Magnificent, heavenly the god Kyle Ellison stays bent
It finally happened – a rapper is going by the name of God. If Yeezus was too subtle a concept for you, or you feel that the Rap Gods, Based Gods and God’s Sons of the world are beating around the burning bush, then let’s put a stop to the confusion. There is a god – and he lives in Chicago.
As it stands, we don’t know a lot more than that. He’s released three projects this year – The Bible mixtape, Before the Bible EP and now his debut album, confusingly also titled The Bible. Meanwhile his Twitter bio marks his location as “Heaven, Illinois” – so if nothing else, his concepts are consistent. Having broken the first few commandments in name alone, fears of Christian rap are further swept aside as he continues to work his way down the list. In both content and snarling delivery, God is more Pusha T than Malice – delivering sermons in dope deals and gun crime with numbing detail.
The religious imagery is there throughout, although used only as a jumping off point for his retelling of a sadly familiar Chicago narrative. Both ‘Church’ and opener ‘Genesis’ use choral singing as their backbone, but any aesthetic beauty is undercut by street rap boasts or the simmering hi-hat rolls which permeate the latter. It’s violence, then, that’s at the forefront of most of these ten songs, more often than not rooted in dogged survival tactics or dreams of an easier life. On ‘Genesis’ he literally fantasises about robbing Donald Trump by way of escaping the claustrophobia of earlier scenes; a baby cries in the dining room; a mother fucked up in the kitchen.
Meanwhile songs are stitched together with news reports of local killings, contextualising the fear. “9 niggas died in my hood last night and I coulda been the 10th,” he begins on ‘10 Niggas’, leading into the album’s most vivid storytelling. Guns are at every corner as friends and strangers get drawn into the crossfire. Senseless murder observed in one song is then routinely added to in the next – the cycle continuing. God doesn’t make drill, but the same sense of hopelessness is palatable; homicides are referenced as names on a list or T-shirt tribute.
For all of The Bible’s strengths, the album does lose steam in its trappier mid-section. It’s unclear who even produces his music, but God hasn’t quite the energy or eccentricity to stand out ahead of a million Atlanta rappers using the same saturated style. Thankfully those songs don’t overwhelm, and the project is nicely balanced by brighter sample-based cuts like ‘Focus’ and ‘Church’. ‘Broke’ too – recently performed at a 2 Chainz show – is sparse and simplistic, affording the Chicago rapper room to come with more imaginative flows.
Those few grumbles aside, as an overall package God’s music is almost suspiciously well put together. From the striking and carefully stylised artwork right down to the rigid song lengths, videos and concepts, it’s the kind of thing that smacks of external involvement. I don’t actually think that’s the case here – I don’t even know if God is marketable – but it does make for an impressive debut. The songs still need fine-tuning, but for something this ordered to come out of such chaos is a marvel in itself – let alone something made this well.