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Shades of Grey - Click to view! From the depths of side projects and guest appearances, an older and wiser Braille resurfaces with his sophomore solo recording, Shades of Grey. It has been a very long five years since Braille first blasted onto the scene with his amazing solo LifeFirst: Half the Battle. LifeFirst touted a who's who list of underground producers; DJ Kno of Cunninglynguists, CelphTitled, K IV and many more. The solid tracks that each producer contributed were a large part of the massive success enjoyed by the then seventeen-year-old Braille. Five years later Braille continues his tradition of enlisting top name producers. Shades of Grey boasts production by none other than 9th Wonder, who is enjoying his time in the limelight thanks to his efforts on Jay-Z's swan song, "The Black Album" and with his group Little Brother. Producer Tony Stone also unleashes his incredible talent and blesses the record with a half-dozen blazing-hot tracks.

Unbelievably amazing production is not the only aspect worth mentioning; meaty spiritual content is abundantly flourishing. A warning should be placed on this record: "Advisory - Spiritually Explicit Lyrics." Braille has grown up, and his lyrics have matured; Shades of Grey verbally runs circles around his past work. Where LifeFirst was very random and occasionally sporadic, Shades is like a pack of lionesses executing an organized attack on the much larger elephant—they just rip it apart. In this case Braille is waging an attack on those who would say that there are no moral absolutes, no black and white, just shades of grey. That is the concept for this album, and as it should be, the concept can be seen song after song. In "Right This Moment" Braille is able to take the principle of Galatians 6:7 and give it a bit of a hip-hop twist:

"Right this moment, another rapper gets shot
You'd act surprised, but there's something you forgot
We reap what we sow, each lyric is a seed
Guns ain't killing rock stars, they only murder emcees"

The title track delves into a more thoughtful side and does a great job of ending the album with this question and answer:

"What happens?, when all the light slowly fades away
And you try to see God inside a Shades of Grey
He's ever-present, through our mistakes flaws and folly
He could have left me falling, but instead he called me
And I answered, silent and unsure what to say
Just thanking him for life even with the Shades of Grey"

"Hip Hop Music" is an ode to the art which Braille "creates." Over a Tony Stone beat and lovely scratches from Rob Swift of the X-Ecutioners, a love letter of sorts is written in almost the same vein Common wrote "I Used to Love H.E.R." In this letter Braille addresses those who have only seen the art of hip-hop being abused. A very honest, inspiring insight is given in the following lines:

"I can't say hip-hop is all bad cause it isn't
Sometimes it makes me mad and I eject it from my system
This is an art-form, a form of expression
Communication, something that youth relate with
Gang related or peace statements, it's all up to the artist
We got, freedom of speech and each aims for a different target"

Braille's vocal style has changed a great deal since '99. We were first introduced to the "new" Braille when he and Ohmega Watts released the song "Butterflies" as Return to Sender, yet another one of Braille's many side projects. His voice had switched from a soft-spoken, lazy swagger to a nasal, almost angry verbal assault. It was very different from LifeFirst, and it took some getting used to. At times it is still quite hard to sit through long listening sessions of this new nasally Braille. However, his new tone and delivery fit his new production incredibly. I suppose it is a bit of a trade off.

Both of Braille's rhyme slinging partners, Ohmega Watts and Othello, from Lightheaded make appearances, as well as manchild from mars ill and the charming Pigeon John. The multi-talented producer/emcee Ohmega Watts turns in the best performance. The others deliver solid verses but are nothing extraordinary; they really do not stand out from any of their past performances.

This is a great release and well worth your hard earned time and money. It will provide fuel for your thinking fire and actually engage your mind. That, in and of itself is a miracle for modern music. Braille is sincere in the message he delivers, and his sincerity is easily heard in his music. I enjoy this album most while driving and having the luxury of being able to ponder the thoughts that are stirred with each new listen. Go, buy the cd, come home and get all cozy, put on your headphones (don't mess up your hair though) and prepare yourself for Braille's discourse on moral absolutes with a hip hop twist.
- Josh Weekly
October 2004
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