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Crazy is a relative word, one to spin around and play with–the way a certain well-known rap artist flips rhymes about having faith even in this fallen world. Some say belief in God is crazy. Others might suggest not putting down spiritual roots in these crazy times is a sure sign of losing one’s mind. On his surprising new release Mental, hip-hop innovator KJ-52 finds the common ground with uncommon style, reaching out to seekers and skeptics alike.
“It’s twofold: people who want to adhere to a biblical worldview are looked at as crazy, out of touch, intolerant. But what we’re trying to say is that there’s hope to hold onto when the world feels like it is going nuts,” he explains. “You can look around and see that every day–school shootings, bullying, adults self medicating and trying so many things in search of an answer.”
Mental fields a struggling society’s growing question head on and in short order. An LP introducing nine taut songs with immediately memorable hooks; it gets real, has fun, and goes deep from beat to beat, marking a step forward in an already exemplary urban music career.
KJ-52, born Jonah Sorrentino, broke through at a time when rap and religion rarely mixed. With his own mix of sharp wit and lyrical intelligence, he steadily led the genre into the mainstream, making the scene via guest spots on pop records (Newsboys, TobyMac Jeremy Camp), unplanned run-ins with Eminem fans (“Dear Slim”), and rhythmic retakes of modern worship tunes (Hillsong’s “Go”). He’s even in the Guinness Book of World Records for his freestyle skills.
That’s crazy, right?
Not really. While Mental pays mind to KJ’s past success, he gives more thought to what’s next. Opening anthem “Gameface” storms the court with jock jam adrenaline and appearances from KB and Soul Glo Activatur in a crowd rousing, bass bumping call to faith in action: I’m chasing at my God. I’ll run this race–that’s the bottom line. I’m feeling like a beast, someone let me out.
“I love sports and that speech coaches give about going into battle and getting your game face on,” he says. “That’s such a picture of this world today. People fight just to get out of bed, fight traffic, fight temptation, fight the enemy. If you don’t get your game face on in this life then you’re going to get run over.”
The title cut featuring Tedashii runs full speed into that chaos–they say we crazy but we don’t care–while the arcade-like track thumps, shifts pitch, and hustles to catch up with KJ’s rapid fire defense of God’s greatness: He came in as the Lion King, but you treat Him like Hello Kitty.
“It feels like this world has gone mental, like up is down and right is wrong,” says KJ. “My hope is that through Mental people will understand that there is calm in the midst of the chaos. More than anything, we need to renew our minds, set them on that Higher Power.”
First single “Tonight” treats listeners to an untapped side of KJ-52 as he sings (rather than raps) about fresh starts over a club groove, dabbling in electronic dance music. Right now, tonight, I’m giving everything to You. I’m going on a whole new path, running on a whole new track.
“One definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results,” KJ says. “It’s been cool with Mental and especially ‘Tonight’ to try something unexpected and get some people’s attention who may not have heard me before.”
Balancing his creative progression, he adds a throwback vibe to “Fresh Kicks,” a street-ready, reggae influenced workout that cleverly compares having a new pair of Nikes to having new life through Jesus. He takes the sin away like He was a sneaker cleaner.
Mental takes its deepest plunge into the human psyche on “Misfit Toys,” an atmospheric trip toward hope that shouts out to the skate kids, emos, straight kids, weirdoes, gay kids, losers, broke down zeroes… don’t you forget you are loved. It best defines KJ-52’s reach as a performer today as he makes relevant cultural and spiritual references that resonate with young people around the country.
“I was that kid. I felt like an outcast until God showed me a way and put me in training, so to speak–taught me another way of thinking. So often taking a stand for truth and love in the world can make people say we’ve gone mental; but it’s when we choose to go against the grain that we begin to make a real difference.”
An added dynamic bonus to KJ’s Mental is the inclusion of “Fight Music” (a radical remix of his recent hit “They Like Me” with hip-hop’s Lecrae) plus the second-half edition of “Gameface,” making this hot collection that much hotter.
In his own words, KJ-52’s job is to melt people’s faces with the gospel. How he does that for a uniquely expanding audience points to a rare talent indeed. Mental presents sound ideas from a guy whose faith has given him a sound mind that’s clearly focused on better days ahead.
“Our world is broken. It’s gone mental,” he concludes. “But there’s still hope for us all. We can get our minds healthy, help each other out as friends, and seek God for the next steps in life.”
KJ-52 Mental releases October 21st, 2014.