“We the Beautiful Eulogy attempt to communicate audibly and visually to help you hear and see the glory of God clearly.”
These stacatto bars from emcee Odd Thomas perfectly sum up the music and ministry of one of the most eclectic groups in all of hip hop, Beautiful Eulogy. The Portland, Oregon-based crew gained a reputation as trailblazing forerunners after their 2012 debut album Satellite Kite blindsided the Christian Hip Hop community like a Ray Lewis blitz. The trio (rappers Braille, Odd Thomas and producer Courtland Urbano) has followed up their folk-grass-hop debut with an equally innovative, fearlessly creative theological treatise on one of the greatest Christian attributes: mercy.
To be fair, Instruments of Mercy shouldn’t be judged on Satellite’s criteria, but the stratosphere clearly isn’t worthy of this album’s altitude. The project begins with a “Cello From Portland” instrumental solo that sets the mood for the rest of the album’s auditory canvas by reminding us mercy truly is what we need. “Vital Lens” pops off next with a deep baseline, scintillating synth sounds and an angelic hook that serves as an unflinching re-introduction to the crew’s signature delivery and spiritual depth. “Exile Dial Tone”, an early listener favorite, keeps the mood with a deep consideration of how we must be the salt and light in the midst of culture. “The Size of Sin” is the first of two bookend tracks on the size/weight of sin/grace, two polar opposite entities. Odd Thomas highlights part 1 by skillfully exhorting listeners to “marvel at the magnitude of His mercy”. The track’s dark ending leads perfectly into “You Can Save Me”. Ranking the best tracks on this album was akin to picking from a list of America’s greatest heavyweight champions. If “You Can Save Me” isn’t Ali; it’s certainly Frazier, complete with a left-hook beat switch that is guaranteed to lead hip hop nerds in neck-breaking head nods.
The title track “Instruments of Mercy” showcases sunny sounds from Urbano’s bag of tricks and a hook that you can sing proudly in the shower. Odd Thomas steals the show here with face-melting alliteration: “A symphony of saints saved from sin singing spiritual songs”. The trio then pulled in fellow Humble Beast artist Propaganda for the unflinching “Symbols and Signs”, that challenges mystic Christians who see “the spirit” in every minute detail of life. If that lyrical sermon wasn’t enough, Art Azurdia is featured on another “sermon jam” on the centrality of Christ’s example to the meaning of mercy. The nit-picker in me would have loved to see this track as the intro to set the stage for the album’s depth. “Release Me From This Snare” prominently features the angst of sin-hatred with the chorus “Please, wash my sins away Oh Lord, release me from this snare”.
If we’re continuing the heavyweights analogy “Organized Religion” is definitely Tyson. With features from fellow Humble Beast emcee Eshon Burgundy and P4CM poet Jackie Hill, the track packs a punch by detailing spiritual submission in every area of our anatomy. “According To God” is, for my money, this album’s Ali. It’s worth mentioning here that this collection of verses is one of the best packages of lyrics from Braille in his deep discography. On this track, he sounds as though he’s against the ropes in Round 12 with his fears: “Because I went through a divorce, am I/a second-rate Christian? I know that’s a lie”. These were the most piercing lyrics on the album for me.
“Raise the Bridge” is a break from the barrage, giving us time to ponder the middle (and best) third of the project. The home stretch begins with Part 2 of the bookends, a refreshing look at grace in light of our understanding of sin. “Acquired in Heaven” is the anchor leg, a worthy competitor to Satellite’s “Beautiful Eulogy”. The moving, maranatha song is worshipful desire not for a place, but for the Person of Christ as our timeless treasure.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about this album goes beyond the beats and rhymes, though both are peerless. Rather, it’s the realization that this project is not what we expect, but genuinely what we need. Very few of us have asked for, in the words of Propaganda, “Mumford and Dilla” (an ode to an infusion of sounds from the bluegrass band and bombastic beatmaker). But when we hear it, it’s the album we’ve always needed even if we didn’t know it. The frustrating reality is that Beautiful Eulogy is not currently a part of the Christian Hip Hop “Cliff Notes”. With each song, this omission is becoming more and more glaring. When someone asks what urban Christians listen to in 2013, this should be one of the albums we put on display. Mercy looks so God-glorifying when Odd Thomas and Braille paint pictures of her on Courtland’s canvas. And death never seemed more beautiful as it does when distributed by these merciful instruments.
Download album here.