Harlem isn’t known for gospel rap. In fact, if the topic of holy hip-hop comes up in those parts, the conversation will probably begin and end with rapper turnt pastor (turnt rapper, then pastor again) Ma$e. But ever since his 2004 solo debut, On My Way to Church, Jim Jones has been shrouding his spirituality in a deceptive, multilayered street swagger. First there was “Twin Towers,” where he offered his prayers to 9/11 victims. Then there was the lyrical confession “My Diary,” off of his sophomore effort, Harlem: Diary of a Summer. Lastly, there was the video for his 2006 single “Emotionless,” which was shot in a Catholic church, leaving fans with visual evidence of Jimmy’s everlasting faith.
Based on his highly publicized joint venture with Sony, Capo now has the opportunity to speak from a much larger pulpit. So, while prepping his first major-label solo release, the oft-outspoken MC teams with DJ Scoob Doo to give fans a unique brand of hood hymns on Street Religion: Love Me No More Edition.
Opening with the ghostly Chink Santana–produced “Streets Talkin’ Funny,” Jim delivers a cautionary sermon detailing the dangers of shining on New York’s darkest blocks. His warnings hit home hardest on “Blasphemy,” where Jones rides alongside his now-deceased protégé Stack Bundles, who was gunned down in June ’07. In an ironic twist of fate, Jimmy reveals the going rate for a life in the inner city, spittin’, “One phone call I can drop me like three niggas/Sandman said the price is runnin’ like a G a nigga.”
The Harlemite continues his crusade over the midtempo funk groove of “J.I.M.M.Y. Jones 2008” (“Relying on life’s navigation/To guide me through a tight situation/Hope God let me reach my destination”). This theme continues on the standout “Jungle Street Religion,” where Jim gathers Byrd Gang affiliates Mel Matrix and N.O.E. for a reworked version of the Pharcyde’s 1992 classic “Passin’ Me By.”
Throughout the course of the 28-track disc, Jones calls in various backup to help carry the load. The bouncy “We Them Hustlers” starts off strong but begins to drag when lesser-known MCs Sandman and Riz grab the spotlight. To make matters worse, R&B crooner Rell’s solo cut, “Street Religion Dreams,” breaks up the tape’s hard edge. But not all the features fail. Juelz Santana delivers superb performances on posse cuts like “Stack Paper” and “Byrd Gang/Skull Gang Blocks,” proving that, even with their ongoing internal drama, The Dips still have synergy.
Despite the question marks surrounding Jim Jones and The Diplomats’ unity, the rapper isn’t necessarily trying to clear the air on Street Religion. There’s no real mention of the controversial feud with Cam’ron (although Freaky Zeeky presents his side on “Big Brother”) or his beef with Max B (sans a few scathing ad libs). Instead, Jones delivers a collection of self-righteous psalms aimed directly at his ghetto congregation. Unfortunately for Jim, the overextended track listing and plethora of guest rappers severely dilute his message and leave fans in limbo, as Jimmy never establishes a dominant presence of his own. Although he is most known for ballin’, Mr. Jones’s most potent messages are conceived on his way to church.—Rob Markman