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Sometimes music is hard to listen to. The complexities of multiple layers of sound, overly charismatic vocals and wordiness can clutter an album to a point of self-destruction. Artists choosing this route are typically hiding something - insecurities, low convictions, boredom with their genre - the list is endless. And then there are songs that are overtly simple, hinging on the desires of a fanbase rather than what would hold the greater benefit. Listen to your radio for two minutes and you will see what I mean. With "Excellent", Propaganda delivers the middle ground, an album with a complex message yet easily accessible in terms of sound (courtesy entirely of Beautiful Eulogy). Diving from subjects of parenting to what it means to be a good husband, Propaganda expands his Christian telescopic lens to uncharted territories like the Puritan explorers he so rebukes on track number seven.
The album opens with the title track, a song that dances around the English language like an acrobatic librarian. Bars such as "Its hard to drive hard when your hard drive keeps needing a force quit" and "Pages Get The Led Out like Jimmy (Led Zepplin reference)" secure Propaganda as one of the supreme wordsmiths of our time. It is rap refined with poetry – a mixture that at times sacrifices forthrightness for alliteration. Next is "Redefine Cutter” feat. Lee Green, a sweat-of-the-brow Underground Railroad journey through the against-the-odds reality of Propaganda's family tree. Lyrics like “Jackson, Mississippi my people toiled in soil / and sharecroppers pop coppers got their kin lynched in” give perspective of the artist’s genealogy while “Papi pound the ground and out came all humanity” just sound plain dope. Meanwhile, Lee Green provides a soulful hook that will make you feel as though you’re wiling the day away in a rocking chair on the porch of a backwoods bayou (either that or your nearest Cracker Barrel).
The song that will likely resonate for some time is "Precious Puritans", which espouses a feeling many blacks have held for years regarding the church but have felt they would appear too ungracious to express. On the track, Propaganda gives an open letter to pastors, asking them “Would you quote Columbus to Cherokees? Would you quote Cortes to Aztecs even if their theology was good?” A serious track that gives the church something to think about, Propaganda urges us to be more conscious of our preaching and the possibility that certain quotations from the bloody history of Christianity may be deterrents to certain group’s church attendance. The latter part of the album is full of questions, including “Forgive Me For Asking”, “I Ain’t Got an Answer” feat. Sho Baraka and “Warm Words.” It creates an honest exposure of Propaganda as one who may appear confident in delivery, but is as human in his frailty as any.
Appropriately following is “Lofty” feat. Beautiful Eulogy, a time-stopping moment with God dwelling on Him and His amazing creation. Odd Thomas raps the towering magnificence of Jesus with lines like “Photosynthesis takes place to perfectly convert the vividness of light into chemical energy for the purpose of maintaining and giving life.”
Something should be said about the production on the album, handled entirely by Beautiful Eulogy (Braille, Courtland Urbano and Odd Thomas). In June the group released 'Satellite Kite', an album that defined a niche sound composed entirely of live instrumentation. While the production was stellar, as a whole I felt the project somewhat of a mediocre experiment. With 'Excellent', vocals and beats meld together like butter and biscuits - a complete project that could not have happened any other way.
Of the few faults one could possibly subscribe for 'Excellent' would be the lack of rapping. While an amazing spoken word poet, songs like "Excellent" and "Redefine Cutter" receive constant replay. Others, while entertaining, become skippable upon the third and fourth listen. The tragic brevity of the album barely surpasses Propaganda’s last project, “Art Ambidextrous”, which raked in more raps but also only clocked in at a little over half-an-hour. Throughout the album Propaganda excels at demonstrating the cultural diversity that he mentions in the opener "Don't Listen to Me” (son of a Black Panther with a Mexican wife and Caucasian friends). The songs on 'Excellent' are as content heavy as a wet towel. It is music guaranteed to challenge the listener's beliefs, music as entertaining as it is purpose-driven. At a certain point in the lives of most, Hip Hop stops being just a catchy jingle and begins to garner a need for meaning – something that is life-applicable and life-relatable. 'Excellent' fits the bill.
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1. Don’t Listen To Me
3. Redefine Cutter (feat. Lee Green)
4. Raise The Banner
5. Excellent Analogy (feat. Alphonso McAuley)
6. Conquer (feat. Theory Hazit)
7. Precious Puritans (feat. Kevin “K.O.” Olusola (Cello)
8. Forgive Me For Asking
9. I Ain’t Got An Answer (feat. Sho Baraka)
10. Warm Words
11. Lofty (feat. Joel from Ascend The Hill and Beautiful Eulogy)
12. Be Present (live from Catalyst Atlanta)
*All songs prod. by Beautiful Eulogy (Braille, Odd Thomas & Courtland Urbano)
Recorded in Portland, OR at Portland Underground Recording by Prince Strickland
Mixed and Mastered by Prince Strickland at Portland Underground Recording