A Slice of Hip-Hop: “Game Light,” by Signs


I met hip-hop artist Signs (aka Sunny Ade) on a cold Chicago sidewalk, when he handed me his album All I Need and told my wife how beautiful she looks (which is an effective way to get my attention if you want me to listen to your music). The album consists mostly of life-affirming songs that veer into holy hip-hop territory — but with a dose of gritty realism, too. One such example that has grown on me is “Game Light,” which tells the story of “trying to survive the streets just to be a success.” In “Game Light,” Signs addresses pain. The lyrics alternate between asking for God to transcend obstacles and just giving up and maybe checking out permanently — a real struggle with no promise of making it but a resolve to deal with life. And the music just adds to the mood, especially the samples, which combine Isley Brothers style funky keyboards and a killer horn riff a la Isaac Hayes.

According to Signs, the song “Is about inspiration and faith,” but he does not consider the song to be about religion, either.

“This is not a Christian song,” he said to me in an interview conducted over Facebook. “It is simply a song about struggles in life and how we are to constantly maintain ourselves within those struggles by believing because the just shall live by faith and not by the problems they see.

“Game Light” is what happens when you catch someone’s ear with music and a story. In this case, the story happens to be spiritual in nature. You can usually tell when an artist sets out to make a statement, whether spiritual, political, or social: too often, you get cringe-worthy crap. Why? Because the artist who focuses on the statement foremost forgets that you have to make compelling art, too.

That’s why it makes total sense for Signs to sing about his spiritual inspirations but also claim that he’s not creating a “Christian song.” And because he puts the songwriting first, “Game Light” succeeds.

Check out the entire All I Need record here and meet Signs on Facebook here.

A Slice of Hip-Hop: “What Would Jesus Do (WWJD),” by DATz DEM

Are you ready for some gospel hip-hop? Check out “What Would Jesus Do (WWJD),” from DATz DEM, which consists of artists ILL Son and Focist P. The opening moments of “WWJD” evoke Marvin Gaye’s gospel side, with a soulful vocal floating above strings before ILL Son and Focist P trade raps about Jesus, Psalm 23, and the joys of spirituality (they name check televangelist Creflo Dollar for good measure).

The lyrics are an unabashed expression of the Christian faith and a condemnation of all things evil.  “The devil is a lie, that’s why people be killing,” they rap, “Robbing and stealing sometimes for no reason/Cutting down trees in the Garden of Eden/The Snake got you eatin’ forbidden fruit/So the question is for you/What would Jesus do.”

“WWJD” is an affirmation of life (“Every day above ground is a wonderful day”) and faith (Jesus “delivers us from evil like a Greyhound bus”). “WWJD” is also ILL Son’s first foray into gospel hip-hop and a departure from the romantic, secular “Wait for Me,” which I featured on Superhype earlier this year.

In an email interview with me, ILL Son explained that “WWJD” is “a direct reflection of how I have been pursuing my dreams for 15 years and counting; and no matter how long it takes, we shall achieve our goals.” He believes the spirituality of “WWJD” co-exists comfortably with more secular material because both types of songs simply reflect what he and Focist P are feeling from moment to moment.

“I just feel that however the music speaks to us at that moment, that is what comes from the heart,” he says. “We do not put ourselves into any kind of musical box.” He describes the audience for “WWJ” not in religious terms but as “anyone who enjoys great hip-hop music.”

This summer, they performed three shows (including “WWJD”) over two nights at the Atlanta Gospel Fest, where the likes of Shirley Caesar and Montel Jordan appeared (an experience that ILL Son describes as “a blessing’). Now ILL Son and Focist P are busy on a mixtape, video for “WWJD,” and a promotional tour.

You can be sure the experience will be inspirational.

For further explorationcheck out this site for more insight into gospel hip-hop. And if you are not already fans of Marvin Gaye and Al Green, I invite you to explore their musical legacy to appreciate how two giants of music mixed the secular with the spiritual in their art.