Disclaimer: All views presented in this review are those of the reviewer and not of DJ Wade-O
Five Dove Award nominations, three Stellar nominations, a GRAMMY nomination, three times on the billboard top 200, five times on the billboard top Christian albums chart, seven studio albums, countless number of features and a record label. This incredible list of accolades belongs to St. Louis rapper FLAME. For the past 12 years FLAME has been a major player in developing CHH into the product we enjoy today. FLAME is much more than a vet; he is a legend in the game. This legend isn’t done yet though, he is back with his 8th studio album Forward. The album released pretty quietly on July 17th, but has added to list of accolades by claiming a spot on the iTunes hip-hop chart and the billboard top Christian albums chart (peaking at 9).
The question was never if FLAME would chart well, because off of name alone a lot of CHH fans would get this record. Christian Hip-Hop has gone through a lot of changes throughout FLAME’s career, and the hardest thing for veteran emcee’s (even if they are legends) is to stay relevant to fans and true to the base fans. It’s a delicate balance that a lot of rappers can’t manage. Now it’s FLAME’s turn on this balance beam, with an opportunity to add to his legacy.
For a FLAME album, this is the natural starting point because this is what he is known for. FLAME has never blurred the lines of his intentions or purposes as a rapper. FLAME makes music with the purpose of giving every listener the unfiltered gospel. It’s a throwback to his CMR (Cross Movement Records) roots. His music isn’t just Christ influenced, its Christ centered and focused. It speaks more to the base and it also has a very missionary style to it as well. There is no doubt that FLAME is a Christian rapper.
“Forward” is everything that we have come to expect from FLAME over the years. It is very biblical, mission minded and blatant. By blatant – I mean that he makes it very clear throughout the album that the answer is always Jesus and nothing else. “Forward” isn’t just FLAME going through scripture and rapping on specific biblical topics. He took the content of this record outside of the church and really addressed issues that all people (in and out of the church) are facing. From a content stand point, FLAME is very timely with the release of this record. Racial tensions are at a high, the LGBT community is reaching unprecedented heights, Christians all over the world are being killed and this is all at the doorstep of the church. “Forward” addresses these topics head on, while challenging the believer to address the topics in their community.
This is a record that the Christian community should hear. It will inspire, encourage and educate all believers on what’s going on and how to address it with the love of Christ. These topics are not addressed with kid gloves, so it has the potential to offend some in the church and outside of the church. Because of that “Forward” won’t crossover as successfully as other FLAME records, but it is clear that the purpose of this record isn’t about charting. It’s about inspiring, challenging and encouraging believers.
Even though content is incredibly important, content alone does not make an album. For an album to really leave a mark and stand out the music has to be equally as good if not better. Some have said that FLAME hasn’t had the strongest albums in this area recently. Whether you disagree with that or not if you have ever been a fan of FLAME then you will like the sound of this record. The music is strong on this record. Some of the strongest work FLAME has done in the last 5 or 6 years. It sounds crisp and clear and it is amazingly versatile. There is a song on this record for everyone. If you like to turn up then “Had Me Flexin'” feat. Mike Real, “Believe That” and “Made Me Do” are for you. If you like a slower for content driven track then “1st Freedom”, “Positively Eternal” and “Absolute Truth” are what you’re looking for. He’s got celebratory tracks like “Let It Shine” feat. Melinda Watts and gritty tracks like “Know the Times”. There is an eclectic style of music throughout this record.
The production and sound quality of the record is really good. However FLAME’s performance as an emcee was a bit inconsistent. There were times throughout the record where FLAME was in his pocket and shined. Then there were other times when his performance fell flat. “1st Freedom” is an example of the latter. The song had some good elements but as a whole it didn’t come together. The real slow and simple flow that he used fit the track but gives no playback value. “The Greatest” lacked cohesion and seemed bit dated. And “You Ready” is a poor attempt to turn up. The tracks were the exception on Forward. There was much more good then there was bad. “Believe That” bangs and is sure to have everyone going crazy at a live show. “Move Forward” feat. Jai is a throwback to the early FLAME, and its just a great song to listen to. Overall Forward is a good record and it has some good playback value. This is a record that long time FLAME fans will love, but it’s still relevant enough to bring in plenty of new fans.
The conclusion here is simple, you should listen to this record. It so rich and full of great content. FLAME is a teacher and that comes out throughout this record. You will hear some great preaching snippets and you will be encouraged in your walk. These are the specifics goals that FLAME hopes to achieve in his music and he nails them on Forward. And it is good music to listen too. Every track may not be for you because the music is so versatile from track to track but everyone can find something to enjoy.