RJ Griffith – Prey – EP Review + Bonus Singles
Faith-based music really needs a champion like this.
For real – it’s not like it’s any kind of secret or anything…music that carries the good word has nearly always proven to be savagely tough to slog through in any genre. From the all-too-gentle acoustic guitar-strummin’ happy-dude to music that understands the weight of the message but can’t match-up in the music department, there have been many more misses in faith-based music than there have ever been hits. Mind you…the majority of artists/bands that pursue that approach generally aren’t setting their sights on mainstream success so much as they are just doing their part to create something enjoyable enough to listen to that carries the message forward to a new audience…and besides that, success is a relative term. For many of those artists/bands out there in the independent music-scene that grew-up on Relient K, Jars of Clay & DC Talk – just spreading the word is more than enough reward.
What IF though…and I’m just throwing this out there to you all to see if this idea sticks with someone out there…what IF faith-based music could be MORE than that? What IF it actually came through on the entertainment-factor just as strongly as it did through the conviction of its lyrical-content? What IF the music & material was strong enough to pull in people outside of a religious background into an all-new experience – would that be such a bad thing? I’m just saying…I’ve often thought that might be an ideal direction for faith-based music to head towards…you know, to create something the people of our modern-day might actually WANT to listen to…like what RJ Griffith has come up with on his Prey EP.
Now I might not be the religious-type myself, but that doesn’t mean the good-word can’t appeal to a heathen like me too – it’s just extremely rare that I find anything in the faith-based genres that doesn’t make the mission an obvious one. With the speed of the rap, the quality of the music and not spending every moment overtly preaching at us as listeners – RJ Griffith has found clever ways to proclaim his faith in solid balance of his interests in music while still providing us all with something we’ll want to hear, no matter who you are or what you believe in.
If you’re following along with all of what I’m saying…then you’ll also notice the slick interchanging of the word ‘pray’ for Prey as the EP’s title – and in my opinion, before you even push play that tells you something. From what I know of faith-based music – RJ Griffith is already taking a chance with that title; it implies a courage to be bold enough to be controversial, socially-aware and strong enough in his convictions to follow through on making his points & perspectives known – and I dig that…I’ve got a lot of love and respect for artists like this that do a fantastic job of making you consider each & every word, what it might mean or how it applies.
Beginning with the twinkle & sparkle of a beautiful piano melody, “Reach For The Stars” goes on to reveal absolutely stunning vocals and exceptional talent on display immediately. With confidence, clarity and professional, noteworthy tone & range – RJ rises up to the challenges presented in the writing of this first short song to open the EP and soars straight into the clouds by the end of its less-than two-minute experience. You WILL get chills down your spine listening to RJ twist his vocals vibrantly through the gorgeous melody in the atmosphere – and as the song builds subtly as it expands, he lets it absolutely rip at the end of “Reach For The Stars,” holding an impressive note for a ten-second burst of astonishing brilliance in the final moments. Explaining his intentions and ambitions verbally through the lyricism…setting the stage for the positive vibes and uplifting sounds that flow throughout the EP…but most of all, setting the standard of quality immediately through his commitment to this tune. 100% captivating and a truly impressive start to the entire experience of listening to the Prey EP.
Switching the vibe to a modern-day chilled out trap-meets-trip-hop sound, “Tryna Live Life” crawls along slowly and tentatively with its low-down bass-tones and synth-line. Just prior to the two-minute mark, clever edits in the music start to pop into the mix as well, just as you’re looking for something to deviate and add a bit more variation to what we hear – perfect timing! I’ll say this…I know there’s an audience for this…and I dig the smoothness of the music and backing-vocals weaving in & out of the mix – BUT…comparatively to the first song you hear on the Prey EP it does feel, sound & move in a lot looser style and composition. Much of “Tryna Live Life” makes its magic through its repetition in the music and backing-layers of vocals assisting RJ’s main performance. That being said – I liked the amount of determination and energy you can hear in his vocals & I also thought that the hooks were strong enough; audibly-hypnotic, they definitely keep your attention firmly affixed to the song as it moves. Production qualities have extraordinary depth here…even though the ingredients to the overall music are minimal, they’re also maximized through the mix.
“God Bless Our Enemies” is a track I was already impressed with by title alone – I think that’s a sincerely beautiful sentiment and a fine example to set for the rest of the world. 2017 is going to be an exceptionally tough one if we don’t find a way to understand each other’s perspectives and make an added effort to accept them for what they are. Not everything needs a debate or an argument…sometimes, or a lot of the time, it’s best to just let people live & wish them well – hence an idea like “God Bless Our Enemies” takes shape. You can wish people well from afar like this and find people much more accepting of the idea, intention and message than going the route of getting right in someone’s face with an opinion or ideology. Another fantastically mixed song, “God Bless Our Enemies” is blissfully vibrant and rich in texture & sound, musically raising up the level even further on the Prey EP – definitely a noteworthy performance and early highlight on this record. RJ seems to have sensed the added pressure to rise to the occasion once again – and he’s never sounded more into it or more electrifying than does on “God Bless Our Enemies.” Extremely clever vocal-edits and backing layers keep this song moving sharply through R&B, Hip-Hop and electro-soul sounds that dynamically connect, shift and transition with bold precision – this is a gigantic tune and could certainly be a hit for Griffith with its explosive energy.
I was a bit more mixed on “Haunted By My Past” as a result of the song’s main hook. And you know something? I’m not even sure I’m going to be able to express why that is in words properly…because at the end of the day it’s performed well and it does work…it’s not like it’s a part that has any flaws exactly – I suppose I just didn’t feel the connection to the words there as strongly as you feel them in the rapped verses of this tune. That fair to say? I didn’t really feel it come alive, pop & standout as maybe it should have…not sure if that’s performance or mix to be truthful. What I did really like was the overall narrative and storyline of this song and how personal “Haunted By My Past” gets. Here’s where people outside of religion will more than likely find more common bonds with RJ than they might have initially thought possible as he details a hard life that’s certainly much different than the one he lives today. What I think is truly commendable however, is that “Haunted By My Past” also details that the struggle is REAL…that staying on the right path is NOT always the easiest task by any stretch of the imagination – and I think that it’s moments like this that acknowledge what is likely a shared experience among many listeners out there in relation to their own lives & struggles that will really connect with all kinds of people out there. Because it’s REAL – and I fully believe you can hear that in this song. So while I might not have been all too hot on the main chorus hook, I still felt like “Haunted By My Past” found a positive way to win through its impressive lyricism in the verse.
“I’ll Never Make It” – alright…I’m just gonna call it like I hear it – how many haters out there do you have Ramone? There have been multiple songs so far that seem to reference the haters…I’m not sure what kind of people are out there trying to drag this positive guy down, but the amount of emphasis on them here makes it sound like they could fill a stadium! That what you want homie? Best way to beat the haters might not be to give them a spotlight on their own song or multiple references so much as to completely let them be the irrelevant voices that they tend to truly be and leave them out of the music entirely. Mayyyyyyyyyyyyybe that’s just me that thinks that way. Anyhow. “I’ll Never Make It” establishes itself as one of the most distanced from the faith-based references and into personal tales of the people throughout the years that RJ has encountered along the way that attempted to put doubt into his mind. In that sense, you’ve gotta admire the triumph in the overall tale of “I’ll Never Make It” and Griffith’s story of perseverance…it ain’t easy to believe you can when everyone out there tells you that you can’t; I think many people out there will be able to relate to the tale told on this track.
“Mama” highlights the impressive range, control and tone of RJ’s vocals as he tributes the wonderful woman that brought him into this world. I’ve encountered similar songs thematically in the past…and of course anyone out there that reads along regularly knows these are about the toughest songs out there for me to connect to on a personal level as my own experience with family has no relation to the love & support so many often detail in their music like RJ has here on “Mama.” I always admire the idea of the tribute and certainly have spent many days & nights wishing I could possibly relate to words like these much more than I’m able to, but I’ve also come to accept it all for what it is. Fact is, many people out there will be able to relate to “Mama” and the love shown here by RJ – and regardless of your connection to its lyrical content, this is a seriously tight jam with a fresh energy in the music, beat & performance from Griffith that adds a lot of life towards the end of the Prey EP.
Ending the record with “Amen” and verbally riffing-on the 18th century bedtime prayer, RJ counts his blessings one final time before the EP’s all over. I liked the continual flow of the lyrics and their melody on this tune once it hit the peak of its development and RJ slips right into the rhythm & groove. He’s got great tone & sincerity in his vocals that consistently connects in all the songs we’ve heard from him on Prey – but I felt like it came through at its strongest in this final faith-based proclamation. Definitely a solid ending to what’s been a high-quality experience all the way through, completely entertaining to the ears as it wove through different styles, sounds and twisting of genres.
Because I was digging RJ’s music…I decided to continue on and check out a couple singles as well. And wouldn’t you know it dear readers, dear friends – after making it through the ENTIRE Christmas season with the most blissfully minimal exposure to Christmas songs I’ve had in four years (P.S. – THANK YOU) – well, I decided to click on one that RJ had covered. Seems we share an opinion on our love for Nat King Cole’s “The Christmas Song” – it’s one of the few I tend to fall for each and every year. With the confidence I had in Griffith’s vocals – I had to check it out, just to hear what he brought to one of the only Christmas songs I like…and I thought he did a BRILLIANT job. It’s definitely not an easy song to sing and still retain that same magic that King Cole had put into it…but I’d honestly vouch for RJ rising up to the task gloriously here in his cover-version. There’s a few moments towards the beginning where he sounds a bit less sure than others…but by the end of this tune I really thought he found a way to bring that magic to the music that’s required. Somewhere right around the two-minute mark, you hear RJ really find & feel that connection…and he continues on confidently from there on.
If you’ve ever been in your car and attempted to sing along with Bruno Mars, then chances are you’ve already experienced the pain of your own limitations like I have. RJ does a solid job of recreating “The Way You Are” with just piano and confidently delivers this song through his vocals on the well-known, massive Mars hit. I like that he doesn’t shy away from a challenge like this…going after a Mars song without the skill required to back it up would reveal anyone to be the punk they truly are, were they to miss the mark. RJ not only hits the target with resounding power & passion, he also does the cover justice through its variation and really made this version his own, unique from its original. Against a bare & minimal atmosphere, his vocals shine brightly and really left me with that positive & inspiring feeling I got from much of what I’d experienced through his own original music on the Prey EP.
RJ’s got a lot of talent and a lot working for him; depending on the route he takes his music…you might just find him at the top of multiple charts across multiple genres if he keeps this up. Whether looking to spread the faith-based message or just provide you with real audio-entertainment, Griffith has found all kinds of ways to win through the innovative approach he takes to his material – I dig it!
Find out more about RJ Griffith at his Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/rjgmusic