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HIStory: Our Place in His Story

  • reviewed by Andree Farias Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2007 1 Jun
HIStory: Our Place in His Story
Sounds like … East Coast rap reminiscent of Jay-Z, Common and Kanye West, but with unabashed gospel lyrics like only The Cross Movement can deliver.At a glance … older, wiser, and more meditative than ever, this is The Cross Movement at their most subdued, but it's also the group's most mature work yet.Track Listing Our God
Trust in Him
Spare Change
I Love You
Back for This
Clap Your Hands
Name Up
Get That
Now Who's the Man?
Whatchu Say?
We Were They
Big Things
The Last Cypha

In the months leading up to HIStory: Our Place in His Story, Philadelphia collective The Cross Movement has been really careful in talking about the release. "Could be their last" and "possibly their final" are some of the choice terms to qualify the status of their sixth album, leading many to believe they're done as a group. Naturally, the Cross Movement won't admit to it, lest they be accused of pulling a Jay-Z—that is, quitting rap to run a record label only to regret it later and come back to music to compensate.

Fans will probably be pleased with either scenario. In their ten years of music and ministry, the foursome has amassed one of the most loyal followings in hip-hop—ardent aficionados who show up to every concert, mouth every lyric, and get down to every beat. But even when the emcees aren't making music, fans follow closely what they do through Cross Movement Records, a growing label that's introduced us to rising stars like Da' T.R.U.T.H., Lecrae, and FLAME.

But let's take the guys at their word and presume HIStory is indeed their final album together—even the title of the disc has an air of significance to it, as if it were ready to give us a guided tour of the crew's past, present and future. Is it an appropriate sendoff? How does it stack up against records past? Does it pay respects to the legacy of Christian hip-hop's most notable East Coast conglomerate? Or to put it more urban-ly, is the record hot?

To an extent, the answer is yes. The Cross Movement always provided a nice alternative to kids looking for that thumping, street-savvy flavor often missing from Southern or West Coast-based gospel rap. HIStory provides some of it, most remarkably in party anthems "Our God" and "Get That"—two fist-pumpers that would've suited the Human Emergency sessions nicely. They're exactly what heads have come to expect from the gang: unapologetic, faith-fueled lyrics with on-point rhythmic beds.

But not all of HIStory is like that. There's a dark, almost underground thread that runs through a good portion of the album. Instead of the clean, bass-heavy, "commercial" sound that's characterized the group's latter-day work, the approach here is more subdued and pensive, perhaps even experimental. Contagious hooks and immediate beats are replaced by long turns at the microphone, dense lyrical assaults, and unlikely production techniques.

Nothing wrong with that, but it's an unusual move for the posse. The Cross Movement has rarely relied on lyrics alone to carry the message—the music has been just as important in delivering it. From the classic soul of "Trust in Him" to the Eminem-like "Back for This," HIStory is more interested in forcing us to stop and listen rather than let the music do the talking. It's almost as if the crew is intentionally toning down their inner party animals.

That's not to say there aren't any bangers to be found. The irresistible "Louder" is one of the most infectious things Cross Movement has ever recorded, a fast-paced club number about proclaiming Christ's truth. Later, the lighthearted "Clap Your Hands" is a hit in the making with a sparse tribal beat all that's needed to carry a lighthearted lyric about all the things Jesus deserves applause for. By the time these are done, you're left wanting more of them.

All of this would've been all right had the quartet tried to infuse the album with nostalgia, with the sense that the group has come a long way, fought the good fight, and kept the faith. Instead, the thematic scope is typical Cross Movement—a series of indictments against the culture, faithlessness, immorality, and iniquity, peppered with songs of worship, devotion, evangelism and testimony. Great lyricism, but something we've been hearing from them for quite a while—not what farewell albums are made of.

There are two songs at the end of HIStory ("Big Things," "The Last Cypha") where the album finally starts to sound like the conclusion of a chapter. The latter is particularly striking, like a changing of the guard with veterans Ambassador, Phanatik, The Tonic, and T.R.U.-L.I.F.E. passing the baton to Cross Movement proté gé s Trip Lee, R-Swift, Mac the Doulos, Iz-Real, FLAME and Da' T.R.U.T.H. It's a sweet moment, but one that's gone too quickly considering the decade-long heritage left by The Cross Movement. But then again, maybe this isn't the end for this talented crew.

© Andree Farias, subject to licensing agreement with Christianity Today International. All rights reserved. Click for reprint information.