It’s funny what looking past the surface can tell you about an artist–and provide regarding meaningful content. In this case, Philly rapper ToNe Wiley’s latest EP, The Lazarus, is an enjoyable listen. Baked within a hearty contemporary sound that, lyrics withstanding, could prop up any artist coming from the cities current fabric, are themes of faith, hope, despair, and redemption. The title itself is a reference to a biblical story about Saint Lazarus, whom Jesus resurrected from death as a sign of the overarching power that faith in him delivered. The name in modern culture/society is used to reference a magnitude of ‘resurrections.’
The first two songs on the project seem to take a literal approach to the theme; albeit, without getting into the specifics that may give a clearer picture of the artist. “Takeover,” comes off as a ‘back and on a mission’ proclamation, without getting too into the weeds about where he’s gone, although “Testimony” suggests that perhaps the streets of Philadelphia may have led to a life change. Regardless, the first two records seem to assert an underlying overtone of religious faith and cautious optimism that seems to carry this artist along as he navigates the dangers of one of America’s most notorious cities. A few more clues to his character are scattered throughout the remaining records. On “Reign,” for example, he separates himself from any association with street life, noting that he’s not “a thug,” and stating defiantly, “homie you ain’t cool ‘cuz you sell drugs, nigga.” Under this particular scope, “Superfly Jones” and “Westside Story” feel like great examples of storytelling and third party observation rather than first-hand experience–although, that may not be accurate.
His dramatic–and heart wrenching–take on his cities murder rate are explored on “What Are We Doing,” which I consider to be a real highlight on this project. It feels as though it could be the soundtrack for a mini-film or documentary.
Cloaked in shadowy imagery–and really amazing production–The Lazarus is a gem. Worth a spot on your playlist this week.