Christian Hip Hop is considered an oxymoron by many. The genre has come under fire from the church and the world alike as a half-hearted attempt to create a hybrid of the holy and the profane, the sacred and the secular.
Indeed there are multitudes of artists who have made names for themselves in the Christian Hip Hop category due to their apparent efforts to emulate the sounds and styles of secular artists. There’s one Christian artist, for example, who sounds exactly like Lil’ Wayne. There’s another who sounds eerily similar to Jay-Z, and yet another who is the vocal reincarnation of The Notorious B.I.G., except he raps about Christ. Are these all coincidences? C’mon son. These similarities come off as gimmickry, giving the genre a black eye at worst, and a reputation as wack and corny at best. Scores of songs containing cryptic, ambiguous references to obscure insider elements of church culture complicate matters even further, causing unindoctrinated listeners to be confused by the message, even if they are entertained by the messenger.
Fortunately, however, there are still a remnant of urban contemporary Christian artists who remain true to themselves and resist emulating anyone, secular or otherwise. Perhaps unfortunately though, depending on one’s perspective, their originality makes it difficult to categorize such artists, sometimes causing them to fly under the radar despite their immense talent, unique style and unmistakable anointing. One such artist is Sean C. Johnson.
Johnson’s album, Surrender All – Simply A Vessel Vol 3, is a breath of fresh air in a genre polluted with copycats. His sound is distinct and his message is crystal clear. He relies on his pure vocals to convey a message of truth, employing rap as necessary to underscore the core truth of selected tracks, such as “Gonna Be”, featuring Cam, Zack Gaddis & Dre Murray, and “MLMX” featuring Apoc. His vibe is arguably more Neo-Soul or R&B than Christian Hip Hop, putting him in an exclusive non-category because the message of the gospel is rarely conveyed using such mediums.
While Sean C. Johnson’s voice is occasionally reminiscent of John Legend, especially when he croons as he does on tracks like “Sweeter” and “No Never”, it is clear that he is no carbon copy of the secular artist. There’s a distinct difference between an artist trying to sound like someone else and one whose unique gift bears a few similar characteristics to someone else’s. Johnson is clearly the latter. It never feels like he is trying too hard or being fake. Unlike many gospel or even secular artists, he doesn’t overdo it with the vocal runs. He never makes it about him, and he is brazenly unashamed of his faith. ”Surrender All” makes it clear that Johnson could kill the game if he was trying to do so. It also makes it clear that he is not trying to do so. He is, as he states, simply being a vessel.
Production quality is pristine from start to finish on “Surrender All – Simply A Vessel Vol 3.” A majority of the album’s tracks are produced by Boonie Mayfield, including ”Stop and Think” featuring vocals by Adrianne Archie & IAm Franklin, the title track and a bonus track titled “Oatmeal & Spaghetti.” Additional production is contributed by RocBeats, J.Lee the Producer, RIQ, So Fo Real, Best Kept Secret and Family Biz.
“Surrender All – Simply A Vessel Vol 3.” is available at http://www.SeanCJohnson.com and on iTunes and Amazon.
Photo credit: So Focus Photos by R. Tolar.