I don’t know how I started listening to Beleaf, but I know it changed my life. As I suffered through health issues in 2014, I was seeking God’s help in a lot of different areas, and one of the biggest ways I found Him was through Christian music, specifically hip-hop. While I had been mildly interested in the genre prior to that time, I was mostly limited to top-tier secular artists. I knew Lecrae, Da T.R.U.T.H., Trip Lee, and some of the other big CHH artists, but they weren’t getting regular plays on my iTunes account.

Interestingly, one of my favorite albums as a kid was Ill Harmonics’ Take Two. I can’t say for sure that there is any connection between my love for that 2002 smash hit and Red Pills, it’s at least funny to think about. Still, since that album and a few listens to John Reuben’s bigger hits, my interest in CHH was arguably non-existent.

Red Pills + Black Sugar changed everything for me. From the lead track, I knew that I was about to replace a good chunk of my listening habits with this album. The first verse of the first song was more raw and emotional than any Christian album I had ever heard. Beleaf brings vulnerability and fear to the forefront of the music. His transparency about unbelief was refreshing and comforting at a time that I needed it most.

While I was in college (and even for a period before that), I did a poor job of taking care of the Type I Diabetes I had been diagnosed with prior to my fourth birthday. That really started to catch up with me a few years ago, right as I felt I was getting to get a good grip on controlling the disease. It tore me apart. I laid in bed crying a lot. I couldn’t understand why God would allow nerve pain and vision problems to take hold once I finally started taking care of myself. Even my family doctor was surprised I was dealing with neuropathy already.

Preacher man tryin’ to tell jokes, but I really need hope
’cause I don’t know what to do

After multiple eye doctors and specialists’ visits, neurologists and MRIs, and tests that I can’t even recall now, it was completely clear that my ailments were my own fault. My apathy toward self-care had officially caught up to me.

In the latter part of the first verse on “Red Pills,” Beleaf talks about feeling like a guinea pig with all of the tests and IVs his character is facing. He follows the anger to the point where he confesses he “could shoot up the lobby.” I was never to a point of wanting to kill anyone else, but I would be lying if I told you I didn’t think about suicide throughout the early months of that ordeal.

But the second verse is the hope. The second verse shows the character (Black Sugar) encountering the truth – that God can save him. He doesn’t seem to take it seriously, though. If that doesn’t speak to every single Christian listening to that song, I don’t think anything ever will. It seems absurd to think that God would fix a serious ailment or major problem in our lives, so we brush it aside and look for another answer.

I have read a lot of articles and pamphlets that tell me the problems I have incurred are irreversible. Well, that seems absurd, too. You’re going to tell me that the God I love, who gave me life, who sent His Son to die on the cross to save me from myself, is just going to stop trying to save me? I have heard so many awesome stories of miracles that others have experienced that I can’t possibly give up hope that something could change.

The song’s third verse confronts that – I hope for things to change, I am pleading – and meets a strange end. Black Sugar admits to leaning on himself and eventually forgetting what his dreams are. That’s where I was. That’s the position I put myself in two years ago and endured in the time since then. From verse one through verse three, the song felt addressed to me. I felt like Beleaf Melanin and I had been through the same experiences, even though we quite clearly had not. It’s been 18 months and I still feel the same power in this song that I felt on my first listen. God put this album into my life for a very real reason, and I am incredibly thankful for it.

***

Not every installment of this series will read the same way that this one did. Some of the songs are vastly different from others on the album. Believe me when I tell you, what I write about “Take No Days Off” is going to be nothing like what I write about “Depressed.” They are both great songs and are worth writing about, but if you take a listen to each of them, you’ll know that they won’t be addressed the same way.

I also don’t know how often these are going to come out. I would love to say that these are going to hit the pretend newswire every Monday, but that’s unlikely. I have lofty goals for my writing here. While the “Depth of Hip-Hop” series is going to be a great way of forcing myself into some consistency, it’s not what I’m focusing on for this site. I can’t wait to share more of my vision with all of you, and I’ve been so encouraged by hearing all of your kind words about the site. Please share it with others, and if you’re at all interested in joining our foray into the proverbial unknown, contact me at any time. We would love to have you contribute your gifts to Imperfect Collective, whether it be through words, photos, videos, or anything else you can think of. We love all of you, and God has given you something unique to share, too.

Also, I’m sorry if you guys don’t like hip-hop. There’s going to be a lot of hip-hop.