Disclaimer: All views presented in this Album Review are those of the reviewer and not of DJ Wade-O
How do you follow-up a classic album?
History has shown that this has been very difficult for artists. Many artists have crumbled under the intense weight and pressure of their own success. The logically human response to success is raised expectations and anticipation. Once you do something great (especially as an entertainer or artist) you are expected to do better the next time, or at the very least match your previous effort. We have seen perceived legends (in their respective crafts) fall short to these expectations. There have even been careers that have been forever altered by a classic album. The pressure and expectation can be raised even further when the classic album also shifted the direction of the genre.
Christian Hip-hop has seen this several times throughout its history. Most notably, and recently, was Lecrae’s genre changing classic Rebel. Ever since that record everything Lecrae has done has been matched up against that. Lecrae has put out some great work since then, but it seems as if everything comes back to that one record. That is what happens when you have a record that changed the course of an entire genre; it really is a double-edged sword. This is the exact challenge that Swoope faces with his newest project Sinema, which was released August 5 by Collision Records.
When Swoope released his second album (1st on Collision) Wake Up over two years ago, it was heralded as a classic and Swoope rose quickly to the top of the genre. That record coupled with what he has done with Collision and High Society changed Christian Hip-hop, and lead it into a different direction. With all of this success and acclaim, came the burden of carrying ever-growing expectations. By the time the news came out that Swoope was dropping Sinema it seemed as if there was nothing he could do that could live up to the hype. This is a tough spot for any artist to be in, but it seemed as if all the pressure didn’t phase Swoope. He still dropped fantastic features and had all of CHH clamoring for Sinema.
Even with everyone waiting for it, no one knew what to expect. Could he live up to the hype? Would it be another Wake Up? What was Swoope going to do? On Sinema he answered all the questions and critics. This is how he did it.
Since coming onto the scene, Swoope has been something of a conceptual giant in the game. He’s always providing more than what meets the eye (or ear in this case). There is always some kind of theme and bigger picture to what he does. This has been something that fans have come to expect, and Swoope delivers this in a big way on Sinema. It starts from the very beginning of the record with a voicemail from a female voice that we will get to know better throughout the record. This leads right into the first track where Swoope gives us the backstory.
On the surface the concept seems like a story of a man and woman and there developing relationship. As the record carries on (or you give it a few more listens) you can start to see the other side of the story, which is a man’s struggle with the sin that is in him. The story is cleverly told, so the listener is able to digest the story at their own pace. This also gives the record a monumental amount of playback value, because with each listen more pieces of the story reveal themselves.
Conceptually, Swoope’s goals were not to simply tell a story. It was clear that he was trying to deliver an album in a movie format. Sinema was supposed to play like an audio movie, which sounds nearly impossible. This isn’t something that many artists before him have tried and even less has done it successfully (Kendrick Lamar is the only one that comes to mind). Swoope can now add his name to that short list because he created exactly what he was aiming to create. Sinema plays like a movie from start to finish. In every way a hip-hop album can play like a movie, Sinema did.
Starting with the story, it developed the way stories usually develop throughout a movie. There is an introduction then it builds and reaches a climax. The music is also another cinematic element. In film the music plays a complimentary role, but it’s also used to tell the story. On Sinema that same element is present. The music is used here just as cleverly as it is used in film. It is a complimentary piece to a beautiful story, but the music itself helps to bring out the emotion in the listener that is supposed to be felt.
The track “Sin In Me” is one of many examples of this. This is a huge turning point of the story (or the climax of it) and it carries a more somber musical sound, which allows the listener to understand (and more importantly) feel what is happening. Throughout the entire record the cinematic element is always present. It was innovative and beautiful and a conceptual masterpiece.
It’s hard to talk about Swoope and not talk about lyricism. He’s become one of the best lyricists in all of CHH, and many would venture to say all of hip-hop. He’s developed this reputation by continually dropping lyrical gems and pushing the genre forward lyrically. Sinema is no different. It really is a lyrical masterpiece. From start to finish Swoope displayed phenomenal lyricism. To create the audio movie that Swoope was aiming for, his lyricism had to be spot on because his words are what’s bringing the story to life. That’s exactly what he did; his lyricism is a huge part of what brought this story to life.
Swoope’s storytelling was great, but that’s not all he had on display. The metaphors, similes, double entendres and punch lines were incredible. He showed all of these skills early on by opening up the record with “Sinema”, which was a beautiful portrait of what Swoope is as an emcee:
“She said, I gave you everything you wanted
Now you’re talking about leaving me
What’s it you don’t see in me?
How you put this seed in me?
Sowed your royal oats and just leave me with this cream of wheat”
Swoope also brought back the critically acclaimed “TGC” with Sho Baraka. This track is a true hip-hop heads dream. It’s just two great lyricists giving everything they have on the track:
“Similar to Lillard, shooting just for practice
Trail blazer y’all just follow behind a jacket”
That’s just a small taste of what this track has to offer, it will probably take a few dozen listens to catch all of the lyrical gems on this one. Continually throughout Sinema Swoope brings this high level of lyricism. He also stretched himself farther on this record with some transparent honesty. This was best displayed on “Best of Me” featuring Natalie Sims. He poured out his heart unfiltered on this track and it was a whole new element that elevated the record even higher.
With Sinema Swoope has set the lyrical bar very high for all CHH artists to try and reach. He also continued his legacy of being a lyrical genius.
There are so many elements that came together to make Sinema great. One of those elements was something that seems small but was huge for this album, and that was balance. In every way possible this record was balanced. The sound was versatile but balanced. There was something musically on this record for everyone. Conceptually it was also balanced. Swoope did the seemingly impossible; he made a record that casual fans and hip-hop heads would love. The storytelling and concept was deep enough to please hardcore fans but there was enough simplicity to keep the casual fan. That same balance applies to the spiritual aspect of the record. There is enough meat on this record to keep even the hardest of lyrical theology fans coming back. It also appeals to the CHH fan that isn’t into lyrical theology. It was beautiful to hear how he was able to keep this balance throughout the entirety of Sinema.
Swoope was rapping with supreme confidence throughout this record, and it was for good reason. Sinema is a beautiful work of art. That seemed to be part of the goal of this record; to be a work of art. He was firing on all the aspects of this record and was able to create a timeless piece of art. There’s probably nothing that Swoope will be able to do that will have the cultural impact that Wake Up had but he was able to create some art that might be musically better than anything he’s done. Swoope proved that no pressure is too great for him and that he is a musical genius unlike anything CHH has ever seen. Sinema is another piece of art to add to the museum that is CHH, and it will define this time in the genre. That’s a beautiful thing.
Swoope’s ‘Sinema’ is currently available for purchase on iTunes.