- Roll Call
I’ve been saying for years that Lil’ Dre is one of the best hip-hop artists out there. Now, admittedly, I went to college with Dre; which means both that I have had the privilege of hearing his work longer than some and that I am a little biased. However, after releasing The Prelude, Strapped Up, and Under Construction, all to rave reviews, I can confidently say that I am far from alone in this opinion.
Dre exudes charisma with each rhyme, his beats are consistently fresh, and his word play always balances that hard task of being highly witty, engaging, and relatable all at once. Add to that the fact that Dre can rap and croon in equal measure, and you’ve got an artist who certainly can hold up to comparisons with the genre’s brightest.
Dre hit a career high with 2012’s Under Construction. We gave that album a high 4/5 in our review, and your responses to it were even higher than our own ecstatic praise. But, its now been a few years since Dre graced our eardrums, and a lot has happened in his life in between.
Homework comes from the perspective of having spent the last few years away from the spotlight becoming a family man. As Dre says he “found his first lady, gave up (his) last name.” Now, three kids later, Dre wrestles with what love and family life look like after the initial rush is over and the real daily grind of family life is on.
In perhaps one of his best pieces of artistry since his track “Intimate,” Dre speaks directly to the weight of this topic. “I let my thoughts leak, hope you can handle that. Flame over with, but what about the candle wax” (“Dissertation”). “Dissertation” brings the weight sheer honesty to a world raised on the fairytale of couples finding each other and then entering an immediate and endlessly euphoric happily-ever-after. Dre’s exploration, done in such eloquent prose and similes, is the true measure of what it means to work on life at home. It’s a real look at the reality of married life with real hope found through the real Christ… and it is beautiful.
Thus, Homework centers around the theme that we must orient Christ first, family second, and all else after. The title track captures this theme by stating: “Carrying my cross at work, hoping that the lost reverse, fellowship and serve at church, can’t forget about my homework first.”
Being an EP, Homework is just five tracks and an intro long, however this small package is really packing some dynamite. I praised Under Construction for having no filler, but Homework takes that to the next level. Each track stands out in a new and fresh way. Truly, for an artist that stands above the pack, Homework is Dre’s best work, yet.
“Intro” is, of course, an intro track, but don’t let the introductory nature or just-over-one-minute runtime fool you, as there is also a whole lot of ground covered in the brief prose tied to it. Not only does the intro have a great verse, covering the theme of the album and introducing Dre’s penchant for simile, but it also brings its own engaging and memorable beat.
“Roll Call” brings an amazing beat that sounds like a cut from Friday the 13th. Lyrically this is an anthemic track that connects family life and life in Christ with our responsibility to live the faith authentically in a very dynamic way. “The wife and I just kept the faith and we fight through trials like heavyweights. These heavy weights, they hard to bear, so I give it to my God cause I know He care… It all starts with the King, like solitaire.” As the first full track on the album, “Roll Call” shines in a big way. From the timbre of the track to the high skill involved in the lyrics, this track reminds me of one of Lecrae and Tedashii’s shared tracks. “Rep Him well outside these church walls. Then they can tell, this is the roll call.”
As mentioned above, “Homework” acts as the EP’s theme and center as it reminds us that aside from our relationship with God, our primary ministry is at home. As with “Roll Call” the production levels are stellar and the delivery is simply on fire. “I took on new passengers as soon as I got hitched. So I had to change up like a pitch. My marriage after faith, it’s not up for debate. And, then I must provide. 1 Timothy 5:8.” “Homework” reminds the listener just how mesmerizing Dre’s R&B style crooning works together with his flow.
Also mentioned above, “Dissertation” may just be the best song in the early part of this year. Taking all of the impact of the previous track’s challenge and examining it through a somber and very real lens, Dre presents the reality of the strains that can play into married life. “Excited to be married to the girl of my dreams, but I’m a little worried that it won’t be peaches and cream. She want Cinderella story, and I’m prince charming, but what happens after midnight can be alarming.” But, this is no tale of woe. Seriously, whether you’re married and can relate directly, or you’re preparing for that day and need to see what a truly Godly perspective on marriage is; you need this song in your life. All too often, especially in the church, we present the joys of marriage without talking about the trials. “Dissertation” speaks life into the trials by showing the hope of Christ for our happily-ever-afters. “‘Till death do us part, keep the keys to the hearse.”
“Requirements” echoes Jesus’ words in Luke 12:48 that “to whom much is given, much is required.” In this it brings the great gift that family is into the perspective of this lens. Being such a great gift, family requires much work. The line “chase your dream, do your thing, but prioritize” shows the emphasis home-work should have in our lives.
“Tuition” brings the focus fully back to Christ as a great album closer. Though “Dissertation” may have been better suited on some levels as the closing taste, it was a wise choice to end with a reminder that Christ has paid our debts. Of the tracks, “Tuition” reminds me the most of Dre’s early work. This is not a knock, Dre has always been well above par. That said, the comparison also shows just how much Dre has grown over the years in his abilities as “tuition” features some of the most skillful lyrics, yet.
Musicianship: Dre’s beats are hot from start to finish, but it is his lyrical acumen and delivery that really set this album on fire. With the ability to croon and rap in equal measure, Homework shows Lil’ Dre at his best.
Lyrical Content: As stated above, Homework is deeply relatable and engaging. Dre’s focus on Christ is unwavering throughout, and his metaphors and similes are on-point even more than usual.
Lasting Value: Dre’s albums have always had greater-than-average shelf life for me, but Homework is even more likely to hang around my playlists well beyond my review copies. The tracks are well produced. The lyrics are engaging. And, real life struggles of making home life work is a theme that no one can ignore. With Christ as the rock at the center of it all, Homework is an album that will more than stand the test of time.
Overall: Oklahoma City based hip-hop artist Lil’ Dre brings what will likely be one of the top ten albums of the year to the table with the Homework EP. Focusing in on the real struggles of family life and the real Christ that brings the family together, Dre brings one of the most relatable albums of the last few years to the table. From start to finish this short experience is packed with dynamite in the form of witty metaphors, strong beats, and “Dissertation,” which is simply one of the most beautiful songs in recent memory.
With this album being released free on Twitter (by following @lildrechurchboy), there is literally no reason why you should ignore this. Beyond that, there is no reason why you shouldn’t be spreading the love to everyone you know. Homework may be one of the first albums to drop this year, but my money is on this album riding the rest of 2015 still reigning as one of the best.
RIYL: Flame, Lecrae, Tedashii, KB, Canon