Like many music journalists, I've reviewed a wide range of genres, including Christian artists. I reviewed hot gospel groups that got me up moving to their beat, soul singers who thrilled me with their vocal talents, and grungy screamer bands that I had to admire for playing rough metal venues. Some of the messages were in-your-face and radical. Others were just new takes on traditional themes and didn't do much musically or spiritually.
However, when Chicago-based band, Untitled, send me their new CD, Wake Up!, I sat up and took notice. This band is monster size with little ego. Nine members strong currently, the band is ethnically (African-American, Latino, and European-American) and musically diverse and draws from soul, funk, Latin, rock, and reggae. They are strong instrumentally, bringing technically skilled musicians (guitar, bass, drums, percussion, and trumpet) into the mix. But it is over this beautiful musical base that two MC s present their slice-of-life raps about problems that face this country, with three singers offering backup vocals. It's an unusual mix of sounds and genres and it works!
In Wake Up!, Untitled presents eight of the band members sans current trumpet player. It also includes seven guest musicians (keys, drums, violin, sax, and trumpet), a guest poet, and a guest rapper. The result is a dynamic sound that is not only consciousness-raising, but also spiritual. Yet, they don't hammer their spiritual point so much that you shut down about it. The social and spiritual problems they talk about are concerns politicians and social commentators have been discussing–crime, rape, AIDS in Africa, starvation amid obesity, poverty, drugs, etc. The problems are told in story form about real people, but the solutions are spiritual.
The band even protests their right to do music their way in "Right 2 Live." It's a condemnation of the media, especially television, that labels music and seems to want to restrict what this band is trying to do. It is clear from this one song that the band has had problems with mainstream media recognizing their sound and what they are about. The lyrics in this song, by the way, are swapped back and forth between three MC s in English and Spanish.
The use of a chorus is a great tool Untitled applies to several songs. "Popular Opinion" uses a female chorus to start out a treatise on inner beauty delivered by the MC s. In "Open Your Eyes," "Freedom Fire," and "Change" the female voices draw in listeners to the hard message the MC brings. Male choruses are used in "Right 2 Live," "Breakfree," and "Eternity."
There is a delightful jazz rendering at the end of "Eternity." It's a pleasant break to the heaviness of the rap that precedes it.
Untitled has been able to take a time-worn message and breathed new life into it. The band presents a spiritual message in inventive, new ways to a new generation. This album crosses a number of genres and audiences, whether you come for the music or the message. Look for more to come from this band.