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Rap music is an admittedly predictable art form. Three 16-bar verses + 8-bar chorus = SONG or two 24-bar verses + 8-bar chorus = SONG; add slight variation for inclusion of 4 to 8-bar bridge and this formula covers most of the rap music you have ever heard. Split the sum of this musical formula between X amount of rappers and the occasional Y amount of featured singers multiplied by the number of songs on a full-length CD and Voila! - you have a Hip-Hop album. Cross Movement Records and Impact Music (a division of the Impact Movement) have teamed-up to blow this formulaic approach to music out of the water with a singular solution: Level 3:16. This ground-breaking Hip-Hop group consists of two male emcees, three female vocalists, and one female DJ/producer. They have all the ingredients necessary to push the musical boundaries of the Hip-Hop genre. We see glimpses of this sprinkled throughout their self-titled debut, which pushes evangelism before entertainment and relationship before rhythm.
The album opens up with the infectious up-tempo "Via," where the emcees and vocalists of Level 3:16 trade bars, unabashedly declaring their desire to go into all the world proclaiming the Gospel of Christ. Produced by T.R.U.-L.I.F.E. (of Cross Movement fame) the song is driven by subtle use of synthesizers and a hypnotizing drum pattern. This song in particular shows the group's knack for making incredibly catchy music without sacrificing critical content.
This group is not merely mediocre parts combined to make an average product. In fact, Chris T & STV G (pronounced Steve G) are not your average emcees; they are indeed each talented enough to be solo acts as seen on the track "Crazy." Produced by Israel Musiq it is a knocking collision of airy synths, sparse percussion, and mesmerizing piano keys. The song serves as a great introduction to Level 3:16's resident emcees. Chris T seems to be the more understated of the two, relying on his elastic-tight flow and witty rhymes to get his message across (i.e. "but yet I was purchased and his blood was the exchange/ I X'd this and X'd that, he sponsored my X-games). Chris' style stands in sharp contrast to STV G, who boasts a heavy-handed flow that batters the beats he rhymes over. He combines this brash rap flow with a penchant for remarkable one-liners as seen on "The Return:" "God gives rest to the ones who have it the hardest/ blow a new breath in you like an old (SEGA) Genesis cartridge/."
As capable as the emcees of the group are, it is really the capability of the female vocalists that sets Level 3:16 apart from other Christian Hip Hop acts. On "Casting Shadows" Crystal, Candace, and K-Mase shine as their distinct singing tones merge to create one harmonious chill-inducing voice singing unto God: "And if i am ever to be seen, you were meant to be in front of me." Produced by Israel Musiq, the song begins deceptively calm with a simple piano loop and shimmering chimes before adding a startlingly aggressive guitar riff to the mix. Israel shows here that he is not a one-trick pony only good for grimy rap songs but quite capable of making captivating pop music. This song is the perfect platform for the female vocalists to plea that God will reflect His attributes through them and cast them on the world.
One major drawback of Level 3:16's at times impressive self-titled debut is that this group, which has so much genre-bending potential, often falls into the trap of making formulaic rap songs with singing or praise songs with rapping. They also seem to have a difficult time blending all of their diverse talents into one song. This is understandable since the group was only formed in 2009. When they are able to do it, the outcomes are outstanding, like on the single "Tell Em" where Chris T uses his lyrical dexterity to vocalize the struggle of a Christian to proclaim what they believe. Crystal, Candace, and K-Mase fill out the sound of this Jimmy Natural production with their voices urging Chris to speak up for the faith before they break into a breath-taking recitation of Romans 7:15-25.
"Most High" is another song that excels because every member of the group gets involved. Even DJ KB, who produced two songs on this album, grabs the mic and spits a decent verse before the infectious hook. Over a syrupy bass line, Level 3:16 explains why they are proud to live out Galatians 6:14 and make their boast in Christ alone. This song is a remarkable testament to how creative this group is; take note of STV G's seamless interplay with vocalists throughout his verse or the effortless transitions between the half sung chorus and the amazing harmony that follows it.
This album is not without its flaws; namely the ever-so forgettable "See It How I See It" where Chris T and STV G squander Big Juice's hard-hitting production with a surprisingly average song. There is also "Know Him," a solid attempt to introduce non-believers to a gracious God, which is falls flat due to incredibly repetitive production. Despite these missteps, one walks away from Level 3:16's self-titled debut incredibly optimistic about the group's future. This group is poised to be one of the most captivating Christian Hip-Hop acts ever seen. For now we can only be tantalized by what can be and enjoy the teaser we receive on this debut album.
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Release Date: December 28, 2010
Label: Cross Movement Records
3. See It How I See It
4. Know Him
5. Tell Em (Internal Conflict)
6. Total Submission (Feat. Hung S.)
7. Casting Shadow
9. The Return
10. Most High
11. I Remember