Papa San

God & I

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On Papa San's first offering since 1999's smash Victory, he employs the same meld of dancehall, hip-hop, reggae, R&B, and gospel. What makes it an even finer album is how seamlessly this meld works now -- the radical shifts in style and delivery no longer occur, they all become part and parcel of a sound so unique, so out of left field, yet so accessible that it's infectious. God & I is also his sophomore effort on Kirk Franklin's Gospocentric label; Franklin acts as one of the album's producers along with the artist, Da Rock, Uncle Freddie, and Rohan. Apart from Franklin's trademark layering of backing vocals, God & I is such a unified effort -- to its credit -- that it could have been the work of any one of the aforementioned. A standout track is the opener, "Stray Far," with its hip-hop rhythm that transmutes into a sub-dancehall groove, underscored by a gorgeous trio of backing vocals. When San gets to the line, "Change my heart I am not OK," the listener can grasp that despite the sweet groove and popping mix, the lyric is deadly serious. This is a plea for change, for transformation, and to never be left to fend for himself in the world. Not everything here comes off so urgently; there are genuinely celebratory songs here as well, such as the very next track, "You Don't Know," which sounds like Kid Creole & the Coconuts-meets-dancehall. "Can't Flee From Your Presence" brings sonic textures worthy of the Asian Dub Foundation into a lightning-fast dubby dancehall style. On "You're the Only One," the mid-'70s Stevie Wonder-styled funk, shimmied up against hip-hop and covered up with rapid-fire DJ high-styling, is smoking in its intensity and criss-crossing rhythmic invention. It's dense, funky as heaven, and so deep in the groove that it takes the album to an entirely new level. The duet with Franklin, "Brighter Day," is also a stunner with the chorus of vocals, rapping, and gospel choruses winding themselves inseparably around one another, with layers of synthesized strings, enormous drums, and popping, layered basslines framing the whole funky mess. It should also be noted that unlike many gospel and CCM artists, Papa San's lyrical invention is second to none. He may be talking about the necessity of having God in one's life throughout, but this is clever, shockingly seamless street poetry of the highest order. Papa San has displayed with each release his ability to raise the bar, and God & I is no exception.

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