Michigan born and Tennessee raised rapper Derek Minor (formerly known as “PRo”) has been adding his flavor of southern hip-hop to the music scene for over a decade now. Under his second stage name, Derek Minor released his third studio album (sixth total) last Friday, “Reflection.” This was his follow-up album to the successful album “Empire” released in early 2015. He has also been featured on songs with various artists like Canon and Lecrae.
With that said, whether you know Minor or not, check the album on Spotify and follow along as I try to analyze his newest work.
First, it’s important to note that on Aug. 2, Derek Minor released a four-track EP titled “1014.” One of the tracks is titled “Greatness” and will be referenced in the album review, and “You Know It” is featured on the EP as well as the album.
The first song of the album, “Look At Me Now,” begins with a few piano chords repeated, reminiscent of the beginning of Minor’s “Empire.” Minor comes in with the backing of an Inception-like “BWAAA.” Minor’s flow skips and hops along with the beat with a passion and ferocity which seems to come from the depths of his soul. Tones shift twice in the song, but most prominently in the last quarter when an electric guitar is accompanied by other stringed instruments, lifting up Minor’s chorus and bringing the listener to a holy ending.
“Look At Me Now” is a proper introduction from Minor, who simultaneously previews some of the sensitive subjects of the songs of the album while letting people know that he is a boss. If the rest of the album was like this song, I would be showering it with praise. Unfortunately, it is not. In fact, it’s almost as if Minor teases us with misleading and misplaced hope. It’s not that the rest of the album is bad; Minor just set the bar high with the first track.
The second track, “Hold Up,” almost carries over the success of the first track. It is very similar to Minor’s older song “Who You Know” and “Respect That,” featuring a beat with a hard baseline with lines sharing six and eight syllables interchangeably throughout multiple verses. Minor also has a tendency to rap in a meter slower than the beat he’s rapping on. For the most part, this contrast forces people to listen to his lyrics rather than mindlessly bob their heads along to drum kicks.
The lines “What’s the point of being famous if I can’t be / the person that I was made to be?” illuminate Minor’s strong position on the purpose of his music, and that his desire to make God glorifying music, music coming from the most honest version of himself. Right before that, he calls out people who tell him to sell out and make music that sounds like mainstream artists (and also claiming that he still sells out shows). The theme of truth and honesty persists through the music of a lot of popular Christian rappers, and Minor consistently writes in his verses that his music is him, and a big part of who he is is his faith.
At the end of “Hold Up,” similar to “Look At Me Know,” the beat changes. The hard bass is replaced by a funky bass that is reminiscent of a 70’s car chase. Harmonizing vocals and a guitar solo are combined nicely to once more deliver the listener to a feel-good ending.
The fourth track, “Until I’m Gone,” features vocals from up-and-coming singer BJ the Chicago Kid. On his last album he had contributions from Kendrick Lamar (“The New Cupid”), Chance the Rapper (“Church”) and Big K.R.I.T. (“The Resume”). The song is all about where Minor has come from, paying homage to his roots. Musically, the end of “Hold Up” is continued throughout “Until I’m Gone,” accompanied with bongos and a simple kick-drum beat. The passion and content of Minor’s words and BJ’s vocals are emphasized and should hit listeners on a deep level.
The two also made a video for the song, most comparable to R. Kelly’s “I Wish,” both of which feature artists in neighborhoods surrounded by residents, giving a home-like feel.
There are times when Minor shoots himself in the foot. In songs like “Believe It,” “I’m Good” and “Judo” Minor raps about race issues, being a social outcast and hypocrisy among Christians who ignore the issues of their communities. The lyrics are slick and heavy, but there are times when Minor uses the “I’m going to alter my voice to sound like I’m talking through a megaphone” technique heavily, and it is somewhat off-putting. For the most part, it’s not necessarily a bad thing if these are the only flaws I can find with the tracks.
If you look at a song like “Love Go High” (which features vocals from Chrisette Michele), the combination of someone else’s vocals, good editing and positive verses from Minor works. It worked with BJ the Chicago Kid too. When the main featured vocals are from Minor himself, though, the song tends to be uninspiring. It’s not that Minor isn’t a good singer, but singing is just not his best talent, and his writing and rapping should be featured more prominently than his vocals. Minor seems to have fallen in the trap of self-indulgence with “Things Fall Apart.” But again, even in a song with no rapping and featured vocals that aren’t Minor’s, it combines for a complete song. This is used well in “Change The World.”
Usually Minor uses his music to empower and encourage. He pleads for people to respect themselves and others, and to never underestimate the power of God. This is seen most beautifully in the last track on this album. “Greatness 2.0” is three minutes and twenty-eight seconds of Minor telling his listener that they are more than the things people tell them they are. At this point in his career, it’s clear that Minor doesn’t suffer from poor production; it’s composition and lyricism that will change moving forward.
Minor has accomplished everything he did with his last album. The only thing that may hinder this album from rising to the top of critics’ minds is its completeness. There isn’t a narrative that begins with the first song and ends with the last song. But the album is full of stories, each fleshing itself out in individual songs.
After a few playthroughs, people who don’t know Minor will want to get to know him and those who already do will find it tough to not put “Reflection” at the top of their lists.