Album Review (+ Interview): Arrived by Chris “The God MC” Cain

Here’s the thing about hitting your stride: It doesn’t have to make sense. On its face, Chris “The God MC” Cain’s gun-toting, street-knowing, family-man rap persona with a twist of enlightened beat poetry would seem like a clustered contradiction. But on Arrived, the Oklahoma City lyricist’s polished 2020 breakthrough LP after over a decade on the local scene, listeners never question the combination because it is undeniably authentic.

Most of us are ourselves an unlikely conglomeration of influences fashioned together into a semblance of personality—maybe awkward at one point but finally put together as we approach middle age. Likewise, Arrived is a reflection of who Cain is today: A man formed by childhood hoop dreams and an idolization of hip-hop’s Death Row era, but originating from what’s known on the coasts as flyover country. As he steps into his new role as head of a family and mentor of a new generation, it’s not in abandonment of the things that got him there. Instead, this is The God MC in his present, and perhaps peak, form. Arrived represents knowledge in lock-step with skill, a feat only possible through a wealth of experience.

Appropriately, listeners are greeted with “Introduction,” a spacey opening thesis. Cain asserts that while there are near infinite ways to die, there is “only one way” he can live, which is in faithful service to his family and loved ones. The twinkling live-show sample loop lends a cosmic tone to the track but remains sparse enough to keep lyrical reflections of fatherhood front-facing. It’s the first of many places where the words themselves are prioritized over bouncier, drum-centric production. That’s rarely, if ever, a detriment to the music, mostly because Cain never runs short on interesting things to say or turns of phrase.

As much as “Introduction” is a reflective, introverted track, its follow-up “Thank You” is a rider’s anthem, made to share with the world through sunroofs and stereos. Assisted by a guest appearance from Grand National, The God MC offers a taste of East Side Oklahoma City over a soulful and infectious guitar riff. On this track and its spiritual brother on the tracklist, the subsequent “Last of a Dying Breed,” Cain explores the idea of birthplace — what that means for a person, how it can ultimately affect their life, and how up to chance it all can be. He wonders aloud where some nationally prominent rappers would be if they were born where he was, though it is important to note that he is not envious or regretful. Instead, The God MC uses his origin as a reason to go “10 times harder,” defiant in his will to be heard.

Cain closes out the first half of the album with a virtual block party of guest features. Standouts include Chris Savage on “Four Letter Word,” who drops a few of the more memorable lines on the album, including a grim comparison of nightly news crime stories to ESPN highlights before setting up Cain for the line “we were masked and strapped up 10 years pre-pandemic.” LowKey Kemp also delivers a brief but memorable performance on “Membership,” closing out the song with impeccable flow.

From here, the album meets its emotional core, beginning with the nostalgic title track “Arrived,” a fond look back on the culture that made him. It’s followed by “Year Round,” a portrait of The God MC today. Though this is his biggest project to date, Cain has been in the Oklahoma rap scene for years. It’s clear that he’s very comfortable with his voice in music, blending elements of streets, poetry, and family life that is uniquely him.

There is nowhere on the album that typifies that balance more than the poetic and thought-provoking “Ode to Love.” Cain juxtaposes his daughter’s own hypothetical coming-of-age story with the frequent refrain “Go get my gun.” Backed rather minimally by some beautiful piano chords, it’s not far removed from a spoken-word performance. The song touches on the most basic of fatherly instincts — that of protection. While it might come across as possessive or overbearing, perhaps that is the point. “Ode to Love” is emotionally raw and intentionally provocative. It is guaranteed to stick with its audience long after the first listen.

A verse from Tulsa’s Steph Simon kicks off Arrived’s last leg on the song “Family Men Pimp Voice.” A more lighthearted change-of-pace, Cain and Simon trade bars about the grown-man hustle, and how the fight to provide for one’s family ironically takes them away from the thing they’re trying to support in the first place. Penultimate “Small Market Dreams” takes a look into the psyche of those born outside the nation’s most bustling metropolises — how tempting it can be to chase clout at the cost of friends and brothers, and how family is deeper than blood. “The Omega Before the Alpha,” featuring an elegant hook from Nia Moné, ends the album on a tender note.

It is very hard to critique Arrived because it is so apparent Cain is not only comfortable in his sound, but that the sound is a perfect fit for him. A lot of credit is due to the album’s reliance on live instrumentation, which will give the music longevity extending far beyond its 2020 release. This should come with the caveat that a lack of dominating drums and percussion, either from the boom-bap side of the rap spectrum or opposite trap extreme, might not be the ideal sound for every fan. There are spots on Arrived that could have used a little more of the adrenaline apparent in “Thank You” and “Membership,” particularly the album’s latter half.

Still, it’s hard to argue The God MC didn’t nail most every stylistic decision here. This album is a perfectly snug pair of Jordan 6s at your daughter’s dance recital — comfortable, sleek, unique, and wholesome. In the future it would be great to hear Cain expand on this sound even more, perhaps one day partnering with a full band to drive home a supremely cohesive sound.

Make Oklahoma Weirder recently caught up with Cain to get his take on Arrived’s themes and sounds.

Make Oklahoma Weirder: Before we get into the message of the album, I just want to talk about what direction you were trying to go musically on it.

Chris “The God MC” Cain: I actually like to try and cultivate my own sound. I know I haven’t done anything that hasn’t been heard before, but I really like to get into live instrumentation. A lot of the time I don’t use any drums, because I like to let my voice stand out. I don’t want to get put into a box. I love boom bap, but I don’t want to get put into that ’90s box. And I don’t want to get put into a different box for trappy or up-tempo drums. I like it to just be poetic and melodic. I love me some drums though, my follow-up project I’m going to have a lot more drums.

Make Oklahoma Weirder: On the song “Thank You,” one of the things you bring up is how some bigger, national acts from major cities are, in a way, fortunate based on where they were born. Not that those rappers are untalented, but do you feel like Oklahoma artists are at an automatic disadvantage, at least in terms of the national market?

Chris Cain: Yeah, definitely. A lot of my friends don’t like when I talk like that and my wife don’t like when I talk like that. I know why they don’t, because it sounds like it’s a sign of weakness or throwing in the towel. I’m not doing that at all. I feel like I have to acknowledge and be clear about what I’m facing. For instance, Nipsey Hussle; R.I.P. You know, him and his brother sold a shirt that says “Crenshaw.” That’s a street in their neighborhood. People come from all over the United States and all over the world to buy this shirt, and people know about it from movies and stuff. If I made a shirt, and it didn’t say anything but a street in my neighborhood, I might sell to a few of my friends. You see what I’m saying? That’s the difference. So, it’s not a sign of weakness and it’s not a cry for help. Really, it’s kind of a cocky thing. It’s like I’m painting a picture for you and I’m about to let you see what I’m going to overcome.

Make Oklahoma Weirder: Another place where this applies is in the streets. We hear a lot about the streets of New York, L.A., Chicago. They have their own big city problems for sure, but on the album you bring up Oklahoma being a smaller Republican state. I think what a lot of people nationally don’t realize is how crazy it can be to grow up in the middle of the country, especially for Black and Brown people.

Chris Cain: Exactly. Every hood—every ghetto—is the same nationwide. Some are more known than others, but it’s all the same. Even in suburban areas, you’ve got good people and you’ve got bad people. It’s nothing new under the sun.

Make Oklahoma Weirder: One of the themes that’s big on this album is the theme of family, especially the women in your family. Why did you want to make that such a big part of the album?

Chris Cain: That’s just where I’m at in my life. Even when I was in elementary or middle school or in my early 20s — however I was feeling or whatever I was going through was reflected in my music. That’s just where I’m at in life. I have a daughter. My oldest is a boy and I have a young boy too, but I have a daughter and I’m married now. Having a daughter, I can’t really put it into words. Having a daughter just changes my whole outlook on women. I’ve told this story before because it’s so true. I remember my wife and I, when we went and got the ultrasound five or six years ago and found out we were having a girl. When we came back to our apartment, I was sitting outside on the steps and a lady walked by. I can’t really describe it — I’m not putting extras on or boosting, this is so true. It was the first lady I saw after finding out I was having a girl, and I just looked at her differently. That was my first time seeing a woman knowing I was about to have a daughter, and it just made me look at women different.

Make Oklahoma Weirder: All of this is a segue into probably the most poetic moment on the album, which is the “Ode to Love” song. How did you think of that song and how did it come together, because it’s pretty unique from everything else on the album.

Chris Cain: One day I was just sitting in the car with my kids. I was waiting for my wife to come out to the car from out of a building and it just came to me: “Go get my gun” every couple of lines. Just saying “Go get my gun” as a metaphor for bittersweet — like loving my daughter but not knowing what’s going to come in the world. I love her, but at the same time I’m afraid. That’s why I even say “Get my gun” for good things, like ‘You made the honor roll? You about to take your SATs?” Those are good things, but I say “Get my gun” because it’s like ‘Oh my goodness.’ That’s personally my favorite song [on Arrived]. Before I even recorded it I knew that was going to be my favorite song. I’m a big hip-hop fan and, unless there’s something out there that I never heard before, I never heard a rap artist talk about [their child from the] first day of school all the way to adulthood in their 30s.

Make Oklahoma Weirder: It is interesting comparing the love of your family to having a gun and having that feeling of protection. When you think of using a gun, a lot of times you think someone is using it because they hate somebody. But a lot of times, when people do act violently or feel like they need to protect something, it’s love. Love is driving that. You don’t think about that a lot.

Chris Cain: I put myself in a fan’s shoes. What I wanted to do is make people think, “Damn, what is he talking about, where is he going with this? Is he on some Columbine shit?” I say “First day of school go get my gun,” so it’s like “Damn, what is he talking about?” I know that I’m talking about my daughter, but you don’t know yet, and that’s one of the reasons why I didn’t want to put anything about a gun in the title.

Make Oklahoma Weirder: For someone hearing your music for the first time, what do you hope they come away with?

Chris Cain: I hope I make them feel something, which I think I will. My thing is this: I don’t have a cadence that you never heard before. I’m like a Nas or like The Game. I don’t really have a voice that you never heard before, but you know it’s me when you hear me. What I’m getting at is, I don’t choose production styles you never heard before, but everything I say is original and all my production is original. I don’t even have a message that hasn’t been said before. Tupac had this message, Dead Prez, KRS-One, Public Enemy, Kendrick Lamar today, J. Cole, Jay Electronica. They all have similar messages, but I know my brain is one of one, so you’re going to hear me say it in a way that’s never been said before. I’m going to come at it from angles you’ve never heard it come from before. I’m going to put words together in a way you’ve never heard them before. While I don’t have a message or cadence you haven’t heard before, I know I do it in a way you haven’t heard before. And I know that I’m going to wow people.

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Ben Luschen

Ben Luschen is a writer, journalist, and educator based in Oklahoma City. He can be reached at okluschen@gmail.com.

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