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Professional Rapper

  • reviewed by Andree Farias Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2003 1 Dec
Professional Rapper
Sounds like … the flows of Bubba Sparxxx, KJ-52 or manCHILD, plus at times a live band feel, and at times the programmed stylings of The Roots, Peace of Mind, and the Black Eyed PeasAt a glance … decidedly less poppy and darker than his previous material, Professional Rapper reflects Reuben's growth as a person, writer, and producer

Funny guy John Reuben can rightfully claim the title of Christian music's first white rapper. Initially dubbed an Eminem ripoff, John Reu had no trouble getting past that notion and winning the hearts of many fans with his first two releases, catapulting him to become Gotee's top-selling solo rap artist. Are We There Yet? and Hindsight helped him establish himself as an emcee with a sweet tooth for witty, sarcastic rhymes about himself, faith, life, and himself again, all while riding atop well-produced commercial beats and arrangements, courtesy of former Gotee brother Todd Collins.

In the year and a half since Hindsight, Reuben has gotten married, been on the wildly successful See Spot Rock tour, and built a studio in the basement of his house—in time for recording Professional Rapper, his junior effort for Gotee. The album marks Reuben's debut as a self-producer, and the difference between this and previous material is noticeable. With the help of a couple of friends who happen to play instruments, much of the album has a distinct live hip-hop feel reminiscent of The Roots ("5 Years to Write") and a milder, sample-free version of Rage Against the Machine ("Freedom to Feel")—plus a dash of DJ touches in spots ("I Have No Opinion").

Though gone are the days of beaty, dance-ready numbers á la "Gather In" or "Up and At 'Em," a couple of new tracks could still be construed as such. First single "Move" is highly rhythmic, accentuated with a pulsating synth bassline and high-pitched guitar spikes. "This Life" might be the only track that's strictly a banger—a definite party track featuring a memorable Mexican-styled trumpet and electric guitars with verses pointing to the brevity of life: "I'm well aware of my history/So I approach life a little more humbly/because being full of yourself will leave you empty." "Treat," another fast-paced ditty, resembles "Hello Ego" from Reuben's self-titled debut in its use of annoying but effective sampled kids' vocals, accompanying the punchy cuts courtesy of DJ Manuel.

The fun stuff is largely outnumbered by darker, more somber numbers that give us a glimpse into Reuben's mind and his struggles, questions, and self-searching. The jazzy, live production and combo of sax, drums, and bass of "All In All" serve as the perfect background for Reuben's musings about his purpose in life. "Freedom to Feel," another pensive track, features ethereal chants from The Benjamin Gate's Adrienne Liesching complementing Reuben's earnest lines about his willingness to be real in a religion that—he complains—promotes fakeness and represses emotions. Liesching reappears in the hook to "I Haven't Been Myself," an introspective track recalling Reu's previous song "X-Ray." In this succession of songs, "I Have No Opinion" is the best cut, with Reuben's band effortlessly replacing the programmed beat during the verse-to-chorus transition.

At 11 songs and just over 40 minutes, some may not like the album's brevity—atypical of a rap album. Too bad, since many of these songs are more meaningful than a number of Reuben's past fun songs combined. Despite the profundity and level of maturity of Professional Rapper, it's valid to point out that its density—both lyrical and musical—can come off as a little overbearing and tiresome. In this respect, the set could've benefited from a change of pace or a couple of those self-indulgent, silly anthems he's recognized for. All things considered, props to Reuben for stepping out in this instrument-based direction and for letting us know there's more depth to the rapper than meets the eye.