Disclaimer: All views presented in this review are those of the reviewer and not of DJ Wade-O
Reflection Music Group‘s members are always grinding, and their music shows it. One in particular is Tony Tillman, one of the earliest members of RMG, who just recently released his sophomore album full of heart and soul called CAMDEN – a homage to his hometown in Arkansas. This project is so meaty, so let’s just cut to the chase and dig in to this review.
It is What it is
Both a saying within urban communities and an explanation of this album, CAMDEN is exactly that – it is what it is. If I could sum it up in one complete sentence, I still don’t believe it would do CAMDEN justice. This is an album chock full of vivid imagery, thanks to the story telling of Tony, and symbolism/wordplay of urban life and culture that you WILL have to listen to more than four times to truly get most of the references. And it’s not a discouraging task either – it’s more like a treasure hunt. You know you didn’t find everything, and it makes you want to go back and listen again to find more.
From beginning to end, this is a full description of some huge key points in Tony Tillman’s life that made him the man he is today. He is very candid about his past affiliations with gang activity, the type of people he used to hang with, and even the various things he used to deal with as a young child that led him on that path. “Role Model” takes us deeper into the psyche of his friends who influenced him through positive and negative behavior, which helps to explain the references he makes in the song “No Lie” (which has Derek Minor on the hook).
The title track “CMDN”, featuring Drew Allen and fellow RMG member Deraj, where they talk about the plight of urban hoods, and how they’re not limited to just one state as, “Everybody’s got a Camden.” This fact is rooted in more as this song also features Tragic Hero, who tells his story of growing up in Camden, New Jersey – a city that is consistently on the “Top 5 most violent cities in America” list.
Tony pulls no punches on himself or his surroundings either. “870” and “About Me” show us a plain view of the world he comes from, and “Adams Avenue” is a great song/skit/conversation between a young teen, possibly a young Tony, and a negative influence that captivates your attention the whole way through.
Even deeper than that, “Ghost” is almost a step by step retelling of a serious event in Tony’s life that he still battles thoughts with today, as he deals with a friend of his who is in jail. It’s a gripping story and it’s real and exhibits raw truth. I was definitely glued to my computer as I played it. But through it all, we learned how blessed Tony is in “Made It Out.” He describes it through the many lessons he learned from friends to family, to many of those who supported him over the years that have been his “Inspiration” featuring Truth Chiles.
What else is CAMDEN?
Now, don’t worry. This album isn’t all about the darkness that the hood can bring, set to put you in a sad a dreary mood whenever you listen to it. If Thi’sl has taught us anything, it’s that you can talk about the hood and have fun at the same time. The best part about it is that, unlike other albums where the lighter tracks can feel out of place with no relation to the album content, ALL of the tracks on this album go with the theme – including the ones that have a little “turn up” in them.
With the addition of Chad Jones, JC, and Canon, Tony provides a smooth head-nodder for “Without You.” It’s real mellow and drives a message of what could have been if God had not changed their lives. One track with some heat on it is “Shadows” featuring Sye Spence, produced by Alex Medina and Gawvi. It talks about the lives that were lost on the road to the present day, and whether their unfortunate decisions/circumstances or lost dreams led up to them giving up.
And to reference “Made It Out” again, this beat goes hard and the concept of the chorus is perfect for any believer to listen to. But I’d still say that song is the second most hype track on the album. “Lord Have Mercy” featuring Derek Minor and B. Cooper is a turn-up track about being changed by Christ on the inside, but your surroundings are still the same on the outside. You ride through your community and see all the bad things happening and all you can do is say, “Lord, have mercy.”
After listening to this album all the way through, you get a new level of appreciation for Tony’s artistry and story telling. He has always been able to hold down a feature and put out some thought provoking projects in the past, but this is definitely a new level of creativity.
I’m rarely “flabbergasted” by albums after a listen, but I had to pick up my jaw off the ground after this because I wasn’t expecting CAMDEN to be this much of a gem in a sea of album releases. I highly recommend you pick up this project from Tony Tillman because if you’ve ever directly interacted with an urban community, then you know it is true that everyone has a “Camden.”