Review Date: 01/14/14
Review By: Iain Moss
Release Date: 01/14/14
Welcome to the next biggest thing in Christian Hip Hop since The Cross Movement…
When it comes to the Christian Hip Hop movement there are those stellar names who immediately come to mind; Gospel Gangstaz, Lecrae, Flame, Grits, Da T.R.U.T.H. and The Ambassador are amongst the first names to be uttered from the lips of CHH fans but, without doubt, the first name that comes to mind is the group many believe to be the pioneers of the Christian Hip Hop movement, and that is of course The Cross Movement. To compare any Christian artist or group to the Christian Hip Hop titans is most certainly not to be taken lightly and carries with it a certain element of risk. With Keno Camp though, the comparison is natural and justified, even after just one album. Keno Camp are the next biggest group in CHH since The Cross Movement; or, at the very least, they will join the likes of Lecrae and Flame to be the first artists/groups that come to mind when the subject of Christian Hip Hop is brought up.
Thanks to their discovery by fellow West Coasters, and now label mates, Gospel Gangstaz, Keno Camp was signed by Nashville, TN based Trendency Records in the fall of 2013. Keno Camp, made up of Mario “Escort” Herrea, Gabe Taylor, Jesus “Lowser” Herrera and Terrell “Tee” Sales, are ready to take the wraps off their debut album Riot and are doing so today. They always say you should put your best foot forward and Keno Camp have certainly done that with their debut 12-track offering entitled Riot. In doing so, the saying also applies to the year we’ve just entered into, as Keno Camp kicks off 2014 with a bang and with what will surely be one of the year’s strongest releases.
In the Making of Riot video below Gabe shares, “Basically the album is just coming from the lens of a Christian, address some current issues in the culture, in the christian hip hop culture as well, give you some of our own realities as individuals and what we go through every day and we hope to show every listener the world view on the culture as we see it.” This vision behind the album is most definitely filtered through into each track on Riot and the quartet from Compton, California profess to “know rap” so let’s take a closer look to see if that’s true…
“California Burning” opens up with the words of Billy Graham and other preachers echoing in the distance before Escort cuts in, spitting a passionate and smooth staccato flow which slows down and quickens up in tandem with the backing track. At just over 2 minutes long, and with a 40 second intro and a 25 second musical outro, this track serves it’s purpose as an album opener well and warms the listener up for what is to come.
Next up, Todd McCray (of Zoe 4 Life) lends his vocals to the captivating hook on “I Ain’t The One,” giving the track a completely different feeling to the rest of Riot. In fact, the hook almost sounds like it doesn’t belong on top of the beat in the background and they’ve taken a slight risk with it but it turns out to be a stroke of genius from Keno Camp as, not only does it work, but it works brilliantly and will leave the hook reverberating around your mind for hours to come.
Even the most novice of hip hop enthusiasts will pick up on the West Coast road map laid out in the song “Obey” by the prevalence of trap, bay area, crunk and horn themed beats throughout and will have you getting crunk within seconds. Sounding reasonably similar to Tedashii’s hit song “Riot,” “Obey,” one of the standout tracks on Riot, is a hype track about obeying our high and almighty father. Supporting the clever wordplay and varied cadence of the participating artists is a catchy hook that will certainly be a hit on the western half of the country, if nowhere else. The track is currently available for free download here and Keno Camp have recently been filming a music video for it too which will be premiering January 23rd on WadeORadio.com.
Opening in the same vein as the album opener with a distant exchange of dialogue, “Still me” is a defiant statement of who we are as Christians as Gabe spits, “This is as real as it’s ever gonna get, still rapping flesh, homie don’t forget, ain’t tryna be celebrities, at the end of the day boy, I’m still me.” This defiant statement, along with the rest of the track, is given extra emphasis from the strong, banging beat behind it.
“Murder Me” features the guest vocals of B.C. The Marksman (of Zoe 4 Life) and starts off with Terrell defiantly declaring, “You can’t crack me bro, I’m a grafted in, ‘coz he exchanged my sin and inputted his righteousness, my debt to my Savior can never be repaid, so you’re going to have to kill me ‘coz I’ll go to the grave before I deny his name.” In the second half of the track, Escort once again displays his slick flow skills as he takes the track name a little too literally and absolutely murders his bars in his verses, and in such a way that you’re left with a profound awe-induced feeling as the track draws to a close.
“If I” picks up where Murder Me left off and showcases the lyrical ability of Gabe, Escort and Todd McCray (of Zoe 4 Life) to the max as it’s difficult to keep up with the rapid fire, machine gun like lyricism from all 3, with Todd especially shining. The distorted low tones of the hook, “If I talk it, you know I got to walk it,” will have you strutting around and it will stick in your memory for hours.
“Cocktails” then takes us into head bopping freestyle beat territory and when Escort starts to spit his long, fluid and effortless verse, the tones of a female singer can be heard in the production sample in the background adding a unique flavor and extra depth to the track. The blues-esque hook adds yet another element to the track and fits beautifully with the message of there being a lack of God in our modern day society.
“I Remember You” features guest vocals from Brittannee Haralson, and provides a welcome, if not brief, respite after the exhausting and accelerating pace of the opening 7 tracks. In a track where the snare and hi-hats are prominent with bells and synths floating eerily in the background and a bass drum anchoring things down, Gabe revels in the Lord’s forgiveness and love through the steady, reflective and pleading lyrics, “I feel far from ya, but still i get a call from ya, i know the cost has been pre-paid” and goes on to say, “I can’t find you Lord, so find me, you were there when I strayed away.” Brittannee cuts in soon after and provides the perfect accompanying hook to this reflective prayer track with melodic vocals with a slight twang to them which slots right in beside Gabe’s, Escort’s and Tee’s flows.
Keno Camp then take their foot off the gas a bit, speed wise at least, with “Time Will Tell” as it opens up with the relaxing sounds of the ivories of a jazz piano being tickled and provides an interesting extra musical element throughout a hip-hop track which still retains the use of defined 808s. It won’t be to everyone’s taste musically but it further adds to the diversity of Riot which is a credit to Keno Camp’s efforts to keep every track fresh.
“Nobody Greater” starts to pick the pace back up a bit after a beautifully executed early drop with the continued repetition of the distorted vocals “There’s nobody greater” and that phrase is chopped up expertly to mesh with the backing track to get the listener jammin’ and boppin’ along to it. By the time the lyrics “Infinitely Holy God, sinful man, that gap got so big you couldn’t fix it with your dental plan, King of Kings, His throne’s higher, we refer to him as siah, he’s swears by His own name, because there’s no other name higher, beat drop, I’ve got to get it in, oh you ain’t know, he hate sin,” are uttered, just 30 seconds in, you are already in love with this song which is sure to be repeated by many a fan, if only to hear that sublime drop again!
“Love Scars,“ a CCM crossover song and one of the standout tracks on the album, displays a different side of Keno Camp as they portray the sombre stories of a baby girl being abused and of a young girl being hit by a car and the tests of faith that followed for her parents. Escort then spits probably the most touching and impactful lyrics on the album as he explains about the comforting nature of our Holy Father’s love, “Until this true love rose up and showed himself real, he hung upon a cross and he said that I will. Lay me on this cross so I can be a sacrifice, and pin these nails up in my wrist until my fathers satisfied. Abba lay your wrath upon me father let me bare it now, no one takes my life from me I volunteer to lay it down. Why have you forsaken me father forgive em it is finished, it’s my love that covered the multitude of sins that they committed. Give me the cross and give me the whips give me the wrath and give me the sin, so my baby girl never has to feel the pain again.” Takim Brown then chips in with a few comforting lines to further hammer in the loving lyrics Escort’s just expressed, “no matter what they may say, no matter what they may do, I trust in the God who reigns, I trust You. By your stripes I’m healed, this must be in your will, I run to you, to touch your Love Scars.”
From the outset of the record, it is clear that the quartet’s intentions are to get things live and keep the listeners out of their seats, an intention which is taken to the next level with the first single off the record, “We here.” The sound-scape, provided by Tyler, TX native Orlando Williams, features echoing claps, squeaky synths and undulating 808 drum-rolls which, when paired with Gabe’s chants of “We Here” on the chorus means this track is truly reminiscent of some of CHH veteran Flame’s best work. Tee sets it off on the first verse with punctuated lines like, “That’s how we do it, or else it’s fruitless, esteem each other as greater, cause Yahweh rules this.” All the while, the song gains steam, leading to LowSer’s second verse, on which he proclaims, “When it comes to God we don’t play games. Holy roll with real saints, at the altar there’s real change. Came one way but won’t leave the same.” Perhaps saving the best for last, Escort rips the third verse, channeling his inner Twista. In the process, he makes it clear that his mission is deeper than rap, spitting, “I really gotta stay focused, dopest emcee, man I’m really far from it. I’m too busy tryna live this life and compete with sin, man I really wanna conquer it.” He ends his verse with perhaps the slickest lines on the whole song, “I serve the Rock of Ages, not only to rock the stages, so awake I serve the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Repetitive chants of “We here” and “gotta let ‘em know” close the track out, and the album as well and, after enjoying the 12 stunning tracks on Riot, there’s certainly no arguing with them, Keno Camp are here, and they’re here to stay!
All in all, Riot is a quality, well produced album which keeps the listeners’ ears buzzing with 12 quality tracks heavily laced with the gospel and sound doctrine. Something that may go unnoticed about Riot and deserves to be praised, is the fact that Keno Camp keeps things fresh on every track by sharing the verses on every one of the songs, not one song on Riot features only one emcee! If I was to be hyper-critical of Riot though, I would say that, for the most part, it doesn’t possess the uber-lyricism some spoilt Hip-Hop fans have come to expect from artists, but that’s me desperately searching for something to criticize, as there’s always room for improvement, but, with Riot, Keno Camp have an album to be extremely proud of and it’s an album that will become many a Christian Hip Hop fan’s soundtrack for 2014. Not only that though, it will certainly join many people’s favorite CHH albums.
Do not hesitate to buy this album from the hottest new group to emerge from the Christian Hip Hop scene for many years as you will regret it if you don’t. Once purchased, turn that volume and bass up loud and enjoy, whether that be sitting back, chill-axing and taking it in or up on your feet throwing your best moves and getting crunk while praising God. To think that Riot is only the debut album from this group of talented emcees is a seriously scary thought and Riot will leave you craving more from Keno Camp. I can not wait to see what’s next from this group…See you, I’m off to turn it up loud, get crunk and throw my *cough* best moves!