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Behind the Musik (a boy named Jonah)

  • reviewed by Andree Farias Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2005 1 Feb
Behind the Musik (a boy named Jonah)
Sounds like … Eminem at times, though the vocals are mostly trademark KJ-52 and the rhythmic beds lighter readings of poppier Jay-Z, Timbaland, and Kanye West.At a glance … his most consistent effort since Collaborations, but an effort that still finds KJ-52 either repeating himself or drawing from obvious wells of inspiration.Track ListingDad IntroFivetweezyAre You Real? (feat. Jon Micah Sumrall)Rock with ItGod (feat. Rebecca St. James)Behind the Musik (feat. Pee Wee)Mom InterludeThank YouJesusRight Here (feat. Jeremy Camp)Video GamesPlain White RapperDad InterludeThings I Like (feat. Goldinchild)Life After DeathNever Look Away (feat. Brynn Sanchez)For the Ladies (feat. Seth Ready)Mom InterludeI Can Call on You (feat. Donnie Lewis)Cry No MoreOneHe Is AllDad Outro

After a seemingly interminable string of side projects, guest appearances, and writing gigs, Jonah Sorrentino (a.k.a. KJ-52) finally returns with his fourth formal full-length release, Behind the Musik (a boy named Jonah). In the interim, he has worked with mini-rapper Lil' IROCC Williams, participated in the rap-rock hybrid Peace of Mind project, released a dual effort with producer Todd Collins called Soul Purpose, and collected a few royalties with the re-release of 7th Avenue, his debut project with then home label Essential Records.

Apparently an allusion to the popular VH1 documentary series, Behind the Musik is a bit of a concept album that attempts to take listeners behind the craft and the rhymes of KJ-52, straight to the essence of who he is. The autobiographical disc includes some music-backed, spoken-word interludes from his parents, who fondly reminisce about their son's boyhood and growing up. In the liner notes, KJ describes the effort as the "hardest and most rewarding record I've ever made," and it shows. Musik is a sprawling, 23-track, 76-minute-plus album that explores every sensibility and flight of fancy he's ever toyed with. Whether poking fun at his own white-bread proclivities ("Plain White Rapper"), dabbling in rock-inflected rap ("Are You Real?"), or namedropping a bevy of pop culture icons ("Fivetweezy"), the rapper indulges every trick and formula—both winning and non—he's tried so far, plus a couple of new ones.

Among the new experiments, KJ tries a mash-up of sorts with previously recorded hits by Rebecca St. James and Jeremy Camp—who aren't actually on the album, but KJ takes their respective hits "God" and "Right Here," reworking them in hip-hop fashion with a stronger backing beat and rapped verses. "God" works admirably, as St. James' fiery chorus blends seamlessly with KJ's worshipful verses. "Right Here," however, was never a great song to begin with, so the results are equally lackluster. Moreover, the slow, jangly shuffle of the song isn't a good vehicle for KJ's typically faster flow, so he has to resort to singing a la tobyMac to interlock himself to the rhythm.

There's also a familial sense of community throughout the record that hearkens back to his Collaborations days. In the same spirit, the rapper shares the mic—both for real and via sampling—with everyone from rocker Jon Micah Sumrall (of Kutless) to more pop-leaning guests like Donnie Lewis (formerly of Raze) and up-and-comer Brynn Sanchez. KJ's willingness to embrace styles other than hip-hop explain his pop appeal, and why he strikes a chord with many listeners. This carries over to his choice of producers, which this time around not only include longtime buddy Todd Collins, but also Aaron Sprinkle (for Kutless-like "Are You Real?" and the symphonic "Never Look Away") and Tedd T. (for the pop gem "I Can Call on You"). The one standout pop song on the album is "Never Look Away," a picture-perfect acoustic-pop track featuring the angelic vocals of Sanchez.

That's the pros. It's when Sorrentino borrows too liberally from others and himself that Musik is not as remarkable as intended. "For the Ladies," for example, sounds too much like a Neptunes track all the way down to the sweet cooing of guest Seth Ready. "Rock With It" could easily be a throwaway from the rapper's Soul Purpose side project, since the song is all about partying and having fun and, aside from a few Jesus lines, there isn't much going on in the verses. "Fivetweezy" is too much like Eminem's recent hit "Just Lose It" both in feel and flow, as KJ mimics the Slim Shady's silly delivery almost to a tee. Thankfully, there isn't a third installment of the "Dear Slim" saga, but "Thank You" is similarly conversational. Also, "Video Games" is a re-treading of "Cartoon Network," except that KJ replaces the Saturday morning cartoon references with popular videogame names. Even "Cry No More," one of the few serious tracks on the set, could be compared to "I'm Guilty" and "#1 Fan," both in mood and placement.

If you're starting to see a pattern, it's because KJ-52 is a bit too indiscreet when it comes to referencing his own past repertoire to draw inspiration for newer material. Some may consider this a stretch, but even the album interludes—featuring his parents—are peculiarly suggestive of when Jay-Z invited his mom to guest on The Black Album. For this very reason, people who know their mainstream hip-hop may find fault with Behind the Musik and call it a patchwork duplicate of previously recorded elements. Those who don't, may still wince at the retreads. Regardless of where you stand, perhaps the middle is where KJ likes it best, and Musik is simply a representation of that: a palatable, well-produced "hip-pop" project, markedly better than Pronounced Five-Two and slightly below Collaborations.