When I heard that Sho Baraka was working on a new project, there was an excitement in me because I knew that whatever the project would be there definitely would be lyrical depth and thought provoking topics. I expected a non-traditional theme from Sho especially when I feasted my ears on the High Society collaborative. I heard some things in this offering that I hadn’t necessarily heard in Christian Hip Hop, in fact it didn’t sound like what I had come to know of CHH. There was a lot more social thought in the artists approach and it seemed as though they were leaning more in the direction of conscious rap rather than CHH. I begin to question whether or not they were deviating from the norm of CHH, but something in me liked what they were trying to do. Whenever minds are challenged to expand especially within the body of Christ we are forced to reach outside of the bounds of religion and self-righteous thinking to be clear minded enough to even entertain anything that would seem different from the norm. So after hearing that Sho would title his latest album the Talented Tenth there were tons of red flags that rose in my mind.
Here’s the reasons for the red flags. I had recently been studying this idea of the Talented Tenth after sitting through a lecture taught by Dr. Carl Ellis in Jackson, MS as he discussed African Americans in church history and even brought to light the first African American Missionaries and their contributions to Western Christianity. Within his lecture he mentioned the Talented Tenth an idea that I was not familiar with but it was an concept that he a thought positive thing within the black struggle. After hearing Dr. Ellis I ran across an interview and a book by Burgess Owens who is a retired safety who played ten seasons in the National Football League for the New York Jets and the Oakland Raiders. He’s also a member of the Church of Latter Day Saints. His book is entitled “It’s all about team: Exposing the Talented Tenth” In his book he deals with the problems within the Talented Tenth ideals and how it creates an atmosphere of elitism. These two experiences caused me to seek to learn for myself about this Talented Tenth. So what is the idea behind the “Talented Tenth” well this phrase was made popular by W.E.B. Dubois and in his definition the Talented Tenth concept espoused by black educator and author W.E.B. Du Bois, emphasized the necessity for higher education to develop the leadership capacity among the most able 10 percent of black Americans. These individual would in turn lead the rest of the race out of it’s poor condition into equality (Read the Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. DuBois).
This sounds good but are these Talented tenth in essence better than the rest? Is elitism involved in this type of thinking? Well these were some of my concerns. I knew off the top that I was going to purchase this cd because I was very interested in why Sho Baraka would pick such a title for a CHH album. W.E.B. Dubois was not known to be a Christian in fact he said quite a bit of disparaging things against the black church at its pastors, also his view of reproduction and family were off in my opinion. Dubois also partnered with Margaret Sanger the popular Eugenists and founder of Planned Parenthood which is the leading abortion agency in this country which abort more African American babies then any ethnic group, so why is Sho picking this as his title?
The first two tracks I heard from this album was “Ali” which I love and the controversial son “Jim Crow. “Ali” sonically and lyrically is flawless in my opinion and generates a feeling of self-edification. The other song “Jim Crow” is much more of a pill to swallow because of it’s use of the ‘N’ word pretty openly and also its use the ‘B’ word. Now I will have to say there has been a lot of debate asking If Christians using these words is in poor taste. My opinion after hearing the song is that these words were not used flippantly but in a very important context to get across a description of a mindset. I found a lot of liberation in this song being that I often find that I’m either the sole black or one of the few in my surroundings. I too often feel like I’m lumped in with the rest of my brothers and sisters even though as Sho puts it we are a very DYNAMIC people. I have felt and still feel at times that I’m stuck on ‘N’ word island. I also have a desire to escape not being black but being lumped in with the crowd that I get lumped in with just because of my brown skin. For this I feel that “Jim Crow” is probably the most important song on the Album. Sho dares to go where other artist feel that they can’t go because maybe they alienate their audience.
My concerns are not at all with the above mentioned song but with the Talented Tenth theme and does a theme of elitism have a place in Christianity. I was pleased to have the opportunity to have a twitter dialogue with Sho on this topic and when asked about this he said “There was an assumption of an elitist bent. However I don’t communicate partiality nor would I ever but I do feel like todays exceptional folks should engage in the discipleship/mentoring process instead of worrying about their own careers/platforms. Benefit of other.” To that I said a BIG amen. In Sho’s view of these ideals it speaks solely to discipleship somewhat like the 2 Tim 2:2 model where it says : “and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” I can definitely get with this.
To the rest of my critique of the album, I love the feel of this project. Talented Tenth gives you a kind of old school church mixed with raw hip hop feel. Every track and I mean everyone on this album musically is very diverse. The lyrics are definitely hitting the mark. There is a lot of enlightenment in this album but is not an album that I would sit down to listen to with my kids for two reasons: 1. they wouldn’t understand most of the themes and 2. The language while I understand the context they will not. That being said this album is definitely grown folks music. Sho also does a great job of shouting out prominent blacks in history which is a good touch.
While the entire work is excellent there are some songs that stand out, these are Mahalia(The goodness of God), Ali (greatness), Denzel(Having class), Jim Crow(Escaping low level menatlity), Ciff & Claire(The marriage relationship) and Nicodemus(Redemption through Jesus). If you are looking for that track that’s a straight out worshipful song that sounds like what you would get on a CHH album it would be Nicodemus. Only thing I can think of whenever I hear Nicodemus is Thank you Lord! This particular song explores our fallenesss, and how God through his redemptive power has saved us. The song compares us with the thief on the cross, the prodigal on his way home, the prostitute that should have been stoned, we are equal to all of these yet God has redeemed us. In the beginning came the fall, but in the end came Jesus to save us from the falleness we produced through our sin. And this is how Sho Baraka ends this offering with a tone of worship of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. A fitting way I think to end such a project of such debt.
In conclusion I would say I know a lot of people are talking about the most controversial points of Talented Tenth but this is a very necessary album for CHH. Sho puts himself out there to speak on some really sensitive topics and he does this boldly and I can respect that. Some may not see the Gospel displayed in this cd but I disagree I believe the Gospel of Christ deals with all aspects of life. We can apply the Gospel to our souls, our bodily health, our politics our everyday living with all its challenges and this is what Sho does here. He effectively highlights issues in society and applies truth to them in a way I haven’t seen in CHH ever. From the artwork to the title of each song this is a fine piece of work. This is definitely one to go and get. When we look back at this project in a few years I believe we will all be able to clearly see its effect on CHH and how powerful and full of truth this album really was. Talented Tenth is not only CHH, classic it’s classic hip hop.
Beat Selection/Production: 5/5