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Word of Mouth

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Album Review

John Reuben's first four albums veered wildly between braggadocio and piety. It was an uneasy marriage — the usual hip-hop swagger combined with impassioned calls to Christian service and humility, Reuben's razor-sharp wit and flippant tendencies tempered by his sometimes self-deprecating lyrics. His previous album, 2005's The Boy vs. the Cynic, played the Angelic John vs. Dark John angle to the hilt, with the strident smart-ass duking it out, song by alternating song, with the good Christian evangelist. With Word of Mouth, Reuben has found a way, for the first time in his career, to merge the best of both worlds into a seamless whole, and the resulting album is not only his most mature work to date, but also his most musically adventurous. Produced by Beck compatriot Joe Baldridge, Word of Mouth offers the typically eclectic Beck musical mash-up — banjos colliding with samples from old Delta bluesmen, sappy strings meeting Bootsy Collins bass, surf guitars twanging, children's choirs singing, and Reuben riding herd above it all, his always obvious lyrical gifts honed to a new sharpness and precision. The sarcastic edge that has always characterized Reuben's best songs is well to the fore here. "Make Money" and "Trying Too Hard" satirize hip scenesters everywhere, slyly noting the high price of maintaining the right image along with fashions that are "expensively indie." The title track finds Reuben in uncharacteristically world-weary mode, reflecting on his 15 minutes of fame, wondering if it has already passed him by, and ruminating on the vagaries of an industry where "the next big thing" always sounds remarkably like the last big thing. But if there is a hint of disenchantment at the heart of much of this music, and there is, it would be a mistake to conclude that Reuben is losing much sleep over it. This is a party for thinking men and women, but it's still a party, and the raucous funk of "Good Evening" and "Sing It Like You Mean It" appeals to both the brain and the booty. Still, it's impossible to shake the feeling that this is a new direction for John Reuben. "Cool the Underdog," one of the album's many kiss-offs to adolescence, states it most directly: "The thrill of proving the world wrong is finally gone/You should move on." Word of Mouth is the sound of a precocious brat coming of age, looking disillusionment squarely in the eye, and resolving to lead an extraordinary life in spite of the disappointment. And it's an unqualified triumph. You won't find a truer, more honest, or more celebratory album this year.

Customer Reviews

Decent, But A Departure

First, I will admit I'm not terribly familiar with John's early stuff (Are We There Yet and Hindsight) beyond a couple of the singles off those records. I jumped on board right around the release of Professional Rapper and have enjoyed the ride. This album is definitely good within genre, and as a rock/alternative fan, it's much more listenable than almost any rap or CCM/stereotypical "Christian" music, however when comparing record to record, I feel it's almost as drastic a departure from The Boy Vs The Cynic as that album was from Professional Rapper. The difference being that while Boy Vs Cynic changed things up, and while I still liked PR, I felt it was a step in a positive direction. Generally I do not enjoy genre-fusers that try to bridge music styles. Boy Vs Cynic FLAWLESSLY blended smart, textured, and melodic alternative with hip hop delivery and a profoundly deep and Christian message without invoking Jesus every other line. Word Of Mouth again throws out the previous formula but gets lost in "eclectic sampling" and a virtual interstate pile-up of genres and styles. And unlike his last album, there are a couple tracks I cannot listen to at all (primarily Make Money Money). If you're into Beck-ish re-definitions, you might enjoy this sort of thing but to the listener who has followed his work from before, there's a fair chance this album will leave the listener scratching their head wondering what happened (which I'm sure a number of fans were doing after the release of Boy Vs Cynic). Standouts include Focus, Word Of Mouth, Sing It Like You Mean It, and Cool The Underdog - especially the first two. To those totally unfamiliar with John Reuben, I'd recommend this album as a starter to see if you can find something that will catch your interest (but also Boy Vs Cynic or an earlier album as a companion). To recent fans from the last 1-2 albums, I recommend borrowing this album from a friend and giving it a couple listens just so you don't feel betrayed when you go to the store and spend $9-14. To his longtime fans, I'd recommend this album so long as they are not expecting anything like PR or Boy Vs Cynic. No doubt, "Johnny Reubonic" is talented and maintaining my interest in fields I normally don't venture into, but I'm left wondering in what direction his next album will take us.

john reuben = cash.

This album features some of the greatest hip-hop songs released in recent history, proving that "christian" music does not necessarily mean sub-par music. The reubonic plague is here...

Good, but different.

Some great tracks on here. I enjoy Focus and Word of Mouth. However, I feel this is a big time deviation from his previous work in terms of the lyrics. He was more blatant about his faith in his previous albums, and instead for the most part kind of puts it aside. The songs still have great messages and are entertaining, but this is definitely different.

Biography

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '00s

A Christian hip-hop artist whose rhymes suggest the influence of pioneering '80s artists like De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, and the Pharcyde while his music embraces everything from old-school beats to alternative pop, John Reuben (born John Reuben Zappin) was born in Columbus, OH, on January 14, 1979. Reuben's family ran a Christian outreach center and drug rehab facility in Columbus, and he grew up on the grounds, spending a lot of his time with troubled youth from the East Coast who helped...
Full Bio