This review allows writer Jamie Lee Rake to explain the origins of his interest in R&B/R&P and how too often it ends up in spiritual fast food nation territory.
The Well Mixtape, Volume 1
Various Artists/Mixed by DJ Dex
Free stream and download at http://www.datpiff.com/pop-
If there ever were a time when I came to soul gospel and holy hip-hop with an implicit trust that the music was largely doctrinally and theologically sound artistry made and promoted by by people with ministry in mind at least as much as monetary gain, that phase of my life has long passed.
Yet since it was played at hours I was listening to my favorite AM R&B station, soul gospel became the first Christianny music that resonated with me after I finally figured out that, yep, I'm Christian. And not to pay myself on the back so hard that I cough, but I was one of the first critics/journalists to take holy hip-hop--or Christian rap, if you must--seriously, at least within the contempo' Christian music press. And that was only because I was still fairly rabid about buying general market hip-hop vinyl as the form first broke among church folk in the second half of the '80s.
All of that is to preface saying that, for various reasons...
First of all, I still keep abreast of what's what's going on in commercial radio soul gospel despite it's been nigh nigh entirely overrun by proponents of heresies such as the word-faith prosperity gospel and Trinity-denying oneness modalism/oneness Pentecostalism; and if the singers and musicians in the scene aren't vocal about advocating it, they nigh invariably countenance such false teachings by appearing at events promoted false teachers, arguably most notably Texas modalist preacher T.D. Jakes' Mega-Fest. I still enjoy much of what's going on musically in it; and if I don't expect much nor plumb too deeply for doctrinal/theological edification from it, I it can provide an encouragement that's still less lyrically pornographic than the current general market R&B with which it continues to maintain an aesthetically symbiotic relationship.
I also don't keep up much with what's going on going on in holy hip-hop, regardless the presence of Reformed rappers who eschew the foolishness of the aforementioned troubles besetting commercial soul gospel. The scene has become big enough to be covered by multiple websites, and it's nether in labels', management's nor my interest for me to receive music I've no platform for nor interest in writing about. Like a boyfriend who has broken up relatively amicably with a gal pal, I wish it well and hope some good comes out of it, but I don't spend much time thinking about what's going on there.
All of this brings us to DJ Dex. The man born Dexter Easley Jr. has a weekend mix show running on high-profile gospel choir director Kirk Franklin's Sirius XM satellite radio station. He also can be heard weekdays providing mixed sets for the syndicated morning radio show hosted by Erica Campbell, half of the (late?) R&B gospel sister duo Mary Mary, lately known nearly as much for their "reality" cable show as their music. Campbell recently took over the same airtime held for several years by solo singer Yolanda Adams. Whether there's a dearth of talent in realm of dues and dames with turntables and/or laptops stitching together bits of holy hip-hop and R&P (rhythm & praise, a less wordy way to say gospel R&B) or whether Dex is all that, he seems to be the current man of the moment in his niche.
The Well Vol. 1 is the latest of several mixtapes Dex has issued online for free since at least 2013. Such releases can serve different purposes, but in this case, it seems to promote new releases by established acts (benefactor Franklin, as well as other gospel radio regulars including Kiki Sheard and Deitrick Haddon and buddy to notorious word-faith preacher Creflo "God Wants Me To Have a $65 Million Jet" Dollar Canton Jones and Reach Records rappers Trip Lee, Andy Mineo and Lecrae), and often more engaging in their noisiness, singers and rhymers on the rise who haven't yet cracked through the the gospel media industrial complex; among those are one whom he calls his brother, Bizzle, J-Paul, Jordan Armstrong, and Sean C. Johnson, who has the chutzpah to nearly swipe a Dr. Dre & Snoop Dogg title for his own composition, "Nothing But A G Thing. " The last two fellas have the sort of smooth tone that could posit them as go-to hook singers in their field, in the manner of the late Nate Dogg was in general market hip-hop.
Maybe, maybe, there is some way to hype oneself, one's prime satellite radio gig and apparent sponsors, among Dex's being holy hip-hop news website NewH20.com and LiveMixtapes.com, and sound humble about it all. It may be that I'm mistaking Dex's keening, breathless ejaculations of enthusiasm for ego. But yeah, it still sounds like he's rather fond of himself.
Air horns, laser squiggles and dropped-in shout outs from luminaries like gospel and R&B producer Rodney Jerkins add to the excitement that Dex and his generally engaging selections don't already provide. But does he actually mix the songs, as in making the beats and/or melodies align to make a seamless flow?
Not here does he, though he accomplishes that frequently on his shorter segments on Campbell's program. He excels at his niche when he decides to plumb it.
The Well and projects like it in the R&P/holy hip-hop realm and rest of the world sound to have their mandate as quick-fix samplers of what's hot and happening. And if you lose track of the number of times the person responsible for putting all the pieces together gives his or her name between and during all the tunes, you're apt to remember that name come the next time your ears are hungry for another mixtape. Dex isn't about to let you forget his moniker.
That is to say that he's not giving me any greater an impression of the ministerial intent of his sector of the gospel world than what I get by listening to Bobby Jones' radio countdown every weekend. I still like much of the music for the music's sake, but it's too often spiritual fast food. Dex serves it hot and tasty in this first trip to The Well, though, so for that he gets...
Jamie Lee Rake