Various Artists

It's one of the most distinctive and fascinating Gospel projects to arrive in some time. In fact, J2K (Jesus 2000) is so complex and multi-faceted that it seems heresy to confine its description to a mere review.

Let's break it down anyway.

While Gospel's new-soul wonder Montrel Darrett only headlines two cuts ("Save Me A Seat" and "Prophetic Millenium 2000"), toss aside any doubt that this J2K CDmulti-artist compilation is not all his. It most certainly is, for not only does Darrett produce and write (or co-write) nearly every cut, he also provides backing vocals and guitar and bass work on the vast majority of the songs.

The result is a set that bears the unmistakeable Darrett sound —the same edgy, throw-back soul vibe that marked his solo debut on the still vastly-underappreciated Chronicles of the Soul project from 1999. (See review.) It's a sound and a vibe that burns itself onto all the songs performed on this disc. What's more, this is the case even with such a large variety of distinctively-voiced artists represented on the project. It speaks volumes to the overwhelming strength of Darrett's artistry. (See interview)

Also unifying the project is its lyrical content, which, again like Darrett's solo debut, focuses on currently hot topics of relevance, and ones that are not standardly addressed in Gospel.

A quick run-down of those distinctive Gospel voices taking part in this showcase reads like a 'who's who' of the industry's rising stars. Kim Burrell continues to delight, as she duets with Darrett on "Woman", a song which speaks to the account Montrel Darrettof the prostitute whom Jesus refused to condemn. Anointed provides a catchy soul-pop gem in "Help Him Stand", and Commissioned brings a melodic plea for individuals to come to Jesus while they can, "Before It All Falls Down". While this song is the only one on the album not produced by Darrett (Mitchell Jones and Marcus Cole take that responsibility), he does make his presence known via some vocal arrangement and the occasional mix of his own voice with the Detroit four.

John P. Kee is the common thread that ties together the "Brother's Love" cut. Although he never appears in the credits, credit must nevertheless be given to the Prince of Gospel for being the source that originally brought together Darrett, Lowell Pye, Isaac Caree and Chris Simpson (all being former members of New Life Community Choir). Collectively referred to as MILC for the purposes of this song, they combine for an appropriate and powerfully contemporary ode to Christian brotherly love. Pye and Caree also appear with their regular counterparts on "Love" as Men of Standard do justice to this musical poetry written by Darrett and Chris Simpson.

Some names on J2K will be unfamiliar to all except those who examine the fine print of album credits. Tiffany Palmer and Duawne Starling combine in the startlingly beautiful duet, "Everythang", while former Radical For Christ member Cynthia Pasley takes lead vocals (with Darwin Hobbs and Tiffany Palmer providing backing vocals) on "Kind of Man Dawkins and DawkinsThat God Loves". It's a poignant and honest confession of a difficult broken marriage. The other artist debut here comes on "Draw Me Closer" from Given, a contemporary female trio that includes Felicia Darrett, wife of Montrel.

Finishing the album is a progressive, fast-paced, hip-hop groove with vocals and rap from Darrett and spoken word from newcomer Marquis Fox. Titled "Prophetic Millenium 2000", it is true to title. Darrett's complex lyrics bring prophecy that touch on everything from computer technology to Dru Hill. This one is underpinned by a simple, repeating 4-chord melody that easily latches itself to the memory.

A fascinating project side-bar revolves around the instrumentation. Heavily reliant on guitar, there's some nice work from brothers Carlos and Marcello Pennell on a couple of tracks. In particular, on "Brother's Love", Carlos handles the live 'backward guitar'. What's that? That's when during the recording process, the tape is played 'backwards' as the guitar track is being recorded. During the mixing process, the tape is then played normally, with the end result being a 'backwards guitar' sound, with each note beginning with a swelling sound and ending with a hard attack.

If this isn't enough to get you interested, consider that J2K also includes new material from Dawkins & Dawkins and Nancey Jackson, plus the very urban vibe "Reign" from The Light's main Gospel radio personality, K.D. Bowe along with Lamar Campbell & Spirit of Praise.

With an abundance of compilations on the market now, it's good to see one that tackles the concept from a fresh angle. New music! With J2K, your thirst for new vibes, new soul and new grooves will certaily be quenched.

Producers: Montrel Darrett, Marcus Cole, Mitchell Jones
album release date: March 28, 2000
EMI Gospel

reviewed by Stan North

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