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When an artist makes a drastic change to their sound from one album to another, it has the potential for jarring results. Thankfully, with his third official release, the evolution of Sho Baraka goes down smooth as an ice-cold glass of rootbeer.
Talented 10th opens with "Bethesda." The chorus' singer, L.I.B.E.R.T.Y., is cleverly listed in the little liner notes as "co-author", to go along with the book/chapter theme of the tracklisting. Like a lion out of its cage, Sho gives an African American history lesson in its many political activists and thinkers such as Zora Neale Hurston, George Washington Carver and Harriet Tubman. The track's producer, Ali (relatively unheard of until now, but unlikely so in the future following the strength of his many contributions to Talented 10th) provides an amazing flip of "Wade in the Water" which, put simply, sounds like the same code for sojourners the Negro Spiritual may have suggested.
"Michael" serializes the story of youth growing up in ghettos across America. Swoope provides a fully orchestrated choir sample track as Sho examines an existence that is settled for and the alternate life that is possible in Christ. The hook ("On and on, I know life goes. I mourn the death of a Michael") gives paints the reality that a fifteen- year old reportedly shot on the six o'clock news is not only a statistic, but somebody's child as well.
On "Mahalia", Sho goes in over a soulful track also produced by Swoope. With wordplay he has become known for, Sho spits "Judo (you don't) know? I did what my Sensei (sin say)" and "Freestyle's non-profit but he still gives 'em the business." This may sound like a song hard-set on braggadocio, but with vocal samples such as "Hallelujah" and "Thank you Jesus", this track would be right at home in an Pentecostal worship center.
"Madoff", appropriately named after Bernard Madoff (mastermind behind the largest investment scheme in American history) looks at the dichotomy between the outcome of a rich man’s lies and a poor man's wrongdoings. Lines like "The doctor thinks fixin my ills is givin me more pills" and "Will less welfare make the poor care?" give voice to the complex nature of fixing a broken world while leaving God out of the picture.
Months ago, Sho had mentioned in a Rapzilla interview that he was working on a song called "N**** Island." In a somewhat strategic, conflict-avoiding maneuver, the song title was changed to "Jim Crow" for Talented 10th. And while the song will likely open some avenues of communication between whites and blacks, the people who will deem the song’s content controversial are likely too old to even pay the song the time of day. This is a song for the younger generations, as bars like "Yea I'm tryin to leave the island but swimmin through bleach", "Too many people think racism is past tense" and "Outside the hood I don't see liquor stores" give heed to the difficulties which continue to plague African Americans almost fifty years after the supposed over-turning of the Jim Crow laws.
One of America's most beloved television shows is The Cosby Show. And while the term "Christian" was never uttered throughout the show's eight seasons, the values of love and respect demonstrated in the show have had an impact on many families through the years, my own included. "Cliff & Claire" (produced by Swoope and "co-authored" by Christon Grey) gives an account of a typical marriage: man marries woman, marriage turns out to be not all peaches-and-cream and resentment ensues. Typically, this can lead down one of two paths – reconciliation or divorce. Thankfully, "Cliff & Claire" ends with accountability and serving without expectations of being served in return.
"King" features what many listeners will consider to be Tedashii's best verse ever. With its hard, breakbeat driven drums and lyrics like "Born to crawl, walk run walk then crawl. The fate of all deface the call of every man's fall", this track sounds like something from a D.I.T.C. album if I might humor my past a bit.
The album does fall flat in certain areas, such as "Mrs..", which sounds like a washed out attempt at "We Can Be More Part II" and "Nicodemus" - the obligatory CHH outro of thanking the Lord. But overall the process or reinvention has been surprisingly seamless. While his sophomore album Lions and Liars was remarkable, at times it felt as though Sho was holding back, trying not to lend heart to a passion that might fall on deaf ears. Talented 10th follows the same principle of the W.E.B. Dubois' essay for which the album was named: Education must not simply teach work - it must teach Life.
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Chapter 1 - Bethesda: co-author L.I.B.E.R.T.Y (Prod: Blue Co-produced by Sho Baraka)
Chapter 2 - Michael: (Prod: Swoope )
Chapter 3 - Get Happy Intermission
Chapter 4 - Mahalia: co-author Duce Banner (Prod: Swoope)
Chapter 5 - Mrs…: co-author JR (Prod: ALi )
Chapter 6 - Ali: co-author ALi (Prod: ALi )
Chapter 7 - Denzel: co-authors Chantae Cann, Suzy Rock (Prod: theBeatBreaker)
Chapter 8 - Madoff: (Prod: Blue)
Chapter 9 - Jim Crow: (Prod: ALi)
Chapter 10 - Peter Pan: (Prod: ALi)
Chapter 11 - Cliff & Claire: co-author Christon Gray (Prod: Swoope)
Chapter 12 - ME!: co-author Lee Green, Theory Hazit (Prod: theBeatBreaker)
Chapter 13 - KING: co-author Tedashii (Prod: theBeatBreaker)
Chapter 14 - Nicodemus: co-author Diamone (Prod: JR)