Disclaimer: All views presented in this review are those of the reviewer and not of DJ Wade-O.
John Givez has turned a lot of heads over the past few years. He came onto the scene in 2011 with a small cameo on theBREAX mixtape, Breax Over III. Shortly after that he released his first mixtape The Little Engine That Could. Since then, he has signed with Kings Dream Entertainment, dropped the IV Seasons project, joined the Dream Junkies (with Beleaf and Ruslan) and they dropped their first record NREM Edition. After the release of the Dream Junkies record, John Givez moved from the background to the forefront. With a few incredible features, John Givez is on the verge of becoming a star in CHH.
His debut solo album Soul Rebel, is his opportunity to establish himself as one of the best artists in the genre. Right now, in CHH, the emphasis on artistry has never been higher. This seems to be the perfect climate for John Givez to make a splash. But how will CHH receive this record? How should they receive this record? And is this the record that will put John Givez’s name among the elites in the genre? We take a look in this review.
Anyone familiar with his work knows that he doesn’t make your traditional Christian Hip-Hop music. Traditional in the sense of the message being a bit hidden. In his music you can tell that he loves God, but his message is presented in a way that makes it more palatable for the non-believer. He tends to be more edgy than most CHH artists. That has shown itself to be very true on Soul Rebel.
Soul Rebel is a journey through the life of a young man starting from elementary school and on into adulthood. This isn’t a new story, but what makes it special is the presentation. John Givez holds nothing back in telling this story. The listener is there through the struggles and on through the redemption. This is not a sugar coated version, but it is the full story. And that’s where things can get edgy and uncomfortable for some listeners.
On “2004” the listener enters a private conversation of two young high schoolers (presumably, one of them being a young John Givez). This conversation goes on, as many conversations between two high school boys do, and it is centered around sex and one of the boys (the young John Givez) wanting to have sex with his girlfriend. It’s an unedited conversation with what some would consider vulgar language. It then transitions to “Da Art of Storytellin’, Pt. 5”, which then goes into the story of him and his girlfriend having sex. The song ends with the two boys talking about what happened with the idea that they were both playaz.
This sequence could be troublesome for some listeners, who will find this more than just “edgy.” This could be perceived as unnecessary or even ungodly. Either way, this is a critical junction in the story because the testimony behind it lies with him being a “playa.” The original story behind that mindset is important to understand, because the redemption in the story holds more value when you see how far this person has come.
Soul Rebel is about much more than a kid wanting to be a “playa.” That is one aspect of this beautiful story. You are truly walking through life as this person grows and matures. You’re with him as he tries to figure out how to deal with the police on “Johnny Law,” as he struggles with gangbanging on “AM/PM,” as he wrestles with (and yells at) God on “Chapter 29,” falls in love on “Ride for Me?” and comes completely full circle with God on “Generation (Y).” This is a tremendous story of God’s love and someone figuring out what to do with that and how to live with it.
Over his career, John Givez has been on almost every type of track. With his ability to sing and his control over his flow, he has amazing versatility. However, he seems most at home on more soulful melody driven tracks. So it’s only natural that that is the sound which drives Soul Rebel.
Givez does a good amount of singing on this record. His soulful voice is used for a lot of the hooks and bridges. This gives the whole record a very soulful vibe. This is most evident on “2004.” The light drums, soft melody and strong kick allow for a perfect backdrop for Givez’s smooth delivery. This vibe continues through the beautiful track “Sandman (Song)” featuring Ruslan, “Ride for Me?” featuring KiKi and the celebratory “Will Not Be Televised.” Soul Rebel is not all soulful melodies though. John brings the intensity on “Chapter 29” and the hard drums on “Generation (Y).” Overall, the production is great throughout this record.
As good as the production is, it’s not just great sounds that make the music on Soul Rebel amazing. The creative way in which the production is used on this record is mind blowing. The way in which the story is being told, the music is critical to the success of that story. As you move through the storyline, the music is a perfect accompaniment.
The production on Soul Rebel was like a score to a movie. Each beat brings out the emotion in the song and in the listener. For example, on “Elementary Trill” and “2004,” the production is lighter and more care free because he’s younger. As he grows, the production grows with him. “Johnny Law” has more layered and complicated production which matches the situation perfectly. This continues in “Will Not Be Televised” which sounds like a celebration because of his new life in Christ. A great movie has to have a great score, and Soul Rebel is a great story that is fit for the big screen.
There isn’t anything in CHH like Soul Rebel. It has the possibility of taking John Givez to new heights. Musically, it’s flawless and it’s a lyrical masterpiece. It is incredibly difficult to run one story throughout an entire record, and that is exactly what Givez did. He was also able to incorporate some great features seamlessly into the story. Beleaf contributed a great verse to “AM/PM” and Ruslan added to the soulful track “Sandman.” The JGivens assisted “A Playaz Change of Heart” is a perfect collaboration and role in the storyline.
In the midst of what I would consider a perfect record, there are some troublesome aspects. Some people may not like the vulgar language that I mentioned before. Also, Givez uses the “N” word and “damn” several times throughout. It was used in a natural way that was in context, but there may be some listeners who may not like it no matter its usage. There is also the track “Rebel Credits.” It’s the only song that doesn’t seem to have a purpose. It’s easy to overlook because it’s the very last track and doesn’t seem to be a part of the story. Either way, it would have been better off on the cutting room floor.
All things considered, so far, I think this is the best album of 2015, as Soul Rebel is musically insane. It’s innovative, intelligent and well thought out. It reminds me of Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid: M.A.A.D City, which was also a masterpiece. I don’t think it sounds like Kendrick’s record but it has the same feel. This is a great record for CHH fans and mainstream hip-hop fans alike. It has a message that can reach a lot of people and the music is fantastic. John Givez has created a classic album that will stand the test of time.