EMPIRE by Derek Minor
On the heels of his departure from Reach Records, and continuing with his RMG (Reflection Music Group) imprint, Derek Minor brings his newest offering Empire.
Throughout his musical career Minor has gone through many lyrical/flow phases, from the gritty and storytelling PRo, to the 116-anthem screaming Derek Minor. Depending on one’s tastes, either each of them was well received, or rejected. For me personally I was dismayed when he would move in the anthem screaming vein, because before he signed with Reach, I was in love with his ability to illustrate a story in his bars. His last project before this one was Minorville, and I was grateful to see a better balance of the two, and was by far my favorite album from him.
So now we come to Empire, where we have Minor intending on communicating the nature of empires, and ultimately the one empire that will stand forever. It starts off with an intro track that is INCREDIBLY impressive and needed to be done in bringing across the tone for this kind of topic. The cinematic crescendo that precedes the drop of the beat was genius and it provided a great setup for him going off. As he begins to rap, I’m reminded of how even Don Cannon on Lecrae’s Church Clothes mixtapes continued to push this “Reach Records empire” thing (which I’m so not a fan of), and how in the eyes of many people it would seem foolish to leave such a successful record label. I appreciate him speaking on him leaving and telling us that it’s not as big of a deal as making Jesus famous.
After the intro, he keeps it going strong in message and production with probably my favorite track on this album, “All Hail The King” which is pretty explanatory. Derek was pretty dope with his lines (that Lord/Lorde line though…) and Deraj really stood out for his flow changes which kept me engaged and moving. Keep a lookout for nobigdyl who was the last artist on that track, he was Minor’s former road manager, and he surprised me greatly. The strong push then continues with the title track featuring high quality vocals from Traneshia ‘Truth’ Chiles, and I loved the time put in his verses here. A little thing I noticed in his lyrics though, is when he says, “They say, “Minor we be waitin’ on that fire often”, I’m tryna cremate a beat/they won’t even see it coffin/” then says, “I bet you think that this that braggin’ flow”. It seemed like that last line contradicted his prior one, but maybe that was him trying to be ironic. Besides that though, the title track was done MUCH justice!
As you go through the album there are other tracks that definitely stand out, from “Save Me”, “Stranger”, “Until The End Of Time” and others, which were anthems or contemplative/introspective/illustrative tracks among them. “Save Me” in particular stands out greatly, because it is Minor’s most revealing track I believe I’ve ever heard from him, even though in the past as PRo he revealed himself. In this track he went even deeper, for he reveals such a depth of struggle that many have identified with. In 2014, he lost his father to an overdose and lost his aunt and sister, then his wife was in an accident that injured her back, THEN lost a friend who mishandled his financial business. In the song he states that he feels evil surrounding him, and I felt the weight of these things as I listened to the song. I found myself repeating the track after hearing it, and instantly knew that this would minister to all who heard it.
It reminded me of David in the Psalms, for Minor cried out to God wondering where He was. As Christians, sometimes we can convey with a smile that everything is “blessed and well”, yet are drowning in sorrows or afflictions. It’s a blessing to see this come out on wax with Minor. “Stranger” stood out in a season of racial conflict and the need for the body of Christ to be sensitive to this reality that we’ve had to deal with in society lately. It didn’t outright fit the empire theme; however since Christ as ruler is concerned with the affairs of man right now, it behooves us to be aware and actually address these things, becoming empathetic to each other.
In spite of all the praise I’ve given so far for this album, the one thing that bugged me to NO end in certain songs was the copying of popular styles. “Who You Know” could’ve been an incredible track, knowing the topic it addressed, as well as the insane beat picked. However, it was ruined by biting Future and Migos flow. I won’t act like the expert on mainstream secular Hip Hop artists, but as soon as I heard the track, I turned it off annoyed. I noticed the flow immediately. It’s not bad to have influences because all artists have them, but I don’t appreciate lazy artistry ESPECIALLY considering how much time and energy was put to the tracks I previously raved about in this review. “Right By My Side” falls into this a little too, but this one is less biting, but more of following a trend.
Despite those annoyances, this album brought some memorable tracks along with great featured artists like Lecrae, J Paul, Leah Smith, and even lesser known artists like Deraj, Traneisha, and others. I also appreciated the impressive production from Dirty Rice, G Roc, Gawvi, Black Knight and more. Minor brought a concept and conveyed his point pretty well, and in the midst of what could be considered a well-spoken idea of empires in CHH songs (Dre Murray’s “Pharoah” comes to mind), it came through as unique to him. This project felt designed, authentic, as well as passionate. No one can leave this album and feel like he didn’t pour his heart out here. His aim I feel was accomplished, and until the kingdoms of this world becomes the kingdoms of our Lord, may we walk out His calling and build His empire.