The front cover of Tedashii’s new album Below Paradise shows the rapper sitting in the dirt, looking meditatively into the distance as he leans back against the burning hulk of a flipped-over car. Rocks and junk-scrap litter the sandy ground while scrub brush and a foreboding mountain in the background complete the apocalyptic landscape.
It’s an apt image for a decidedly dystopian album reflecting the singer’s recent brush with tragedy: Last March his one-year-old son died. The experience was a crushing blow to Tedashii, who called the album a journal “about the reality of life in a harsh world with a loving God.” That sense of love and grief pervade the album, an intensely reflective and musically varied effort that includes collaborations with LeCrae and David Crowder.
The sweet strains of a string quartet belie the coming tension in “Below Paradise.” While the beautiful strings provide a taste of that Heavenly realm, an electronic screech suddenly brings the music crashing down to earth. Bewildering swirls of spinning chords produce disorientation as Tedashii bursts out, “Look around, I see paradise disappear / it’s a mirage to the people who’s still living here.”
Tedashii is a muscular rapper, not in physique but in vocal delivery. He hurls rhymes with a heft and force that lend conviction to his message—a wake-up call to those who primp and pamper and delude themselves that this life will ultimately satisfy. On the contrary, he warns that it’s a “death trap / don’t get attached / it’s coming to an end.” “Dark Days, Darker Nights” chronicles the singer’s slide into depression and substance abuse following the “worst day of my life / and it’s just getting badder / asking Him why and looking for answers.”
Yet Tedashii does not grieve without hope. Several songs give clear testimony to the hard-fought endurance of faith. The warbling keyboards in “Nothing I Can’t Do” illustrate the dissonance of trials, but they don’t permanently rule him. After a time, Tedashii surfaces to maintain the witness “that everything is made new.”
Appropriately placed at the center of the album, “Paradise” finds Tedashii talking at length with God and rediscovering how Paradise is not rooted in a place but in a Person. The importance of a good marriage in navigating stormy waters also receives hearty acclaim in “Be With You,” where wavy jazz guitar joins a bevy of percussion instruments to shape a danceable R&B groove that also serves as a love letter to his wife.
Tedashii talks most directly about his son in the final track “Chase,” a gentle piano ballad sans rhythm or any other instrumentation. This shows the singer at his most intimate and vulnerable, tenderly recalling the day of his son’s birth and the joy of playing with him each morning. He upbraids himself for not savoring each moment—even those moments when his son would cry for not getting his way: “I never knew to cherish that and now it seems too late.”
Tedashii deeply struggles with the fact that it “seems unfair how life treats us down here / we grow attached to the very people that can disappear.” But the refrain—sung by Tim Halperin—affirms the choice to continue hoping, trusting, and chasing God forever. The rapper concludes, “He gives and takes away, what more can I say / I know there’s never been a day that He didn’t love me / Even now it’s hard to see, but He’s there above me.”