Ohio-bred John Reuben Zappin has made a name for himself among the Christian hip-hop scene since his Gotee Records debut in 2000. Never one to take himself or what he does too seriously, John Reuben has earned much respect and rejection from his peers through his honest lyrics and transparent persona. His debut Are We There Yet? was a diverse mixture of hip-hop, rock, and pop that quickly earned Reuben a growing following. His 2002 sophomore release Hindsight saw a lighter side of John as he boldly composed a more upbeat and sometimes silly record that contained several good cuts, yet felt a little too scattered for the most part. 2003 sees the return of John Reuben to the style he does best and strives for perfection, nearly reaching it. Professional Rapper suggests by its title and album artwork that it is to be a sequel to Hindsight but this couldn't be further from the truth. Professional Rapper is John Reuben's most mature and innovative release to date.
Reuben makes no bones about his love for poetry and his heart for deeper, more meaningful songwriting. This may come as a shock to those who only know him for songs like "Do Not," "Soundman," or "Doin'," but John shines his brightest when he digs deeper. The album opens with the raucous sounds of "Move" as an electronic screech gives way to a deliciously chunky beat. This time around Reuben's serving up a mixture of edgy hip-hop garnished with an industrial zest that really sets his sound apart. "Life Is Short" opens with a classic guitar riff before a spicy horn and another great beat liven and pump up the sound. Reuben lyrically encourages listeners to realize the importance of life and how precious each moment really is (and according to John, Gotee's own TobyMac does the vocals on the song's chorus). "I Haven't Been Myself" is a highlight, a moody and introspective take on depression and insecurities. The song features Benjamin Gate's wonderful Adrienne Liesching who offers a Dido-esque feel to this excellent track. Adrienne also makes an appearance on the dark and edgy "Freedom To Feel," an industrial-rock flavored hip-hop track that takes a serious look at the cynicism of someone struggling with their faith and the sometimes fickle scene of Christian society, "False sense of happiness/ is my security wrapped up in this/ these control freaks seek out who they can brainwash and make activists/ they'd rather have me lie than bring their failure to the light/ keep your secrets to yourself it's not about you but them looking right..."
"Re-Record" is a sarcastic response to critcism Reuben has received from his peers. He raps, "Um, hey, folks what's going on, it's John/ I just got off of ___.com/ of course you know me, I just don't respond/ I just like to observe how these nerds critique songs" The identity of the online community is blurred from the song, but Reuben informed us that some hip-hop sites were quick to knock his personality for not taking himself seriously or putting up a front on the stage. The song is also a highlight on Professional Rapper due to its catchy rhythm and chorus. "I Have No Opinion" is another excellent industrial-enhanced hip-hop effort that offers a forceful live drum beat from Pillar's own Lester Estelle. Reuben remains personal and open as he admits, "I have no opinion, I don't, I could but I won't/ I'm tired of arguing/...I'm only so many years old/ raised in Colombus, Ohio/ What do I know/ mid-west perspective, mid-west approach to life, american church, american Jesus Christ..." But the weakest song on the record is probably "All In All." While musically it's unique with the opening piano accompanied by almost-tribal percussions, the rap rhythms and background vocals wear a little thin pretty quickly and just don't hold up to the strength the rest of the tracks possess. "All In All" is strong lyrically, however, as it represents Reuben's desire to be more in Christ.
Professional Rapper is a solid hip-hop effort from this Colombus white boy. The record is musically and lyrically diverse as John Reuben offers up his signature nonsense on fun and tasty tracks like "Treats" to more deeper messages like the serious and tenacious "Freedom To Feel." If this self-produced installment of Reuben's work is any indication of where he's going, people who've dismissed his music in the past will be ignorant to do so with Professional Rapper.- Review date: 11/30/03, written by John DiBiase
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