Empire, the fifth full-length from rapper Derek Minor, is the equivalent of Kanye West’s Yeezus from 2013. While it might be surprising to some, that’s the closest comparison I could find to what Derek Minor has accomplished with Empire. After releasing three full-lengths under the name PRo, Minor signed to Reach Records, home of Lecrae, Andy Mineo, KB, Tedashii and Trip Lee. When the signing occurred, the public erupted, knowing what Reach was known for and what they could accomplish with Minor’s brash and passionate style. After one record with the label in mid-2013, he left to create his own label, Reflection Music Group (RMG). Minorville was an instant classic in the Reach library, but Minor’s focus has always been to develop artists as well as make great music.
Fast forward to the beginning of 2015, and Minor’s next album is finally here. Empire is a unique monster, with sixteen cuts and just as many collaborations sprinkled throughout. In terms of production, Minor sticks to his guns, co-producing most of the album himself, but primary production of the beats is from superstar beat-maker Dirty Rice, with a track done by Reach’s own Gawvi. Right from the intro, you might get the sense of why I call this the equivalent of Yeezus. The entire album is made to be very theatrical, and powerful in that same sense. The two minute intro features bombastic theatrics, and showcases Minor speaking directly to what he’s been dealing with. It’s indicative of where Empire is going. One solid verse touches on all the things that people ask him on a regular basis: “Why did you leave Reach? Who’s better, Lecrae, Andy or you? Are you okay now that you’re off Reach?” The answer? Things are just fine, and Empire is a perfect example of just how fine things really are.
“All Hail The King” starts off with a deep bass underneath before the monstrous track kicks in with the hook. It’s almost a complete reaction to topics Kanye West covered on Yeezus: all this talk about being the best, being a god, being arrogant about your life; from the very beginning, Minor is out to set the record straight and let people know exactly who the real King is. The track includes RMG artist Deraj on one of his best verses ever, and newcomer nobigdyl. The latter rapper was actually Minor’s tour manager before he heard him spit a verse and told him to pursue music. Another powerfully beat-driven track, the title cut, encompasses exactly what this record is all about: “They say we won’t need the sun / cuz You gonna light the whole world with Your love / So shine Your light on me / And now You’ve given us a new beginning / You placed us high above and there’s nothing that’s holding us down / this is our empire.” The single “Who You Know” slams in next, with the fast paced delivery of Minor and hypnotic beat, while “Kingdom Come” lends itself to an old school jazz-style beat, complete with scratchy vinyl cracks in the background. The track finds two different Derek Minor’s, showing how greed, money, and pride will destroy anyone’s empire before they die. If you can’t see how this is a reaction to Kanye’s mouthing off on Yeezus, well something’s missing then.
“Slow Down” is a continuation of “Kingdom Come”, with possibly the best beat on this whole record. Featuring Reach’s Tedashii and Tony Tillman, the track touches on the gang culture, drugs, alcohol and is a call to all of them to slow their roll. It’s a convicting, powerful cut, and I wouldn’t expect anything else from the trio featured on this cut. “Stranger” is a simple drum track with a beautiful hook sung by Roz, and sees Minor discussing his issues with Ferguson as a black man, detailing black on black crime and urges people who judge to try and walk in his shoes for a minute. It’s a tough topic to tackle, but Minor does it with such a finesse, yet with power and influence that one can only hope the song helps people make some changes. The final three tracks on Empire start with Gawvi’s deep R&B style fused in with “Right By My Side” and accompanying Minor are rapper Chad Jones and a hook by crooner Anthony Evans Jr. Another party track shows up with none other than the misfits themselves, “Party People” features Marty and Fern of Social Club. The track is sure to be an instant classic at shows, even without Social Club at every date. The finale, “Until The End of Time”, is another dynamic trio, between Minor, Lecrae, and fast-lyricist Canon, another signing to RMG. The Anomaly rapper’s words permeate just like everything on his own record did, and if Canon’s verse doesn’t make you rewind the track five times, well just go back and listen to your instrumentals. There’s no stopping these guys.
The beauty and staying-power of Empire is clear: Derek Minor is more than capable of not only running a solid record label of rtists, but making music he loves and spreading the good news of Christ to everyone who comes his way. Empire is Derek Minor’s best work by far, and 2015 is sure to have much more to come from RMG.