Empire is Derek Minor (formely PRo)'s independent debut album on his Reach Records label. While it chronologically follows 2013's smash Minorville on Reach, it's a much more musically and sonically ambitious endeavor. A wide range of collaborators is featured, including Traneshia, Tedashii, Lecrae, Canon, Colton Dixon, Deraj & Nobigdyl, and the producers -- Black Knight, Street Symphony, Gawvi, and Dirty Rice -- are all heavy hitters. The set's "Intro" juxtaposes Eastern Christian plainchant against military chants and tense, brooding, cinematic soundscapes. On the title track, Minor reveals the continual influence of Kanye West but turns it back on itself. Using the same samples as West's "Power," Minor employs it to an entirely different end: where West boasted about his own prowess, Minor lays all the credit on God. The sound here is simply epic.
Beats are created from layered harmonic chants -- male and female -- that could be used in theatrical productions (check "Who You Know") and the effect is ingenious. Minor's message continually reflects notions of political, cultural, and economic "empire" when contrasted with the creator's. The idea is stated over and over again in various guises throughout these tracks; fine examples also lie in "Kingdom Come" and the banging "Slow Down." "Stranger" is one of the set's most powerful cuts. Minor (with excellent vocal help from Roslyn Welch) indicts the Christian church when it judges those trapped in addiction, street life, violence, and the struggle for basic survival. The gorgeous Sephardic violin solo that plays like a lamentation through Welch's repetition of the phrase "Oh, I'm hurting" is deeply moving.
"Oceans," with Move Aside, has a lovely Caribbean vibe thanks to its liquid guitars and fat, cruising 4/4.
The lyric, however, reflects the longing for deliverance from the grind of everyday life. The spooky electro tinge in "Right by My Side," and its syncopated synth rhythms, belie a lyric that initially seems out of place on this album -- but listen a little closer and it fits the seam perfectly. "The Party People," which could be played on any FM hip-hop station, has terrific production but it's the only place where Minor's lyrics fall short due to clichés used early on. That small misstep aside, Empire is massive: it's creative, expansive, and expertly sequenced.
No matter what your spiritual predilection, there is much to enjoy here. Minor is not only a great rapper, but an excellent conceptual thinker. This is CCHH at its best.
|Intro / Derek Johnson / Chris Mackey||Derek Minor||2:12|
|All Hail the King / Derek Johnson / Dylan Phillips / Jared Wells||Derek Minor||3:42|
|Empire / Traneshia "Truth" Chiles / Derek Johnson / Brandon Peavy||Derek Minor||3:10|
|Who You Know / Derek Johnson / Chris Mackey||Derek Minor||4:14|
|Babel 1 / Derek Johnson / Rachel Kate / Mel Washington||Derek Minor||1:57|
|Kingdom Come / Brad Cooper / Derek Johnson||Derek Minor||3:27|
|Slow Down / Tedashii Anderson / Toney Frazier / Derek Johnson / Chris Mackey / Tyshane Thompson||Derek Minor||3:48|
|Stranger / Derek Johnson / Chris Mackey / Roslyn Welch||Derek Minor||4:45|
|Last Forever / Brad Cooper / Krishon Gaines / Derek Johnson / Chris Mackey||Derek Minor||3:47|
|Save Me / Derek Johnson / George Ramirez||Derek Minor||3:45|
|Babel 2 / Derek Johnson / Chris Mackey / Roslyn Welch||Derek Minor||3:01|
|Fly / Colton Dixon / Derek Johnson||Derek Minor||3:42|
|Oceans / Derek Johnson / Justin Paul||Derek Minor||3:35|
|Right by My Side / Gabriel Azucena / Derek Johnson / Chad Jones||Derek Minor||3:46|
|The Party People / Derek Johnson / Fernando Miranda / Martin Santiago / Joshua Scruggs||Derek Minor||3:57|
|Until the End of Time / Derek Johnson / Chris Mackey / Aaron McCain / Lecrae Moore||Derek Minor||5:18|