Saturday, February 11, 2012

Elation Foundation - An Exposition on The Beatitudes

As I continue to delve into the world of Holy Hip-Hop, I recently have been listening to the album Elation Foundation by Evangel (of the group Christcentric). As I mentioned in an earlier post on Holy Hip-Hop, Evangel is a stellar emcee, who I would put as one of the top three best Christian emcees -- and probably just emcees period -- alongside Shai Linne and Timothy Brindle. I was first introduced to his work with Christcentric, which was all excellent, but it took me a while to get a copy of his solo albums. Now that I have, they are nothing short of amazing.

Evangel seems to be the archetype of what might be called the "expositional rapper". The first album I heard him on was Christcentric's Ephesians Project, which is an album-length exposition on the book of Ephesians, with each song covering a corresponding chapter and set of verses. His first solo album is titled Expository Journey, and his second solo album -- Elation Foundation -- is an exposition of The Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount. He structures the album so that each track is an exposition on each of the beatitudes. Here are the beatitudes, from Matthew 5 of the NIV:

1 Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them.

    He said:

 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
   for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
   for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
   for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
   for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
   for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
   for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
   for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
   for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

And here is the tracklist for Elation Foundation, and the beatitude or verse which each song corresponds with:

1 Elation Foundation - (verse 1)
2 Mr. Smiley Face - (skit)
3 Bankruptcy Department - (verse 3)
4 Savings and Moans - (verse 4)
5 Soul Beneficiary Division - (verse 5)
6 Food Court - (verse 6)
7 Still The Elevator Man - (skit)
8 Mercy Mutual - (verse 7)
9 Pure Hearts - (verse 8)
10 Rejoice! - (verse 12)
11 Shalom Factory - (verse 9)
12 H.R. Dept. (Haters Revile, Heavenly Reward) - (verse 10)
13 Hilltop Housing - (verses 13-14)
14 Elation Summation (Outro summary)
15 Immigration Services (bonus)

As you can see, the title of each song reflects the beatitude that it covers. It's one thing to make a clever tracklisting, but what's extremely impressive is that the songs themselves have vibrant content that  faithfully expound upon each beatitude, in artistic ways. For example, on the track Food Court Evangel utilizes a running food and water metaphor throughout the song, relating them to Biblical truths that deal with hunger, thirst, food and water: "I seek to read, honestly a truth pursuit / Eatin' meat that ironically produces fruit / Because you faced terms / Were crushed for us, if we trust with faith firm / He'll flush the tapeworm". Concluding the song in this way: "Compliments to the Chef / There's no confidence in the flesh, leading to consequences of death / My etiquette is straight / I won't forsake the fellowship of saints / Now you imitate, go ahead and fix a plate."

Evangel's verse on H.R. Dept (which also features the other members of Christcentric), is among the better verses on the album and is worth quoting in its entirety:
Realizing the cost of the cross and the weight of it's worth
The world hates me, of course, 'cause it hated you first
If they're armed heavy with guns
There's nothing new under the sun, their stunts already been done
They're set to cry with their loud antithesis
Yet the scriptures testify with a cloud of witnesses
All the beatings they had, didn't silence their voice
They rejoiced and were exceedingly glad
When Jesus addressed with candor
They said he was demon possessed with slander
And it might get worse, John writes this verse
How Cain slew Abel for his righteous works
They won't leave us alone, Stephen was stoned
Looked up and saw you standing at the seat of your throne
Yeah, we endure cause we see the deal
It don't dare compare with the glory to be revealed 
The crowning jewel of the album comes just after all the beatitudes have been covered. On Hilltop Housing, which features a slamming sonic arrangement, Evangel discusses what it means for the church to be a "city on a hill that's not hidden", and the importance of righteousness, church discipline, and practicing what we preach. "As a body we need confrontation / We should be a congregation of consecration / Do we not see this? We call ourselves Jesus' / Body while parts of it look like prosthesis / These claims are unjust / When we're guilty of the same sin, let it not be named among us"

It should go without saying, if you've heard any of Evangel's work, that the rhymes throughout are superbly crafted and are sharply focused on whatever the topic at hand is. His wordplay and rhyme schemes are often extremely intricate, with each listening producing a greater appreciation for the amount of work that goes into the writing process. And his flow is masterful to boot.

The production on the album, save one or two soft beats, is hard-hitting and boom-bappy which suits my aesthetic preferences. I could have done without a few of the choruses, most notably on Bankruptcy Department and Pure Hearts, but since I'm primarily a fan of grimy, East Coast, beats-and-rhymes, boom-bap rap music -- which often finds hooks to be superfluous or detrimental -- that should come as no surprise. "Just get to the rapping", me and my brethren always say.

Evangel is one of the premiere rappers alive and working at this moment, and this is an extremely creative, Christ-centered, powerful album that is substantive and edifying for Christians and which demands attention from any serious hip-hop fan.


  1. Peace, Mr. Duffy. I also have much respect and adoration for Evangel's gift and his work, but find myself to be in disagreememt with some of this album's interpretations of the Beatitudes. For instance, the chorus of track 4 says, "Blessed are those who mourn for their sin," while the words 'for their sin' are clearly not found in verse 4 of the passage. I'm not convinced that verse 4 is about sin or repentance, per se. I do think it speaks to the amazing - and mysterious - availability of God's comfort, to those who trust Jesus.

    While I'm sure I have a lot yet to learn about this passage, my understanding is that parts of it illustrate the radical ways in which God's Kingdom differs from earthly or human kingdoms. They also speak to the availability of that Kingdom to people oppressed and marginalized by (first century Palestinian) society - signifying a great reversal. I think Evangel and 'Mr. Elevator Man' would agree with that, as would you.

    However, I would suggest that there is no blessing in mourning or spiritual poverty in themselves. By God's grace, the Kingdom is theirs in spite of their (and our) loss or poverty - not because of it. I do agree, with the Elation Summation, that parts of this passage speak powerfully to the development of Christian character. However, I would add that some parts speak to the love and grace that come with Jesus' inauguration of God's kingdom - something that is both more specific and more expansive.

    What are your thoughts?

    1. Thank you for your comment PLB. I largely agree with your thoughts and observations here. We have to keep in mind that God's word is inexhaustible, so while Evangel may act as a faithful expositor of the text, that doesn't mean he will necessarily be able to fully convey the complete truth that they contain.

      As for your comments on the track 'Savings and Moans', if we are mourners, what is there to mourn besides our sins, and the suffering and death that results from them? Our need for comfort would be infinitely less in a world that hadn't fallen. Inferring sin from the presence of mourning seems to be a logical move on Evangel's part. And though I agree with you that spiritual and material poverty isn't an end in itself, it does seem to be a means by which God intends to work through his people in the fallen world.