lives and which empire they are working on.

Also, with features from the whole RMG team, Lecrae, Tedashii, Leah Smith, and even Colton Dixon, listeners will hear some of their favorite artists and even be introduced to some new voices.

As one of the first albums to drop in 2015, Derek Minor has set the bar pretty high for artists cooking up music in 2015.

Empire will be available on Tuesday, January 27th, and is now available for pre-order HERE.

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Branden Murphy has served as a Campus Missionary. He loves Christian hip hop and uses it within his ministry to reach and converse with many different students. He plans to use his heart for music and ministry to write album reviews on Wadeoradio.com. Branden is also married with two children. You can follow Branden on Twitter: @Bmurph633.

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