For many hip-hop heads, the term “Christian rap” has a very specific connotation – namely, music that is too sanctimonious and concerned with religious matters to be truly enjoyable for the secular crowd. While Washington Heights-hailing Andy Mineo’s sophomore album Uncomfortable (released on Lecrae’s Reach Records) certainly has its share of Christian messages, it is surprisingly accessible outside of the church. Mineo’s cartoon-toned bars are paired with a disarmingly soulful singing voice, and along with his overarching theme of positivity, he evokes the early work of Canadian MC k-os. In fact, Andy’s sound lines up with contemporary backpack or conscious rap quite well, without veering too extremely into preachy territory (Christian or otherwise).
Over smooth, New York hip-hop beats, Uncomfortable unfolds as a collection of Mineo’s real-life experiences and growth, tackling predictable topics such as faith, youthful idealism, and strained relationships. “Uptown” serves as a love letter to Washington Heights, with warm keyboards and jazz horns, plus a salsa-inspired outro. “Now I Know” addresses the loss of innocence through experiences both humorous (finding out WWF was scripted and that Jesus wasn’t white) and heartbreaking (the absence of Andy’s father) while “Know That’s Right” finds Andy pondering his potential as a positive influence with his newfound fame.
It does hold some surprises, however; the deeply personal second single “Hear My Heart,” a dedication to Andy’s older sister Grace – who was born deaf – is both heartfelt and a throwback to early 00s Dilla productions. “Strange Motions” is a tale of disillusionment and spiritual desire that takes a turn for the psychedelic, assisted by LA-based singer-songwriter Willow Stephens’ woozy guest vocals. Elsewhere, “Vendetta” embodies the spirit of the fed-up young American progressive in lines like “Pac did a lot more for me than Barack” and “We know the news never tell the truth, so we go to Twitter for our information.” It’s a decidedly more matter-of-fact, less sunshine-y view on the State of the Union than you might expect from a Christian record.
Perhaps the words that will get the most attention from the set come two minutes into Uncomfortable, on the title track: “I apologize for Christians with pickets saying ‘God hates fags’/I promise Jesus wouldn’t act like that.” Maybe not an extreme liberal stance in the context of the legalization of marriage equality this past year, but notable nonetheless within the confines of a widely homophobic hip-hop landscape, as well as potentially alienating to some of Mineo’s more zealous Christian fans.
That seems to be what Uncomfortable is all about, though: challenging the status quo when it comes to perceptions and capabilities of Christians, hip-hop, the millennial generation’s ideals, and more. On first listen, not much about the album may seem particularly revolutionary, but its implications for the intersectionality of faith and rap music are worth acknowledging. Plus, its jazzy hip-hop beats and quality storytelling are just as likely to be enjoyed at Sunday brunch as they are at Sunday service.