Loyal followers of Berkeley Place, allow me to introduce to you the best rap album of the year.  For the first time since Jay-Z’s Black Album, I’ve heard an album that made me stop my car and pull over.

I enjoyed the first Clipse album, because (a) it was something different from everything else, and (b) it was an early example of how great Pharrel’s production could be.  And the “We Got It For Cheap” mixtape series proved that Ab-Live, Malice, Pusha-T and their crew could spit better than most bigger-named rappers–over the same beats.  Then Hell Hath No Fury came out and became one of my top 10 favorite rap albums of all time.

Then nothing.  For a long time.

And now, Malice has added a “No” to his name and reinvented himself as a Christian rapper.  But he’s not holier-than-thou.  He’s telling you to fear God, but he’s also allowing you the choice not to.

The title track, Hear Ye Him, on which No Malice talks about how he killed his mother’s son by introducing him to cocaine, and how much he wants Pusha-T to join him in heaven when they die, is powerful not because it’s about No Malice’s own redemption, but because it’s about his self-acceptance.

Throughout, No Malice still talks about the street life, but it’s in his past–and he’s better for having gone through it.

I’ve always said that Jay-Z is my favorite rapper, based on the strength of his first three albums, the power of The Black Album, and even his ability to craft hooks and deliver wisdom on records he made post-“retirement.”  But his last few albums have depreciated.  Jay-Z got rich, and his life changed as a result.  His tastes changed as he was exposed to more influences (like modern art) and experiences (like being a family man).  But he still raps about his past with reminiscence.  He learned from the streets and he’s applying that knowledge to the “game” of being in the 1 percent.

No Malice stands in strong contrast: He’s also rapping about his past, but his goal seems to be to say “I’ve been where you are now, and I found a way out.”  He looks for meaning in his life not based on hoarding, but on sharing.  So, where Jay-Z’s message about how he’s a misunderstood rich boy has become almost unrelatable, No Malice has made himself more relatable.  Most of his fans never sold drugs on the corner, but everyone can understand how desperation makes us make bad choices.

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