A CULTURAL FUSION OF HIP HOP STYLE
2013 / 16 tracks / 56 minutes
J. Crum’s Exhale is a meticulously crafted hip-hop album that seamlessly blends a wide variety of genres and styles into a polished, cohesive, and downright awesome sound. Produced by Samuel Day, Exhale wraps elements of pop, rock, jazz, R&B, reggae, and funk into its hip-hop roots. The results are accessible, dynamic, and outstanding.
Exhale begins with a discordant intro and segues into the title track, which sets the tone for the rest of the album. J. Crum starts off a little timid, as if daring his listeners, relaxes a little with a pop-friendly chorus, and then spits fire. His raps are taut and fast; his rhymes prayerful and smart; his lyrical themes honest and heartfelt. “Counter The Culture” follows, with Pillar guitars and a rap metal swag on par with early P.O.D, as J. Crum flexes his chops and challenges us to break free from the chains of secularism. “Not A Prisoner” surprises and impresses with its smooth saxophone and rhythmic funk. “Lead Us There” is almost alternative with its guitar lines and keys. “Back To You” is orchestral and offers a first full glimpse of J. Crum’s beautiful singing. “Not Black Enough” is a scathing slight of urban mores (“Yeah, I like guitars and bass drums/But that doesn’t mean I forgot where I came from). And “Sledgehammer” ends the album’s first half on a brash, hard-rock note with trashy riffs and a poignant message.
The second half of Exhale is a little less intense, but it further cements J. Crum’s ability to succeed in any genre. Here he sings more than he raps, to equal effect. “Torches” is straight up reggae with hints of Hawaiian. “Home Sweet Home” is dark and brooding. “I Won’t Go” is as catchy as anything else on the record. And the album’s closer, “Rise” is an emotional recount of J. Crum’s personal journey.
J. Crum takes an admirable approach to his songwriting. He challenges his listeners to step out of the shadows, to proclaim their faith, and to set all prejudices aside. And he does so without a hint of cliche. Although the album glides by with slick production and instrumentation, its core is raw. We are all sinners. We all need redemption. And we all need something to clutch when life gets rough. Exhale is a hip-hop album without constraint. It is an engaging album that will appeal to people from all walks of life. It is radio-friendly in the way that radio-friendly should be: great beats, great choruses, great hooks, and great depth. There is nothing superficial here. This album is gold.
Review by Jason Ramsey