Devine Carama cuts no corners when it comes to his vision. “Heart of a King,” the followup to his 2011 critically acclaimed album “Blood of a Slave,” has the Louisville, Kentucky native sharing his honest worldview, a combination of divine right and social concessions, in stellar form. Although compromised by a shaky start, the album overcomes any odds with solid, witty lyricism and soulful instrumentation.
Christianity and Hip Hop have many an embrace, but the combination has always been mixed. Hardcore bible-thumping Christians love using rap as a means of sharing the Gospel, but hip-hop heads don’t take well to the inoffensive tone, low-quality rhymes and ultra-sweet message toted over a cheesy beat. Likewise, hardcore Christians seldom bother to buy the latest secular rap album, finding the thick braggadocio and Seven-Deadly-Sin committing “demonic.”
Carama evidently understands and agrees with both sides of the argument. After all, the Bible itself is one of the most vulgar texts in human history despite the theological significance (it displays incest, there are thousands of killings, and every donkey is mentioned as an “ass”) and even Jesus Christ held most of his teachings around thieves, pagans and prostitutes. As such, he not only proclaims his faith but keeps a refreshing honesty about it: “I need to back in my bible though/and realize that I’m a king and stop fucking with them tribal hoes.”
That line probably exaggerates his tone, but it works nonetheless. Carama does not even force repentance or quote verses, yet gets his message across by simply rhyming from the heart, drawing inspiration from Bobby Seale and Malcolm X as well as Moses, at the very least promotes cultural unity and personal growth. In fact, the best song, the dire lamentation “Soul Dead,” lets listeners know that true faith does not always guarantee true happiness: “I’m feeling so tired and hopeless, as if my heart is wired to explosives,” and the frankly philosophical “Purgatory” details his daily walk toward a higher calling: “because I rap about the man I’m trying to be/but until that maturation I’m just a walking contradiction.”
No contradictions exist in terms of the beats an rhymes, though. Although southern-bred, Carama barely hesitates to show off his dense Brooklyn-esque poetry and penchant for suave, groovy beats. “New Life” has tingling piano and laid-back bass on top of live drums while he stresses the importance of change:“for a breath of fresh air, I’ll duel with the serpent/and its all up to me so I re-channel my chi.” And the obvious example, “Golden Era Flow,” makes good work out of a righteous 70’s funk sample while Carama and guest feature Rob Jackson perform lyrical back flips: “hot cools off but dope is forever, so I neutralize the weather by spitting bars for all climates.”
Sadly, the first track, “The Nicest,” lacks that same feeling. It actually put me off initially, with the overtly sunshiny beat and the corny hook: “whenever I surprise my daughters with pizza for lunch, they scream yeah, yeah, yeah.” No offense, but what?!? Those lyrical back flips occur here as well, but the package surrounding the verses almost lead me astray. If he used the creamy neo-soul from “Hang Onto The World,” or even switched their places, it would have projected the entire experience much better.
But as stated before, “Heart of a King” turned out way better than expected, surpassing the fumbling intro and contextual assumptions to bring a great perspective on living with faith while keeping in touch with reality, and even dedicates two whole songs to his love for genuine hip hop. He may not consider himself perfect, but his album is one of the best to drop in 2012 so far, and truly deserves support due to a universal appeal and compelling performance.