John Book/The Run-Off Groove
theBREAX break out of the box to make a bold statement
When I first heard about theBREAX's new album, titled When theBREAX Sold Out! (Eye Am), I actually thought it was some kind of April Fool's joke, especially since it was released on April 1, 2008. Here is a positive hip-hop group who are devoted to sharing their Christian values, and when I had first heard them I thought they were quite good. The cover for the album had the group looking hi-pro, blinging it a bit and showing off a name plate. I wanted to know how these guys were going to sell out, and more importantly why.
For older fans, this is not your favorite group truly selling out. The liner notes state that what they wanted to do is change up their style significantly to show that they can sound like all of the groups that are out there today, they can flow and make beats as if they were any other trend follower. In other words, they wanted to create an album that could be, in their words, "commercially successful", but at the same time creating satire while offering commentary on the state of hip-hop and the music industry. If you were to listen to this album, one might be surprised to know that they are a Christian group. Some of those deliberate overtones have been toned down a notch, but even without that, these guys show that they got some tight lyrics and know how to execute them in a slightly "harder" sound. In fact, one notices that Mic B, Beleaf Melanin, and Ruslan have a knack for dropping humor whenever necessary but not coming off as jokesters. In tracks like "Two Miles An Hour", "Swing", and "Get Ignorant" they create the kind of jams that someone might expect from Petey Pablo, David Banner, or Kanye West, and in the latter track they don't mind telling people with the bling that all they're doing is tryin' to use jewelry to cover your soul. "Swing" wouldn't mean a thing if these guys didn't have it, but here Beleaf tells people if you're going to swing, swing for what's right and what you believe in, and especially swing for your dreams, swing for your goals/go get that money, just don't sell your soul.
In many ways, this is a modern day version of De La Soul Is Dead, where theBREAX take a look at the present state of hip-hop and pokes fun at it while trying to explain that what they do is a representation of what made them rappers in the first place. One can't help but listen to these songs and nod the head, but hear every few lines and go "that is too true". Arguably, being a Christian group may have limited their appeal to some but by adjusting their formula for an album, they're telling people that in truth they aren't that different from any other group with a message to say. Of course in this era and time, it's hard to find rappers who have a message or mission statement, or if it has nothing to do with making that money, it's not worth your while. Honestly, these guys sound great in their "sell out" phase and could easily measure up with a group like Time Machine. The way they write is very much the same, all that is different is the musical backdrop, and with luck their longtime fans will know about hip-hop as a whole and not reject them because they think theBREAX have been blinded by the jewels and superstardom. New fans will be surprised at how they had not heard of this group, and maybe selling out for 58 minutes and 58 seconds was something that was needed to let people know who they are and what they are about. They decided to "break out of the box" and in the end created something that not only represents their power as a group, but what hip-hop once meant to all of us regardless of spiritual persuasion. Perhaps it's not the music that sold out, but the fans who wanted a piece of the unobtainable pie.