Seeing the words “Christian” and “Rap” sitting next to each other often makes members of both cultures uncomfortable. The particularly holy might find Christian Rap blasphemous and just another one of The Devil’s tricks; the average Rap aficionado views songs on chastity and accepting a whimsical, bearded man into your heart as a painfully awkward detraction from the roots of the genre. With his latest offering since 2013’s Heroes for Sale and 2014’s Never Land EP, Syracuse native Andy Mineo has once again positioned himself in the center of this dilemma with Uncomfortable, a 13-track album hosting several songs blessed with production from Ramon “!llmind” Ibanga (J Cole, Joell Ortiz) and featuring vocals from critically-acclaimed gospel artist Mali Music. An accomplished producer and writer in his own respect, Mineo has created a body of work that ignores his audience’s upbringing and personal style in all the right ways, speaking directly to their soul – something made easier by maintaining a high level of cultural awareness. The artistry that this breeds is evident from the beginning; on the opening and title track, he explains “My own people owned people, but they don’t own that / They say “Racism dead, man. Our president is Black.” / Two terms in the White House, that don’t mean jack / if we still believe our present ain’t affected by our past.” Self-consciousness is a breath of fresh air in modern Hip Hop, especially coming from a ‘White Rapper,’ a species many argue should become extinct due to their appropriation of a traditionally Black art form. Andy, however, seemingly as far gone from the big booty idolatry and ethnic sexual savagism propagated by the Iggy and the Miley brands of the world takes a radically different approach – one that seeks not to exploit, but to remind. He allows this to stand as his defense against the naysayers who they themselves undermine the genius of Black culture by providing misinformation through music and simply selling themselves as modern minstrels.
Mineo’s messages have weight to them, and throughout the work these heavy points are served up on a cloud. Over the next several beautifully composed pieces, a theme begins to develop which ultimately proves to be the project’s crown: Uncomfortable is accommodating in that it sounds like it came from one mind despite many collaborators. With help from Mali Music, “Desperados” does an excellent job of adding a distinct flavor to a relatively homogenous genre while never reaching so far as to seem misguided. There is a coherent direction with and between every song, and while that direction is obviously “up” given the context and subject matter, it is not without difficulty that cohesion is created on a full-length album. Some of this fluidity can be attributed to the consistently smooth production from the likes of Alex Medina and 42* North, the duo responsible for the album’s lead single “Hear My Heart,” where Mineo reveals his most authentic self, rapping harmoniously on immaturity and love for his sister; simply tackling such awkward subject matter on a song designed for radio is a feat worthy of praise. Following a brief interlude that asks some source, in Spanish: “Prepare me for war, because comfort is the fall of kings,” the energy begins to fade. Right in the middle of the mix, “Rat Race” presents itself as the overly soft, marshmallowy center of the album, and is where Uncomfortable begins to feel as such. The foundation of the entire project begins to collapse under the weight of its own message and becomes over encumbered with concepts that are approached far too cautiously when, given Mineo’s proclaimed fervor, should be addressed head on. It is unlucky that Uncomfortable’s weakest link would be situated at the eye of the storm. Leaving out this unstable fusion of triumph-pop and gospel would have lightened the burden, and what follows does little to change the situation. “Know That’s Right” is nearly completely indistinguishable from an old Drake tune aside from the absence of “niggas,” “bitches,” and references to his own version of heaven as, shrouded by a Phantom, he rolls up to the pearly gates of The 6. Sonically, this creates a feeling of limitation. Like when a baby is strapped into her car seat trying to grab some really tasty looking coins but they’re just a few centimeters out of reach. You can see the pain in her face, and you can hear something similar here. There is much to be said about the shibboleth of artists who create their work unconstrained and separated from outdated notions of puritanical morality. Even though constructed on a boringly ordinary motif, Mineo’s fans will of course appreciate the deviation from the radio standard, but for listeners who have yet to march onto the ark in twos, cheap and easy songs like this might make them prematurely abandon ship.
And suddenly in a ray of light, resurrection takes place on the standout “Ghost”, in which Mineo takes on a tone that is more Nipsey Hussle than late, struggling Britney Spears heard on the previous “Vendetta.” a noticeably lazy pop song that makes lofty claims about social issues while not beginning to attempt to provide concrete solutions. Though just as the lamb himself died and rose again only to disappear into the heavens, we quickly fall back into sounds and psalms all too familiar from those found earlier on the album. The subsequent songs offer small glimpses of some of the experimentation that was possible, though end up being no more than tantalizing teases into what he is truly capable of as an artist. Here we can reflect on the several missed opportunities for unconventionalism and expansion, one of the stratagems that maneuvered LeCrae’s Gravity to its conquest of the Best Gospel Album award at the 2013 Grammy’s, which featured vocals from Mineo. When innovation is lacking, cohesiveness can rapidly transform into repetitiveness. Then after what feels like a short forty minutes, we arrive at the light at the end of the tunnel. On “Make Me a Believer,” it is unclear whether Mineo is talking to God or to an exceptionally loyal girlfriend. This ambiguity is refreshing in evangelistic music; it is a plea rather than a preach – an invitation rather than a thump. Veteran rocker Mac Powell of Third Day rises up to contribute a thundering hook, roaring over another anthemic pop song that unfortunately feels like the easy way out. In spite of this, Powell’s vocals are delivered in such a compelling way that if you were on the fence about whether or not to drink the blood of Christ, this track might convince the especially vulnerable to pour up. A fitting end. Now with his stance further solidified, fans would do well to expect the absolute most of this zealot on his upcoming tour. They should hope to see him living in the image of his savior, washing the feet of the homeless and directly feeding the hungry with thine own hands, acts that will bestow unto him much needed credibility in an age of pray-for-pay pastors and musical acts run rampant. Mineo’s manifestation of destiny could place him in political office: a smart, artistic man with a friendly face who seems to care about the wellbeing of all people would do well in today’s cultural climate. Alas, the prospect of any individual in a position of leadership whose personal dogma might, for example, lead to the abolition of crucial social welfare institutions such as Planned Parenthood, anything but fanfare for live-saving medical cannabis research, or faith-driven laws that censor freedom of expression has already proven to be a dangerous premise for American society and the world at large.
It is easy to predict how Uncomfortable will be received: powerful and uplifting if you’re into Christian Rap and love Jesus, a well-produced album if you’re not and don’t, and corny if you think waiting to have sex before marriage is the worst invention of all time. Andy Mineo is apparently here to do what he defines as good. What exactly that is, the young artist has plenty of time and talent to accomplish. The cover art shows us his bearded face pressed against a glass floor, weighted down by temptation, realized by his slinking gold chain. “Give me a snake and I’ll make a nice pair of boots with it” he speaks of Satan. This man who makes his home in the Big Apple struggles not to take a bite as he peers almost longingly into the depths of hell. And while much of the album suggests a spiritual cure to a physical problem, which is historically an inherent failure, he makes his attempt in one of the most appealing and believable ways heard in contemporary music.