Is This Thing On?

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Red Cloud is a Christian rapper. This must be mentioned first, not because of the clutch of proselytizing numbers found on this set, but for the far more subtle impact religion seems to have had on both this album and its artist. Drawn to hip-hop from childhood, the former gang-banger was born again, and invariably decided to evangelize through rap. Red Cloud was already juggling dual ethnic identities -- Native American and Mexican, with the Anglo world he resided in -- but Christianity seems to have widened his perspective, opening the door to other cultures and musical styles. Thus Is This Thing On? is a wild ride, with the album's sermonizing leavened by plenty of humor. "When Kenpo Strikes" is a brilliant case in point, re-imagining Carl Douglas' paean to "King Fu Fighting" flicks as a real-world, life in a day in the ghetto travail. The title track is just as clever, wherein our hip-hop hero wins over the redneck crowd in a cowboy bar with his C&W-flavored rap. Funniest of all is "The Pigeon John Song," a wicked spoof of Eminem's "Stan," themed around a put-upon Pigeon, the stalking wannabe Red Cloud, and album producer sirROC playing his own alter ego, Syntax label head Tim Trudeau. There are musical jokes as well, and dancehall fans will particularly appreciate "Musical Aggression," which lampoons the early ragga age sound right down to the simplistic Casio hook, while overhead Red Cloud and Christafari pepper the disc with machine gun toasts in '90s style, misappropriating the dancehall vibes for their own cultural message. On the powerful "Koyote Gospel," Red Cloud, assisted by Elijah One, delves deep into Native history, before eloquently describing how it colored his own conversion. The wittily titled "Last of the Mex-Hee-Cans" vividly describes the apocalypse, "Final Daez" looks at the damned, while the gloomy rock of "Otherside of the Pillow" offers a bit of hope before the final judgment. Sackcloth Fashion joins the rapper on the heavy hitting day in the life "Cali Blacktop," one of the numerous combo numbers within, which reaches a crescendo with the congregation-filled "Ridiculous Junk." Musically adventurous with its influences proudly unveiled, and lyrically involving, this is a thoroughly entertaining set. And even if Red Cloud is sometimes a bit heavy-handed with his preaching, there's enough creative inspiration here to overcome it. Still room to grow, but an inspired debut.

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