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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

God and I

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2003 1 Apr
God and I
Sounds like … authentic dancehall reggae flavored with R&B and gospelAt a Glance … Papa San's thick Jamaican pronunciation will limit his American audience appeal, but true fans of dancehall reggae will appreciate the quality of his music.

Papa San (a.k.a. Tyrone Thompson) may not be a household name for most people, but he is regarded as one of the most important artists in reggae music over the last 20 years. In fact, he played an integral role in developing what is known as dancehall music–basically reggae lyrics over programmed dance beats. It might be viewed as to reggae what hip-hop is to R&B. With clever and rapid-fire wordplay, often improvised, Papa San has dominated the world music charts over his career (most notably with the 1994 dance hit "The Programme").

In addition to his talents, Christians can rejoice in the news that Papa San gave his life to Jesus Christ in the mid-to-late '90s. It's a pretty amazing story, considering his huge worldly success and the environment he came from. He'd had run-ins with the police for possession of firearms, and both of his brothers were killed in street violence. God still ministered to Papa San through his word, and the acclaimed artist redirected his ways. Though he's met with some rejection since his conversion, Papa San has witnessed thousands turn to Christ as a result of his recent concerts. The lower-case letter in the title of his second Christian release, God and i, is surely intentional, and I'm not sure I've ever seen such concentrated thankfulness to the Lord in an album's liner notes.

God and i is a mix of dancehall reggae with R&B and gospel, so authentic that unless you're up on your Jamaican slang and dialect, you'll struggle to understand Papa San - especially on tracks such as "Pop Style," "Step Pon Di Enemy," and "Stay Far." It's a mixed blessing that the lyrics are printed phonetically in the CD booklet, along with a Jamaican glossary. You'll either make more sense of it or become more confused.

Those who do make sense of his words will discover how thoughtful, clever, and inspirational they are. Papa San hasn't let his faith handicap his craft, as evidenced on the testimonial title track —"I understand the things that you are going through/It is nothing new cause I've been there too/My own reject me just as you/Falsely accused of things I did not do/Like Jaci Velasquez I get on my knees/I realize my problem is just bun and cheese/He's here with me and he will never leave/The cross still bleed, the cross still bleed." Another highlight is "Breathe Again," penned with Papa San's friend Kirk Franklin (he appeared on the best-selling Rebirth of Kirk Franklin album). Blending R&B with reggae, it reveals a deep need for Christ in our lives—"I am like a ship without a rudder when I don't have you/Hopeless lonely man and don't know what to do."

"I Know" is an enjoyable mix of R&B, reggae, and funk, while songs such as "All God" and "Right Track" incorporate some rock into the sound. "I Call Her Blessed" is a surprisingly dark-sounding reggae tune, considering it's a spiritually rooted love song to Papa San's wife, celebrating all the virtues of womanhood. In contrast, "De Blood" is a fun condemnation of the devil inspired by the book of Revelation—"Satan come out with your hands up/The blood is against you, we have you surrounded."

Some Christian forays into world music (Latin music in particular) unfortunately sound inferior to their mainstream counterparts. Not so with Papa San's latest. A bit like Souljahz's The Fault Is History, the production on God and i is eclectic and first-rate. Not everyone will appreciate the album since reggae is still something of a niche genre beyond the Caribbean. The core audience for Christian reggae is even smaller, but fans should eat it up. It may not sell well in the U.S., but I'm glad Papa San's on the team, sharing the gospel of Christ with an all new audience.