For over a decade now, rap-giant Bishop Lamont (Philip Martin from Carson, California) planned and deliberated in the wings of the game and the shadows of the underground, from experiencing a falling-in and then a falling-out with Dr. Dre label Aftermath Entertainment to sharing several powerful mixtapes with his fans and all the while generating a vast buzz with his craft. As time passed, hardcore hip-hop heads kept clamoring for more. In a year that has thus far seen many tremendous hip-hop projects, mostly independent and/or self-released, Bishop Lamont brings us another brilliant one, The Reformation: G.D.N.I.A.F.T (August 19), which some are claiming to be his official debut studio album, and despite his previous releases, it certainly feels and sounds like it is that AND the ultimate project of the man and emcee’s life at this point. And what better time than now to release it? The good bishop must have intentionally timed it out to drop the soberingly conscious gem in this particular global climate of economic turmoil and sociopolitical upheaval and malaise, and without a doubt, The Reformation does address the issues that trouble us plus the reforms we desperately need.
With nineteen tracks of enlightening hit after hit spanning one hour and twenty minutes, The Reformation is every bit the kind giant that Bishop Lamont himself is, but with a guest, sometimes several, in each song, it’s also a gathering, featuring a stunning group of lovely singers and strong emcees. On the bars-end, we’ve got seasoned spitters like the legend Lord Finesse, Xzibit, RBX, Warren G, Rapper Big Pooh, Ryu and Apathy doing their thing for a reason and to supply the sensuous melodics we have traditional song-vocalists like Empress Selassie, Sinead White and Shaun Morgan from post-grunge/alternative metal band Seether. Everyone is down for the cause, and they all connect and blend as they should. Of course the feature presentation is collectively all the good sociopolitical messages that Bishop Lamont doses out across the disc, not all at once or all the time but spread out to keep our attention. In the process, he builds a healthy comprehensive manifesto from top to bottom.
Bishop Lamont’s intro is in the form of an anti-texting-slash-calling while driving skit in which he is an actor and subsequently gets tangled up in the ensuing accident. It segues into the previewing “Then You Die.” Persistent and contemplative, Lamont has every reason to fight on. One of his first big drops comes in “The Heretic” when he says, “look at every motherf*cker in the world that’s rich, most of them got it off some cutthroat shit.” He and Ras Kass explain the backwards ways of the rap music industry these days in “The Realest Sh*t,” and in short, they’re basically telling us that too many people who claim to be real are actually really fake, and it’s true unfortunately, in every walk of life even. “Shoot Em Up” and “Crazy” do get tied up in some gangsterism, but it’s only relegated to those songs, and in them some other themes are touched upon too, namely self-defense and the occasional necessity to use force in order to combat force.
“Life or Death” comes to terms with, you guessed it, life and death but also heaven and hell on earth, generally saying you reap what you sow throughout, and in “Lord in Heaven,” Bishop Lamont uses several hood analogies to say that if you live dirty and don’t change, you’re going to meet a dirty end. The latter song is very karmic and it showcases some of Lamont’s good storytelling skills. “Razor Blade” provides some time to cool out and spark one, with veterans Warren G and Kokane. “Here We Go Again” is likewise another one of The Reformation’s more low-key, but still great, parts (peep the Pac homage), but “Are You Ready” is not. It’s amped with love and a great sense of community. The whole song is quotable, but you can hear it for yourself.
Bishop covers other general though still very useful topics further in, and his spirituality shows without him proselytizing thankfully. He handles feelings of disillusionment, faith, holding on, and killing the devil in all its forms. Aside from that, the proceeding final section is loaded with many gorgeous must-hear passages. Take this line by Lamont from “Dream Big”: “I can’t hate nations I’ve never been to… we’ve never met so how’m I gon’ beef with you… I can’t judge, I don’t know what you’ve been through, it might be different, could be the same, but all I know we got in common every human got pain.” Later, in “Speak to Me,” the theme is how the wrong direction taken by the game is negatively influencing the impressionable as in “men and women of the cloth not all ’em true, condemning you but they be secretly sinnin’ too, stop giving millions to these hypocrites, while they all ballin’ but the hood ain’t rich, yeah I know it’s business, you gotta get ya dough, but don’t forget to handle business and save some souls.” “Phoenix” however contains statements that are still more profound and prophetic: “Can the world withstand the ignorance of man, can the world withstand the greediness of man, can our world withstand the self-destructiveness of man?… too many conflicted predictions of political oppositions that are always on a mission, for selfish acquisition, for money, for power, more land, the water, what’s yours, what’s ours, the ground where you stand so much blood was spilt on, prisons need our freedom, that’s what the systems built on.”
Still, there might be nothing more rattling for you than the penultimate “Un-American,” where Bishop Lamont, Apathy (Demigodz, Army of the Pharaohs) and Ryu (Styles of Beyond) lambaste the for-profit, anti-humanity United States of America. What’s most grabbing in the song and probably why it’s near the end is their clarification that if you’re not speaking out about America’s gross problems then you’re really not a patriotic American after all. The outro is just as clever. The fate of the two car accident victims from the beginning skit hints at a nightmare awaiting them at the hospital… the hospital of all places. Still like Western healthcare now? In all, another beautiful, classic package of exquisite rhyme schemes, powerful messages, varied beats and diverse guests has been delivered to us early this holiday season. Bishop Lamont finally has that grand masterpiece he’s been working toward since the start and we can all learn a lot from it. When you’re as literate, courageous and politically feisty on the mic as Bishop Lamont is, of course the mainstream is not going to embrace you, but in Bishop’s case, he fought like a mother to get where he is now and wow did it pay off! (stream on Spotify here or purchase at iTunes here or at Google Play here)
5 out of 5 stars