Love Shines in Hip-Hop

Iyoho mixes hip-hop production with weighty issues on his latest EP

"The Love Always Shines" by Charles Iyoho [listen here] is a seven-song EP built around a message of positivity, transcending stress in favor of hope and avoiding temptation while searching for redemption. It reads like heavy stuff, and it is, but served over hip-pop production, the record's weightier bits -- smoothed out atop snare rolls and thick basslines -- are easy to digest.

Iyoho isn't subtle: On "Better Days II," he's up front, clear as crystal, "My self doubt is so dedicated/It tries to arouse my hesitation/It tries to stutter my progression/It tries to clutter my direction/But why let it dictate my spirit/When my mind is kind and gifted with lyrics." But it's the beat -- with its strings and guitar plucking -- that keeps the message from feeling like a burden.

These aren't pity-party theme songs. "The Love Always Shines" is meant to be uplifting music to listen to as you deal with frustration, to help you move through struggle and not just wallow in it. But with such an obvious focus on the positive, it can lead to a lack of edge in places and some well-worn ideas too: "I'd shake the skies just to lay with you/Pray to Heaven's skies I remain with you/'Cause every single day with you/Is like the sunshine when the rain is due."

Though his EP hits a few predictable patches, Iyoho doesn't get stuck coloring inside the lines the whole time. He's sharp enough to know there's something compelling about throwing caution to the wind. And when he does, it's to terrific effect.

For all his well-intended content and positive raps, it's in the moments where Iyoho steps outside of his safe-guy role that he's at his best -- "Your love is a cesspool/I gotta confess though/It makes me so damn sexual" -- and his most honest.

J. Smith, aka 1019, is a San Diego native, rap fan and one half of the rap duo Parker & the Numberman. You can follow him on Instagram at 1019_the_numberman or on Twitter.

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