Straight out of Sin City (that’s Las Vegas for those not in the know), filling speakers with his grace-laced blend of electronic-infused hip-hop comes the brilliant emcee JGivens with his latest album El v. Envy. A double play-on-words, the title of the album itself is a reference to Las Vegas, Nevada (the acronym of which is LV, NV) and also El being one of God’s names revealed in the Old Testament and Envy representing the enemy.
The first thing that struck me with this record is the electronica-influenced, west-coast style beats, tracks like Sin City Bre(a)d, The Bus Stop Song, The Pledge: “They Say” and _ _ _ End. It’s so common in Christian Hip-Hop to see beats that are copies of popular hits from yesteryear and that’s where so many artists fail – if what you’re doing isn’t new in the studio it definitely won’t be new by the time it reaches peoples’ speakers! However, on El v. Envy, I’m pleasantly surprised to hear beats that are new, and using a style that I don’t (yet) hear in mainstream music.
It’s not just those massively-layered tracks that shine bright though, the other side of this record shows a much more mellow laid-back style hip-hop. Beats that usher in a memory or two of some of the classic G-Funk era tunes. Though on this record, it’s even more stripped back, leaning mostly on just bass and drums with the occasional extra instrument making an appearance. A key example of this is, is the track Can’t Say – a testimonial piece where JGivens shares stories of his time with our Christian brothers & sisters in Egypt and how they face persecution on a day to day basis. Other tracks in a simliar vein are Bienvenue and Stop Requested, though there are clearly still many G-Funk influences littered throughout the album.
Compared to his previous releases it’s not just the music that’s stepped up a notch but his bars as well. Some of the rhymes on this record are so intricately woven that it takes multiple listens to fully appreciate and hear the full message. His flow has always been great across all his past releases, but after this album I’d even go so far as to say that he’s one of the most natural rappers currently in CHH. He covers some pretty deep issues on this record too – a personal favourite is his verse on Help Me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re My Only Hope. where he confronts relative truth:
It may sound stupid but the truth is if I told you that truth / was an absolute and you said / “Dude, no it isn’t / ‘cos what’s true for you ain’t true for me because we’re different” / Then it’s tangible to see that that rebuttal’s a contradiction / Stating there’s no absolute truth is an absolute / so your own argument only disproves you!
The only issue, if any with this record is that when JGivens is rapping over a trippy, synth lead beat and getting so deep into his message through complex lyricism it can sometimes create a competition between vocals and instrumental, with both demanded your full focus. EIther way, it’s not a huge problem, and by no means would I want the beats or lyrics to change, plus there are parts where the vocals and instrumentation meet perfectly despite said issue. Some great examples of which are perhaps Sin City Bre(a)d and and Stay Cool, and at it’s best it sounds like the chorus to The Bus Stop Song.
This is the kind of record that’s so fresh it appeals to music fans regardless of their faith. When an album sounds this unique it’s not hard passing it on to non-believing friends (despite the gospel centred lyrics) because JGivens isn’t just a Christian version of a rapper they already listen to, he’s himself – and more importantly his style is his own as well. Hopefully, they’ll come for the music, and stay for the message.
It’s been roughly three months since this album dropped so this isn’t exactly new but it’s given me time to fully appreciate it. Though by now that ‘new album’ shine has faded, what remains is a strong, intellectual, soulful, well-produced record, and in my honest opinion one of the best CHH releases of the year.
Album Highlights: Sin City Bre(a)d, The Bus Stop Song, Can’t Say, Friends
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