The Last Street Preacha
T-bone would be one scary hulk of a man to encounter in an urban alley. And if his lyrics and West Coast rap sound are proof, T-Bone has street cred; he not only sings about living the thug life but could also live it again—if not for God's transforming grace.
T-Bone grew up in the tough Mission District of San Francisco, and he spent some years hanging out with Latino gangs. But today he mixes ominous drum rolls, desolate bells that sound like the Grim Reaper at the front door, and a flood of couplet rhymes and urban slang. "Yo, Chase," he raps to his producer as the album begins, "put some of that stank on this record, man, let 'em know where we came from, playa."
As with other CCM singers, T-Bone sometimes echoes prevailing musical styles while shaping a credible sound for his intended audience. This leads to some cringe-inducing choices, such as a woman moaning "Ay Papi" to her pimp, and a background singer belching as T-Bone describes "getting drunk in the Spirit on a day-to-day basis." Taken in isolation, T-Bone's lyrics on a few different songs make the Holy Spirit sound merely like a supernatural narcotic.
Still, the bulk of The Last Street Preacha suggests that T-Bone is a well-intentioned youth evangelist who can be forgiven the lingering rough edges of his self-expression.
What makes T-Bone most fascinating is his effort to translate rap's machismo into the typically softer genre of gospel music. Usually this means aiming his swaggering threats at demons rather than at rival gangs. He refers to "putting demons in coffins," dealing with "demons trying to settle the score" and feeling no fear about "slitting the devil's throat with a switchblade."
On "Street Preacha" he boasts that "when demons step up to me they get cut worse than shrimp at Benihana's." T-Bone's approach to spiritual warfare owes less to the humility of the Archangel Michael (Jude 9) than to the over-the-top videos of Carman. (T-Bone and Carman have already discovered their spiritual kinship, recording together and winning a joint Dove Award.)
Yet T-Bone also shows a gentler side that's clearly shaped by his faith. While the song "Friends" uses gang jargon (referring to T-Bone's "patnas and homeboys," including Carman), it also expresses a loyalty grounded in affection rather than in violence. "I got your back like a chiropractor," T-Bone promises in one of his humorous touches.
On "Father Figure," T-Bone pays tribute to his dad, who immigrated to California from Nicaragua: "I'll honor you till the day I'm gone/I love you, Papi, that's the reason that I wrote the song." Many rap singers pay tributes to their mothers, but expressing such a clear love for his dad sets T-Bone apart. For all T-Bone's strutting and muscle-flexing, this sentimental tune is the boldest thing on this recording.
T-Bone and musicians like him will challenge the comfort zones of many, and he's too edgy for most ccm radio stations. But some of us who sleep in the relative safety of suburbs are thankful that T-Bone can take the gospel into circles where the best response we could expect is derisive laughter.
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T-Bone's The Last Street Preacha can be ordered at ChristianBook.com and other music retailers.
Flicker Records' T-Bone site offers sound clips, a video, even desktop wallpaper for die-hard fans.
ChristianityToday.com's Music channel also reviewed The Last Street Preacha.
Christianity Today also published an article another Christian rap group, P.O.D.
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