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Promise may have christened his debut full-length Awakening, but he’s been up and at ’em for a while now. A decade of independent grind has earned the Toronto MC a deal with New York indie label Duck Down Records, his own character in NBA 2K11, and collaborations with high-profile artists like Royce da 5’9″ and Montell Jordan. But what’s remarkable is that he’s managed to do it all while being a total goody two-shoes.
Much in the same vein as Shad, Promise is a positive rapper steering away from the game’s prevalent larger-than-life, shit-talking shtick to speak earnestly. Opener “The Wake” (streaming right) epitomizes his MO effectively: string-laden, ’90s-era boom-bap beats (courtesy of local producers like Boi-1da, Rich Kidd, and Positivibes), clever punchlines (“I won’t back down when the heat comes/just watch/Chris Bosh”), soulfully sung hooks, and articulate thoughtful-dude flows about answering his call from the man upstairs. Yes, while Shad may have slight spiritual undertones, Promise expresses his faith point-blank. On “Don’t” he laments those who blame God for being dealt a bad hand, while on “Hereafter” he raps about there being an afterlife, which he heard about “straight from the pastor’s mic.”
As if that wasn’t enough to squash all his street cred, Awakening also sees Promise long for the days of childhood puppy love (“Back When”) and advise girls not to fall for players (“Down”). He’s the type of rapper you can bring home to your dad—if he’s a minister. And yet, Promise never comes off as corny. He’s got beats so syrupy-smooth and rhymes so razor-sharp he can warrant being heartfelt and wholesome, for which he compensates with a bit of self-awareness: “I guess in a world that seems godless it’s hard to be godly.” The guy’s enjoying success by being himself, not popping champagne bottles or having gold teeth (“What if I said each tooth was equal to two people starving to eat food?” he spits, incidentally, on wealth-inequality anthem “Everyone Knows”). That’s got to be worth a fist bump.