Lions & Liars is the second album by 116 clique member Sho Baraka. Most people would say that artists often spend there second album trying to beat the "sophomore slump." Sho seems to have no trouble cranking out a great piece of work that outdoes anything I've heard from him in the past. I've only heard a couple of songs off of his debut album, Turn My Life Up ("Great Day to Die" and "Catch me at the Brook," the latter of which I highly recommend), but this is on a whole new level.
Clocking in at a whopping 21 tracks (4 of which are bonus), Lions & Liars tackles a lot of issues over some refreshingly diverse beats. I must admit, Sho is not one of those rappers such as Lecrae who can rap crazy fast or "wow" the listener simply with his sheer talent as a rapper, but he more than makes up for it, however, with his astounding ability as a lyricist. This album tackles many issues head-on; everything from false concepts of manhood and being an African American, to love and even the governments of this world are all addressed with a Christian viewpoint.
The album opens with the "Extinction intro," a song that builds up from an electronically altered voice reading the definition of the word extinction to Sho rapping over an epic rock sample. Lions are used as a metaphor for strong, bold Christians that seem to be growing endangered. The title of the album is addressed in two tracks, "Lions Anthem" and "Liar's Anthem." "Lion's Anthem" is a hard and upbeat song in which Sho rhymes about people who are lions or champions of the faith in their everyday lives. "Liar's Anthem" opens with a dark, saddening violin piece, followed by some hard hitting beats. The lyrics of this song dissect the destructive effect of the secular rap game with some of Sho's impressive lyricism, "I know it's not righteous/ but it sounds so enticing / it attacks my ears like Tyson / Takes a bite of my conscience," "You can have women/ You can have diamonds / This is what sells: drugs, sex and violence / just package these items / and you could be an executive giant." A very thought provoking track, it is a striking wake-up call to everyone, not just those in the rap culture.
The single "We Can Be More," a love song for gentlemen and classy ladies, sounds great with a smooth, synth-driven beat that features J.R. on the hook and some more amazing lyricism from Sho. Another highlight early in the album is the anthemic "Shut Us Down." Rock band After Edmund handles the instrumental and hook while Lecrae stops by to contribute a five-star verse. Another notable collaboration is "The Rising" which features Trip Lee's smooth southern flow and a talented female vocalist on the hook. The beat is pretty nice, with clapping and chanting in the background.
"Oh Well," produced by Reach Records' own DJ Official, goes back into rock territory and is full of quotable lines that deal with a wide range of topics such as welfare, an old friend from school, culture corrupting kids, and even a quick jab at Jay-Z for his bad habit of referring to him as HOVA (This is actually one of the reasons I bought the album in the first place); "Yeah It's good rappers / You rap for the dollars, I'll rap for the change." Two spoken word pieces are included in the album as well. "BOYS!!" by Propaganda talks about the false concepts of manhood that many young men have, while "I'm Black" by Tom Ason talks about the stereotypes of African Americans and racism that American culture has allowed to remain even to this day. "I'm Black" merges quickly into "My Life (Nice Aim)," a very autobiographical song where Sho tells his own story. You will know him quite well before the song is over.
The bonus tracks are also nice. "Word" sees Sho occasionally using a Jamaican flavor to talk about the word of God. The hook can be a little annoying, but the beat knocks hard. "Kobe Bryant On'em" is a good song, but Sho's rapping is somewhat lackluster, especially compared to K-Drama's intense third verse appearance. "Feel So Alone" is a big song that has appearances from Conviction, Benjah (who also produced it and an earlier posse cut on the record, "I.T.W.N.O.I.") and a female vocalist named Miss Lulu. The song closes with a Santana-esque guitar solo. Lions & Liars finally ends with a soft remix of an earlier 116 clique song, "I See the Lord."
Although Sho Baraka fails to provide any aggressive and extra-lively vocal performances, he still shows some impressive lyrical chops and Christian insight throughout his sophomore album, Lions & Liars. Add in some of the most innovative songs heard in years and you've got a recipe for a great piece of God-focused art. I recommend this for anyone who likes good, Christ-centered rap music.JFH Reader Review: Review date: 3/18/11, written by J.T. Cobb for Jesusfreakhideout.com
Record Label: Reach Records
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