Review

LABEL: LAMP MODE RECORDINGS
RELEASE DATE: AUGUST 22, 2006

I

f you’re a fan of that vintage East Coast mid- 90′s “backpacker” hip-hop, To Die is Gain is the album for you. If you’re a fan of Christian hip-hop that’s grounded in Biblical truth, To Die is Gain is the album for you. If you’re a fan of lyricism then once again ”To Die is Gain” is the album for you. If you even loosely fit any of the three conditions aforementioned, you might want to save yourself some time, stop reading this review and legally acquire this album.

Lampmode’s Stephen the Levite (one half of the duo known as Redeemed Thought) is probably one of the most Christ-centered emcees in the field. The aim of To Die is Gain is solely to give Christ glory through Stephen the Levite’s stories, experiences and Biblical exhortations. Consequently, I particularly like this album because of its content. Displaying his sharp lyricism, Stephen the Levite covers a wide range of issues on To Die is Gain: the difference between world and Christians (“Disconnected”), biblical views of angels and demons (“DnA”), fighting against sin (“Resistance”), sacrifice and suffering (“To Die is Gain”), and the shortcomings of the church (“Stained Glass Windows”) just to highlight a few.

To Die is Gain contains a large amount of weighty Biblical truth but it never gets redundant. In fact, I found the album more enjoyable with each additional listen.  The production on the album is good and certainly reminiscent of ’90′s East Coast hip-hop namely sparse, organic beats (if you’re familiar with Lampmode, you’ll know what I’m talking about). If you’re a fan of heavy synths and that ever-popular southern sound, you’ll probably have to adjust your musical taste buds to truly appreciate the production Stephen the Levite is rocking. Young cats with untrained ears, who didn’t listen to hip-hop in the ’90′s may not really get it. That said, at its purest form, hip-hop is hip-hop and to To Die is Gain has a good sound that fits well with Stephen the Levite’s emphasis on lyricism and his desire to bring that Biblical truth through your speakers.

On an album full of solid tracks, one of the best is “The Legacy”. Backed by an up-tempo violin sample and a guess spot from the other half of Redeemed Thought, Muze One, Stephen the Levite drops one of his most complete verses on the album. By complete, I mean that perfect fusion of both lyricism and flow. Stephen the Levite is a supreme lyricist, no doubt, still the way he rode the beat on “The Legacy” shows an added element of the emcee’s repertoire that I wish was flaunted on every track on the album. Muze One comes correct as well; the chemistry shared between these two Lampmode artists really has me wanting to cop Redeemed Thought’s album. “Disconnected” is another joint with a great feature, shai linne. It seems Stephen the Levite comes even tighter on the mic when paired up with a fellow lyricist and “Disconnected” is certainly proof of that. This is another of the album’s best tracks.

To Die is Gain clocks in at over 90 minutes, giving it the rare combo of quality and quantity. The only significant blemishes on the album were “The Darkness” and the short follow-up track “to Resist From Darkness”. Neither beat worked and while the content was superb (Stephen vividly retells Samson’s downfall), I felt these tracks were skippable as a result of the production. There were also certain tracks where Stephen the Levite not only displayed his lyrical prowess but also a strong, smooth flow. Getting a fair amount of these complete performances had me getting greedy, I wanted Stephen the Levite to rip it not only lyrically on every track but with his delivery and flow as well.

That said, those are two small blemishes on an otherwise good album from a talented emcee.  To Die is Gain is a return to the ’90′s golden age of lyrical hip-hop with an unrelenting emphasis on Christ and scripture. Pick up To Die is Gain if you like your music good and ripe with Biblical truth.

Note: Hopefully, Stephen the Levite will be blessing the masses with another album in the near future. His latest appearance was on the Ambassador’s The Chop Chop: From Milk to Meat (“Talk A Lot”) and boy, was it a jaw-dropper. I’m hoping to hear new material from the brother soon and I’ll be bumping To Die is Gain constantly in the meantime. It’d likely serve you well to do the same.

–Claude Atcho