Birthed out of a vision encompassed by FLAME (born Marcus Gray) and his wife Crystal, the label we know today as Clear Sight Music came into being in 2010. According to their website, “Clear Sight is a record label that exists to create powerful and exemplary Christ-centered music and art.” When one relates a certain vibe to FLAME as an artist, two words come to mind: theological creativity. Building on an upcoming 10-year anniversary in the rap game, Jesus or Nothing released on April 29, 2014 as a compilation accenting the label’s core values and served as a battle call for believers. Unlike many artists within the same genre, references to Jesus are referred to throughout the 15-track project, a lyrical norm for FLAME’s entire discography since 2004.

Conceptually, the idea behind this record came from a book with the same title from Dr. Dan DeWitt out of Boyce College. The book’s background “counters misconceptions and challenges readers to think carefully about the choice between Jesus or nothing by comparing the Christian worldview to the notion of a godless universe devoid of true goodness and ultimate significance.” Three excerpts exist on the album which, in my eyes, are some of the bright spots overall.

Since billed as a compilation, the only signed artist, V.Rose, of Clear Sight Music, is heard on a quarter of the album. Some would argue that a recipe of diversity through the hooks of each track could only add value. You be the judge. Other features include offerings from Da’ T.R.U.T.H, Fedel, MikeReal, Chris Cobbins, J’son, KB, and Nico Wells.

There aren’t many highlights due to a seemingly new direction in production and sound, disappointing to the ears of faithful fans that possess all eight albums put forth by FLAME and Clear Sight Music. The essential meat vs. milk remains quite prevalent in the lyrical sense; however, the rawness, which defined FLAME in the beginning, seems to lack from his solo offerings. Regardless, tune in especially to “Quest,” “King of the World,” and the three excerpts from Dr. DeWitt.

On the only solo track frp, V.Rose, repetitive lyrics didn’t really help this track. If used correctly, repetition and word play can be brilliant partners, but sadly not the case in “Threw It All Away.” V.Rose, born Vienna Rose, has a vocal range that could put the likes of mainstream’s Christina Aguilera and Pink to shame, but such was not showcased on this compilation. Even her hooks on tracks like “God in the Flesh” sound more like monotone repeats than harmony. A small bright spot for her would be on “All Burns Down,” regardless of the pop-filled reggae playing in the background.

FLAME has stated that Clear Sight Music is not a hip-hop exclusive label; therefore, sheds a light into some of the production choices made throughout Jesus or Nothing. Call me a ‘creature of habitat,’ but when I see FLAME’s name attached to anything, I expect sound theological doctrine coupled with bass knocks and something derived out of a basement. This collection reminds me more of a ‘radio sound,’ than something raw. Then again, most would agree such has been absent since FLAME’s days of “Joyful Noise.”

Case-n-point, we’ve heard better from all parties involved: FLAME, V.Rose, and all of the features. Thankfully, the solid doctrine carries this project through and through. Life lessons are to be learned. Faith shall be encouraged. A new adventure in testy waters can describe FLAME’s attempts in switching things up a tad. Even though FLAME made it clear that this wouldn’t be your ‘typical hip-hop’ record, in my own opinion, it was too far off from what we normally hear from Clear Sight Music. I applaud FLAME for staying true to the Gospels and to the game.