POWERHOUSE GOSPEL RAP
Heart of Savannah
2014 / 14 tracks/ 52 minutes
Gospel rap has come a long way in recent years. Like other genres, Christians have found a way to be faithful to both God and to the music they represent. Gone are the days of cookie-cutter, cheesy hip-hop that secularists and Christians alike rolled their eyes at. And while the general public is finally being exposed to the likes of Lecrae and Trip Lee, the exposure in no way should stop there. There are many hard-working Christian hip-hop artists who deserve attention, and Travis “Chosen” Jones, like J.Crum, is a headliner on that list.
“Heart of Savannah” is, quite simply, on fire. It’s an awesome record from start to finish. It’s tough when it needs to be, it retains a sense of humor when it gets heavy, and it’s unabashed and preachy and rightfully feels zero need to apologize for being so. Chosen’s style is direct, his rhymes crystal clear, his message succinct. It’s a true testament of his character, and a pure testimony to all of us who have a past we’d like to forget but ultimately helped to shape who we are in Christ.
Chosen hails from Savannah, GA, outside Atlanta, a city that he has equal love and frustration for. “Heart of Savannah” is a beckon call for his city to eradicate its reputation for drugs and violent crime and replace it with the love of Jesus. A tall order. But he makes a very strong case. And he has every right to. Travis himself was once part of the street, and was arrested in 2002 for crack cocaine possession and trafficking. He was sentenced to ten years in prison, served just over four, and got out just before his mother’s passing. While in prison, Travis was touched by the grace of God, and became a master disciple. His raps quote scripture better than I will ever be able to. He has a burning passion for the Gospel, and it shines brightly in his music.
“Heart of Savannah” begins with “Welcome”, a direct challenge to his city over taut rhymes and cryptic keys to reverse the trend where the “murder rate is rising”. It segues into “What Up”, which, like “Old Skool New Skool” mixes lighter, almost amusing choruses with gunshot-heavy verses. Only someone with loads of cred could get away with the next track, “Reppin’”, and be taken seriously (“Blood-stained banner/Reppin’ Hosannah”). Chosen not only gets away with it, he kills it. “Fame” tackles issues of greed quite earnestly: “This world wants fame/But we need change/It’s all one in the same/But I know a God that makes us free/Christ alone saves.” And “Troy Anthony Davis” is a heartfelt letter to the late-death-row inmate whose controversial trial and conviction has sparked massive debate over the last two decades.
But for as solid as the album is to this point, Chosen cranks it up several notches on “Venting”, and sustains an even higher level of songwriting throughout the latter half of the album. “Venting” and the epic a capella “Battle Rap” are intense, passionate, humble, and powerful. “Looking At Me” and “Unconditional Love”, which features exquisite backing vocals by Porscia, are radio-friendly hip hop with deep hooks and even deeper emotion. And “I’m A Witness”, a bonus track, offers the most insight into Chosen’s past, recounting his days in the pen and how God used him as a witness in an incredibly hostile environment.
Chosen’s raps are taut, tight, fresh, and have a clarity that much rapping lacks. He is indeed a witness, a merciless preacher of the Gospel, and he flat-out commands attention. Some people in his shoes would use his past to capitalize on his ministry, but not him. There is nothing superficial here. Instead, he interlaces his experiences with a sense of humble realism to create stories that are deadpanned, challenging, and profound. We have to be broken down before we can lift others up. Chosen, with his own brand of self-reflective swag, does exactly this. “Heart of Savannah” is a powerhouse album.
Review by Jason Ramsey