good news, Death Row-style

Tha Life of a Hoodlum (Metro One)

By Robert Gruber

Christian gangsta rap? Does the mind gag at the idea? Visions of wannabes throwing gang signs in a video? Actually, this form of rap is quite legit — enough to win a flattering two-page spread in Newsweek last year. Acts like S.F.C., S.S. Mob and Gospel Gangstas (made up of ex-Bloods and Crips) are evangelizing new ground in a language void of lip-service "Christianese" with a sound every bit as dope as what's charting. On this same tip is T-Bone, a Latino rapper from San Francisco. His world is like that of the Dres and Snoops of the world, yet he sees it through God's eyes, finding peace not in blunts or 40's, but in the "new wine" of the Holy Spirit.

Produced by the infamous L.A. Posse, Tha Life of a Hoodlum rolls out Snapple-smooth, with just enough bump to make it dangerous. Rapping in both English and Spanish gives T-Bone an edge in rapid-fire delivery, as cuts like "Madd Skillz" (straight showboat, but funky!) and "l87um Demons" display. The new-style and Death Row influences are in the mix, on cuts like "Throwin' Out Tha Wicked" and "Too Many Pleitos." "Drunk in tha Spirit" is a jazzy, comic look at a favorite manifestation, while "Life After Death" (featuring Mista Grimm) takes a more sobering turn.

"Straight-Up Psycho" is the sound of "sucka demons" being put to flight by the thousands, in terms so graphic it may have some Christians questioning T's authenticity; rest assured, the gats, bats and chains that T-Bone wields are euphemisms for the Word of God, the ultimate weapon in spiritual warfare. A remix of his '93 hit "Lyrical Assassin" reinforces this message. Overall ... Hoodlum hits hard, moving Christian rap credibility onto a whole new level.