The Legend of XERO's "best of" collaboration album (2009-2011) titled VS (verses) showcases 12 standout tracks of a budding artist in the genre of Christian rap music. The major goal of this album's release is to allow people to here a great selection of the tracks of the rapper XERO, as he has released enough music to constitutes several albums of music. As he is still a young musician, this makes perfect sense as newcomers to his music will certainly want to hear some of his best tracks before everything else.
The music on VS (verses) is surprisingly easy to get into. It dabbles into many genres of music, with a heavy emphasis on rap/hip-hop; but it moves into very catchy rap, techno, electronica, and even to some degree a rock/hip-hop mix comparable to bands like Linkin Park and RED. The vast array of sounds, great samples, interesting instrumental melodies, and of course the great rhymes displayed by XERO (and his many collaborators) just make this an instant classic in the Christian rap genre. On the point of collaborators specifically, there is some tremendous talent on every song from artist you may already know from CRS, to XERO's close personal friends like B-Webb and John D'Agostino, that you may not yet know about. This CD shows exceptional growth over the past few years, while giving you an idea of what's to come in the New Year: 2012.
Now, to find out if XERO is going to make (more) waves in the Christian rap music industry, be sure to read on for the rest of my review of The Legend of XERO's album VS (verses).
The general sound on this album is very solid all around. While the production values vary in quality (as this is a compiliation album spanning several years), and only a few tracks are Mastered, the songs at no point ever sound unlistenable. Quite frankly, if you were not aware of the general underproduction of these tracks; you would not even realize this fact. This is certainly representative of great production skills, especially in the mixing department. To most listeners, there will be absolutely no problem with the sound production quality.
Moving on more specifically to analyze the sound of the instrumentation, as well as the diversity of these sounds, will perhaps be a more interesting topic. One of my major gripes with modern rap music (you know, the stuff they play on the radio), is a lack of musical diversity. Every track has the tendency to sound the same, with the same sort of looped beats, lyrical ideas, and melodic instruments. XERO's tracks on VS (verses) play very well at being very poppy and catchy, while also to a certain degree bending the rules of the rap genre. Moving specifically into the sub-genre of Christian rap, I am very surprised that XERO is not as popular considering the sounds on his tracks are much more diverse then those I have heard from other mainstream Christian rap artists like Gritz and KJ-52. Some specific tracks I would like to highlight for their diversity in sound are "Preemptive Strike," "Let the Music Play," "Fire!," and "Salvation." Of course, the diversity of this album is most noticeable when you listen to all of the tracks, and note just how different they are from each other while maintaining similar themes.
COMPOSITION AND INSTRUMENTATION:
Compositionally, most of the tracks on VS (verses) follow a pop music formula; which is actually generally the best course of action for music in the rap/hip-hop genre considering the music is typically supposed to be radio friendly and easy to get into. While the musician in me would like to say I would have liked a little bit more diversity in how the tracks unfold, I do believe that these tracks were done very well; with choruses that are very catch and easy to get into, and verse sections that almost never lag. It is certainly a matter of taste, but for most people the structure of these songs will not be a problem at all.
Instrumentally, the tracks are much more interesting. Though there is a heavy usage of loops and samples (as is normal for this style of music), the specific ones used are excellent in quality; and the incorporation of a variety of synthetic sounds just makes this album very diverse and easy on the ears. Some tracks dabble into harder electronica styles, as would be heard in an underground techno scene; while others are much more pop friendly even reminding me to some degree of pop artists like Lady Gaga and Britney Spears in terms of backing instrumentation. Specifically honing in on a few tracks, the track "Listen" has a synth lead that reminds me heavily of 8-bit video game soundtracks, not to mention it's sick synth bass line. The track "Preemptive Strike" incorporates the sound of bongos, which really adds an ethnic feeling and sets the tone of the track from the very first percussive strike. A variety of orchestral strings find their way into the mixes on these tracks as well, primarily lending a grandiose sense of rhythm or even a percussive tone; such as in the opening track "Day One" and the track "Sacrifice."
Overall, my complaints in the composition and instrumentation area are very minimal; and primarily would only stem by comparing rap music in general to other more complex styles of music, like progressive rock and classical music. On the whole, I very much enjoyed the compositions and instrumentation. They are overall very upbeat even when dealing with difficult lyrical themes.
VOCALS AND LYRICS:
Sometimes, when reviewing albums that are heavy on vocal usage, I just can't wait to get this section of my review. While the instrumentation is good on this album, it is ultimately brought to life by the variety of vocals (from XERO and his many collaborators), vocal styles (fast and slow rap, Auto-Tuned singing, regular singing, and singing behind a vocoder, among other things). Additionally, rap music is heavy on lyrical content. In fact, the lyrics themselves can make or break a rap artist.
First, to touch on the vocals. They are quite frankly excellent all across the board. There were only a few moments where I felt they lacked, most notably in the rhymes of guest vocalist Rachel Nuest at the end of the opening track "Day One." The vocals sounded rather weak to my ears, and the lyrical theme, while important, was somewhat overbearing. Of course, I am sure others may enjoy her voice; but after listening to all of the 12 tracks on VS (verses), this was one moment that simply stood out to me as something I would have done differently. Aside from this relatively minor flaw, the rapping of XERO is spot on; filled with variety and a sense of rhythm, rhyme, and flow that most rappers dream of having. The rest of his guest vocalists do an excellent job at bringing diversity to this already diverse line up of tracks. Some tracks I have stuck in my head just based on the great vocals include "Let the Music Play" (which I deem to be the most radio friendly track on this album), "Preemptive Strike" (which reminds me more of grungy, hardcore rap similar to DMX), and "Fire!" (which features a fast tempo and lightening fast rapping). Overall, in the vocal department, you can expect some quality work from a range of vocal artists.
When we discuss the lyrics of Christian rap music, we instantly begin moving into a more niche market. While many of these tracks may be easy to get into, regardless of religious affiliation, I can easily imagine some of the lyrical content pushing away some potential listeners. In fact, Christian rap music is notorious for bringing about bad thoughts by virtually anyone who is not a Christian (and honestly, for some people, Christian rap even puts Christians themselves off). The lyrics of XERO are actually quite well done overall. While there were a few moments where the lyrical content delved a little bit too into being straightforward attempts to share the good news of Christ and salvation, on the whole these tracks are loaded with metaphors (primarily from the Bible) and have generally positive and uplifting messages that many people could appreciate. Personally, if I were to compare rap lyrics of XERO and a mainstream secular rapper; I would preference those of XERO as they are diverse in their nature, and not just highlighting the negative aspects of humanity (like the need for money, girls, sex, drugs, and fast cars).
I just want to reiterate for those who skim through this review: the lyrics on this album are great, and while heavy on Christian themes, they are very easy to get into and support!
As someone who is not a big fan of rap music, I must say I was pretty impressed by The Legend of XERO's release VS (verses). Being a compiliation of tracks, it is easy to imagine just how diverse the sounds on these tracks are. Not to mention, the incorporation of at least one guest musician or vocalist on every track just adds to the appeal instantly. There is something for everyone on this album. While there are a few flaws on this album, I do believe that on the whole it is an excellent one to listen to; especially if you are into Christian rap music or rap/pop music in general. Christian rap needs more artists like this to be taken more seriously, and I hope this review pushes you towards checking out the work of XERO more closely.
In closing, I would give this album an 8/10.
Social Media Links:
The Legend of XERO website
The Legend of XERO Bandcamp (you can purchase the album at this address)
The Legend of XERO Facebook
Proceeds of album purchases will go towards the final production of Better Off [Twin EP Edition]. Each Pre-Order Sale comes with a download of one of my latest collabs, "Let the Music Play" w/ Dub, and the newly remastered "Salvation" with lounge intro.