Label: Collision Records
Release Date: 08/05/2014
Reviewer: Anthony Peronto
- On My Mind ft. J.R.
- TGC 2 ft. Sho Baraka
- #SameTeam ft. Dre Murray, Yaves Ellis, Tedashii, JGivens, & John Givez
- LSD ft. Christon Gray
- Bow Down ft. Tragic Hero
- Best Of Me ft. Natalie Sims
- Right Side
- Beauty And The Beast
- Before Goodnight
- Sin In Me
- Fix My Heart ft. Denise Powell & Propaganda
Ever since birth, Allen Swoope has been in a love-hate relationship with Mya Desiree. Even after finding Christ, living life as a husband and father, and enjoying success as a musician, he can’t quite escape his heart’s desire. Will temptation lead to his demise? Or will Allen find relief in the only One who can save him? Directed by and starring Swoope (Wake Up), Sinema is an audio-film that takes the listener on a captivating journey of sin personified. Prepare yourself, as Swoope guides you through a concept album that will encourage with its honest and relatable message.
There’s a reason why the above blurb resembles the back of a DVD or Blu-Ray: This album is cinematic. In what could’ve been an excuse for endless movie-reference punchlines, Sinema has the characteristics of a great film: You feel an artist guiding what you see, you become the main character’s advocate, and it reveals something about ourselves. So sit back, relax, and turn up the volume. Because, like Swoope’s previous album, Wake Up, listening from start to finish is recommended (the voicemail messages are a big indicator of that).
Comparisons to Kanye West aside, Swoope has a knack for high-quality lyricism. Instead of taking the easy-road of CHH (rhyming about what Christians do or do not believe in, simple hooks, and watered-down messages), Swoope shows us his concepts with complex wordplay and storytelling. Like his previous songs “Boys R Us,” “Schizo,” and now “Beauty and the Beast,” Swoope frequently uses a songwriting tactic that may go over the heads of the casual listener (Dre Murray & Christon Gray also use this technique effectively). Containing first-person perspectives of deadbeat fathers, hedonists, and lust personified (respectively), the hooks of the songs alone are as empty as those on the Top 100 Charts. But taken as a whole, these tracks are powerful and honest statements of unfulfilled and broken lives that point to a heavenly solution. As for the majority of the songwriting on Sinema, Swoope’s wordplay accurately describes the tug-of-war of his relationship with Mya. A good example of this occurs on “LSD”: “Crossing the cease for her/ But I can’t desist/ I see these cysts, she’s my blist-/Terminal but the sickness is exquisite/ I want it.”
When Swoope isn’t focused on the story and the inspiration of Proverbs 7, the topic of songwriting is discussed. And while the rest of the album’s music is tailored to each song’s emotions, these diverting tracks have the more heavy-hitting production. The first song, “TGC 2,” is a sequel to a song off of High Society Collective’s album and is about striving to be excellent in your craft. The second departure from the narrative is #SameTeam, a cypher where the length of the song is nothing compared to the amount of talent present. Representing Collision, Reach, Slingshot, Dream Junkies, and indie hip hop, this banger states that we’re all working towards the same goal. If “TGC 2” is Swoope resisting to settle in his craft, then “Best Of Me” is the flipside of the coin. Addressing his doubts of topping Wake Up, whether his technique is “over their heads,” and if his songwriting is making an impact, this song shows that Sinema wasn’t just borne out of pain and personal experience, but writer’s block as well.
The majority of the album is a rollercoaster of resistance and desire, where songs like “Bow Down” and “Right Side” battle against “Beauty and the Beast” and “Before Goodnight.” You hear Swoope say, “Watch my thoughts they become my actions/ Then my actions they become my habits/ Then my habits then become my nature/ And I’m lookin’ at the mirror at a total stranger,” and can’t you help identifying with the statement and looking inwardly at your own struggle with sin. And then the climax arrives with “Sin In Me,” inspired by James 1:12-15. With two passionate voicemail messages, frenzied production, and horror movie references from Frankenstein and Rosemary’s Baby, this is the darkest song on the album. Then the twist ending comes. And as the album finishes on the hopeful “Fix My Heart,” filled with soothing vocals, a hopeful message, and Propaganda’s excellent poetics, the album “fades to black.” That is, until the “post-credits scene” which puts a whole new spin on the entire record. And like most great movies, it’s a stunning and natural conclusion that allows a lot of discussion afterwards.
Overall: I may be reaching a bit, but there are interesting similarities to Swoope’s Sinema and Christopher Nolan’s Inception (bear with me…). They both come after their most acclaimed projects (Wake Up vs. The Dark Knight Trilogy), have a main character dealing with an obsessive issue (sin/lust vs. grief/guilt), and contain a twist ending that demands discussion. It may take a few spins to recognize it, but Sinema may be Swoope’s true magnum opus. For now it remains the defining artistic statement of the Christian’s struggle with sin. And so far, most likely the best full-length hip hop album of 2014. I give it two thumbs up!
RIYL: Kanye West, Lupe Fiasco, Dre Murray, W.L.A.K., Sho Baraka, High Society Collective