It might be a misnomer to call Thi'sl a Christian Rapper. Like many other artists, he just raps about his life. And God happens to play a big part in his life.
Well, Thi'sl is one of the hottest rappers coming out of St. Louis. In fact, statistics show that he might be the hottest rapper in the America right now. Twenty-four hours after his Beautiful Monster album dropped, it climbed to the No. 1 spot -- No. 1 Spot! -- on the iTunes Top Hip-Hop/Rap Chart. Which means he beat out Kanye and Jay-Z's Watch the Throne, Royce Da 5'9" and Eminem's Hell: The Sequel, and Wu-Tang's Legendary Weapons. It is worth noting that there's something a little strange about those same charts at the moment -- many of the big names are conspicuously absent. At one point, Beautiful Monster was sitting at number five on a list populated by more familiar names. He's currently sitting at 21 on the overall chart. But there's more to his story than numbers anyway.
When it debuted, Beautiful Monster was the only album in the top 20 without that red "explicit" label. But that doesn't mean Thi'sl is soft.
He is, in fact, a power rapper, laying raspy and stunted Jeezy-sounding bars over thumping Maybach Music-style bells-and-whistle beats. His verses aren't filled with preachy couplets. They seek to convey a more big-picture spiritual message. He raps about God the way Wiz Khalifa raps about weed: sometimes subtly, sometimes directly, sometimes as the subject of an entire song, but always maintained as an underlying theme throughout an album.
"I bail up out the crib, pull out the driveway/ Hit Natural Bridge, head up straight to the highway/ I gotta thank the Lord that I'm alive today/ Because he coulda let me die when them choppers sprayed," he raps in "Been There Done That."
And that's the thing about Thi'sl -- his music is still street. He speaks about God and faith in the context of the hood. So the guns and drugs and girls are all there in his songs, except they are presented through the lens of a man looking back to the days before he found God. He's not trying to save souls from eternal damnation as much as he is trying to save souls from the trappings of urban poverty.
He explains on his website:
In the hood we are some of the most religious, hypocritical people I have ever seen. We have what my friends and I call "Hood Theology." We know God exists, we say we love God, we pray, we may even go to church, but we think God is cool with everything we do. I know I been there. I'm in the back of the police car cuffed up, I'm like, "God get me out of this please I will never do it again." Soon as I'm out the car I'm right back at it again. I'm stupid high riding in the car, like, "man God please don't let me crash, I'm done getting blowed." Soon as I wake up the next day I'm right back at it again... I thought God was cool with how I was living, but He wasn't, and if you living that way He is not cool with it either.
Even when Thi'sl's verses are more overtly spiritual, they never sound forced or imposing or gratuitous -- because they never leave the context of his own experience.
"Go ahead and getcha gat/ You can go and cock it back/ When Christ rolls up out the grave and he's coming back/ One day Imma rise with him, meet up in the skies with him/ that's why I'm willing to live and even die with him," he says on "I Ain't Turning Back."
Ostensibly, Thi'sl seems to possess the deficiencies of many power rappers: one-dimensional flow and flashes of overly simple lyrics. Generally, these points impair power rappers because it homogenizes them, turns them into hip-hop cliches. But Thi'sl's content and creativity keeps him fresh and interesting. He tells stories and has a great feel for narrative. He constructs phrases and song concepts you've never heard before -- partly because the Christian Rap market is sparse and party because he's simply a talented artist with an innovative mind.
For instance: "You took away so much and I could never get it back/ That's why I took a vow that I would never take you back/ Yeah I was doing good, but I was hurting people/ I thought you was so pure, but you was pure evil/ Yeah when I was hungry, you hooked me with some meals/ When it was time for rent, yeah you helped me pay the bills," he says in "I Hate You," which is about a past relationship with crack cocaine. "I hate the fact I helped you make a slave of my mummy/ But that's because you told me that I only needed money/ You played me like a fool, yeah you used me like a dummy."
This isn't the first time Thi'sl has made a splash on iTunes. His 2009 album Chronicles of an X Hustler reached No. 4 on the iTunes Hip-Hop/Rap chart.
Alongside Prince Ea, Black Spade, Nato Caliph, Rockwell Knuckles and plenty of others, Thi'sl is moving the perception of St. Louis Hip-Hop away from the poppy bangers of (post-Nellyville) Nelly and Chingy and Huey toward the intellectualism and artistry of the city's current Rap Renaissance.
And thank God for that.