Release Date: June 3rd 2022
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
- Heavenly Father (feat. Fisk Jubilee Singers)
- All I Know
- Summertime (feat. Snoop Dogg & Jay-Way)
- On Point (feat. KB)
- Believe In Me
- Demons (feat. Plan G & Jude Barclay)
- Rooftop Freestyle (feat. Derek Minor)
- Red Light Green Light (feat. Ty Brasel & Jay-Way)
- Accelerate (feat. Canon)
- Ain’t Playin’ (feat. Social Club Misfits)
- Great (feat. Waldo)
- Jah Ah De King
- Glory On Me (feat. Childish Major & Taylor Hill)
- Fuego (R3HAB Remix) (feat. Shaggy)
It’s who I am. I realize I must put my identity in my music. I can’t just rap about what’s cool or being on fire for the Lord, I want to put my identity and who I am in my music. I had Jamaican in me, that’s my heritage. I was in the studio one time when I was making my debut album. The producer said “let’s do some reggae stuff. Aren’t you Jamaican?” I said yeah. He said, “You should do that a lot more.” Because in this space of Christian hip-hop, there’s nobody that’s Jamaican other than me. He said “own that sound. Coin that Christian hip-hop and reggae, bring it together. That’s you.” I’ve always wanted to incorporate it, it’s a must.
Rap music… hasn’t been my cup of tea, probably all throughout my life, I think. Though I am becoming more and more familiar and accustomed to rap music in general; when I was younger, I only listened to Carman and Delirious?, with me branching out to other CCM music in 2006, and mainstream music in 2018. But throughout everything that I have reviewed on this site (read them here!) and throughout everything that we’ve blogged about; rap music (and hip-hop music) hasn’t been high on our list to cover. It’s not that Jon and I don’t appreciate such music. We do. I’m constantly in awe of Lecrae and his contemporaries, artists like KB, Andy Mineo, NF, Social Club Misfits and Derek Minor, at how they can spit bars and run lines extremely well, and point people to Jesus at the same time. On the flipside, artists like Eminem, Black Eyed Peas, Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, Post Malone, Logic and Jay-Z do nothing for me, and I don’t have an inkling to listen to any type of music that doesn’t draw me closer to Jesus, mainstream rap included. Yet with the release this year of Steven Malcolm’s brand-new album Tree (Jon reviewed Steven’s song “Even Louder” with Natalie Grant and I reviewed All Is True); I thought that the time was right to voice my thoughts on these 11 tracks. While Jon has blogged about Lecrae, and I about NF (Nate Feuerstein), and I have reviewed NF’s Clouds… there hasn’t been much more coverage of rap over the past few years. Hence, I’ve come forth with an open mind into Tree… and let me tell you that objectively this project is good, but rap in large doses still gives me a headache, and still reaffirms my assertion that this type of music isn’t really my favourite type of music when I need to listen to some inspiration or even for background music. This album has many layers to it, and from first glance, you might think there are too many collaborations; but listening to this album… well the features on here just fit- and this release reminds us of many different layers to religion and to our relationship with God, and speaks about the fact that every song on this album is true for Steven, and is personal to him in his walk with Jesus.
You can expect absolute greatness [with Tree] because it’s an amazing album, front to back. It’s one of those joints where I locked myself in an Airbnb for a whole four-day weekend. Had a folder of beats, went to work, and poured into it. They always say as an artist, by your third album, you figure out your ‘why’. I figured out my ‘why’ for this album. Me being Jamaican, we pronounce three, tree. One, two, three. This being my third album, man let’s name it Tree. I’m a family of three.
When it comes to my faith, I feel so rooted in what I’ve done. I’ve been a Christian now for over a decade, and I’m still here standing firm. I still serve at my Church, I’m still the same person. I’ve never let anything taint me, waver me, or anything like that. I’m seeing my life bear fruit. I’m changing the course of my family tree with having my son. I visited my dad’s gravesite, his tombstone had errors on it. My dad left me no legacy as a son. I’m breaking that curse; my family tree looks a lot different now. It just all makes sense.
That’s my life and who I am [to have my wife and son on the cover]. I’ve always been searching for what I’m passionate about, other than music. I found that I’m very passionate about being a pop, leaving a legacy for my son. By the time my son’s grown, he’ll have a relationship with God and a respect for me that I wish I could’ve had for my pops. To be able to look him in his face today and be proud of the life God and hard work have given me.
There’s nothing objectively wrong with rap music. It takes a certain type of skill to be vulnerable and voice your inner most thoughts and then to say them all out-loud, at a quick pace and still be coherent enough for listeners to understand everything that’s being said and conveyed. But for me, listening to a rap album means I need to concentrate, and to be frank, when we are all busy and fill our day up with lots and lots and lots of things, and especially when we’re all trying to get back to some semblance of normal- hoping that the pandemic doesn’t rise up again and impact us all negatively once more; listening to and reviewing a rap album isn’t a priority. Actually making it through listening to Tree, like with both All Is True and Clouds, to be honest, took a very long time, given that this album isn’t in my preferred genre of what I would normally listen to, and what I would consider to be a safe option. However, as this year of 2022 is the year that I have felt that I have grown the most with regard to music and what I listen to; let me say that there are still some tracks on Steven’s album that are compelling and inspiring. “Heavenly Father” is the opening track and features the Fisk Jubilee Singers. Short in duration at just over 2 minutes, Steven passionately and vibrantly relays to us a short but impacting prayer- he asks God for strength as well as grace, peace, and the ability to trust; and as Steven eloquently sings that he couldn’t have made it through life without Jesus, we are presented with a testimony-like track that is the heartbeat of the album.
The rest of Tree is a joy to listen to, and reminds us of God’s love, sovereignty, faithfulness, and dedication to each one of us. “All I Know” is a confessional melody directed to the critics and the haters, with Steven earnestly relaying that everything he does in writing and recording songs, everything he does- is all he knows. There might be a song that is ‘too Christian’ that is next to a song that ‘isn’t Christian enough’, but Steven relays to us that he isn’t fazed, and that the way he makes music is on his own terms and according to how he feels and how he feels that God is directing him. “Summertime”, with Snoop Dogg and Jay-Way, is probably one of the catchiest melodies on this album, as Snoop, Jay and Steven sing together and powerfully champion summer and celebrate the feeling of summer and the feeling of freedom, joy and happiness when you relax at the beach. It’s a silly song, but it’s a clean, fun melody that you can’t help but smile at. “On Point”, with KB, is a high-intensity, powerful anthem where Steven highlights the value of hard work and determination, that ‘On Point’ is all about being sharp and withstanding the test of time! Defying the odds is never easy, but a sharp mind can overcome any obstacle. The greatest QB and my favorite football player being Tom Brady, I couldn’t help but use the best as the metaphor; while “Believe In Me” is another response to the haters, with Steven assuring us that he’s legit and rapping for Jesus- he’s asking his haters to, like his fans and friends and family, believe in him and his craft.
“Demons”, with Plan G and Jude Barclay, dives deep into the almost-taboo concept of mental health and depression, as Steven prays to God asking Him to rid him of the ‘demons’ in his brain; while “Rooftop Freestyle”, with Derek Minor, pays tribute and homage to Steven’s roots, as he acknowledges where he has come from and where he is going aka where God is leading him- I told myself one time that my life could be a movie with the craziness that has gone on, and all the things that I’ve overcome to be where I’m at today. It’s truly a blessing to come from nothing and gain everything you’ve prayed for, especially when you have a background like mine. Life is like a movie. “Red Light Green Light”, with Ty Brasel and Jay-Way, speaks about all of the adversity that has come Steven’s way since he started rapping; however, this song speaks about Steven still pushing on and still delivering rap music that is honouring to Jesus- he is still pushing on steadily like the traffic lights go from green to orange to red and back to green again. “Accelerate”, with tons of driving and car references, has Steven and guest vocal Canon rapping about how Steven is accelerating in his career like you never heard or seen before; while the energetic, powerful “Ain’t Playin’” features Social Club Misfits on guest vocals, with the trio rapping about their successes, and the fact that they aren’t slowing down in their careers- that God is continually blessing them and they are continuing to put in the hard work and the effort.
“Lately”, a deep dive into the quirkiness of Steven’s mind, reveals a mind that is somewhat insecure and worried, as Steven raps about how he’s lately been feeling off and distracted, and worried about the future (although in the song Steven surrenders his life and lets God have control). This song inspires us to turn to God at all times, and allows us to be vulnerable with God, surrendering to Him and allowing Him to take control of our life; while “Great” features Waldo, and has Steven being grateful, thankful, and appreciative to Jesus, that He has made us great and holy and perfect in His eyes because of the cross and the resurrection.
“RESPECT”, an original and not an Aretha Franklin cover, speaks about paying respect to God and giving credit where credit is due- thanking God for His faithfulness and His promises that have been present time and time again in Steven’s life; while “Jah Ah De King”, a melody where Steven musically goes back to his Jamaican roots, speaks about not fearing anyone and not bowing down to anyone other than Jesus- because He is the King of Kings. The testimony type/worship melody “Glory On Me” with Childish Major and Taylor Hill, is a collaboration that is one of the most vibrant and dynamic since Lecrae’s duet with Tori Kelly- this melody reminds us to always give God the praise, honour, glory and recognition when it is due. Tree then ends with a remix of “Fuego” (originally released on Steven’s second album The Second City), this time with Jamaican fusion reggae singer Shaggy.
I wouldn’t say hard [being a Christian rapper today], hard is the wrong word. It comes with its pros and cons just like everything else. The pro is I get to do what I love and tell people about God and what he can do every day through my music. People are always trying to put you in a box. One song isn’t “Christian” enough and the next one is “too Christian” Man, some of the fans, they’re confused about who Jesus was and the mission we’re on. Jesus tells us to share the message with everyone, not just those who already found him. Man, that is what I’m trying to do.
I stepped into a few churches [when I wasn’t a believer] because I stayed the night at a friend’s house. They’d look at me weird: tell me to take off my hat, pull up my pants. So, the church rubbed me the wrong way. Okay all these people talking about this hip-hop stuff, let me check this thing out and see what everybody’s talking about. I stepped in seeing young black and brown people that look like me, that talked like me, but they loved God. Their worship combined hip hop music, dancing, and spoken word.
I’m seeing this cat on stage krump dancing, he gets off stage I say, “bro you just slayed!” He said, “all glory to God.” These young people are living for the Lord, and they still got that hip-hop culture in it. I had so much going on at home. My sister was stripping, doing cocaine, and sleeping around. Mom remarried and moved, all my friends and my older cousins were in the street life. I never wanted to be a part of it, I wanted to be successful and pursue my dreams. I was looking for an identity. I walked into this place; it was my first-time experiencing peace. No chaos, no gang banging, no fighting, no craziness.
It swept me off my feet, I surrendered my life to the Lord. Started going and growing in my faith for a year. After a year, the pastor said “yo, it’s time to get up off your butt, serve people and be a light to this world. So, what do you want to do?” I said “well, I can rap a little bit. Let me hop on the worship team and start rapping for service.” I started doing that then boom, God took it from there and made it a career. Now I’m a Christian hip-hop artist traveling the world, doing full-time music, and working to impact millions of people by letting them know about the love and forgiveness found through Jesus.
Steven Malcolm is a talented rapper, singer, and songwriter. Tree is incredibly underrated and a powerful statement from one of the most hard-working rappers I’ve heard of. But I myself still don’t feel as compelled to rap music than when I first started listening to this album. And with that, I’ll leave this review by saying- it’s true that I do appreciate Steven for what a talented rapper he is. But let me say that I’m not a fanatical fan of his like other listeners… and that’s ok. I still don’t think I can sit through an album of full-on rap (I think it took me over 1 and a half hours to write this review and listen to these tracks!), and that’s ok. Tree is a compelling and moving album- but I wouldn’t listen to it in one sitting again. And that’s ok. Can’t we appreciate something as great art without fully resonating with it? So let me spin some Riley Clemmons, for KING & COUNTRY, Jordan Smith, Thomas Rhett, OneRepublic, Needtobreathe, Switchfoot, Selena Gomez, Echosmith, Sabrina Carpenter, and Josh Wilson now, get back into my preferred genres… So Steven, what about a Christmas album?
3 songs to listen to: On Point, Ain’t Playin’, Glory On Me
RIYL: KB, Blanca, Group 1 Crew, Lecrae, Andy Mineo, KJ-52