(Grave Baby Entertainment)
Before Treali Duce would call himself a rapper, he’d probably identify as a man of God. Thankfully for us, that makes for more compelling music whether or not you’re religious. The Flesh is Duce’s follow-up to last year’s emotional A Man’s Heart, which garnered a San Diego Music Award nomination.
The Flesh is 41 minutes of gangster rap tempered by Duce’s Christian outlook. If most rappers imitate Tony Montana from Scarface, Duce is more like Leon from Leon: The Professional. He’s a conflicted character, a bad guy fighting to redeem himself.
Redemption is most evident in “Crash Dummie,” in which Duce warns young, aspiring gang-bangers of the dangers of gang violence. But his strength lies in confession, not preaching. Songs like “This Life” and “Callin Me Back” see Duce’s personal struggle between street life and spiritual righteousness. Even “Addiction”—in which he shouts out several types of guns—frames his “addiction” to violence as a sickness and a moral weakness for which he asks for both help and forgiveness.
Of course, this complexity would mean little if he didn’t have the musical chops to back it up. As a rapper, Duce deftly shifts in and out of his double-time flow while also dropping clever wordplay. As a producer, he does justice to classic West Coast G-funk, layering synths, strings and squelching bass to create a thick, warm sound, though the quality is spotty.
Duce plans to release his next album, The Spirit—the companion piece to The Flesh— within the next month. But, truthfully, I’m not sure how much it could differ from The Flesh, which is already a very spiritually engaging album. And, besides, how could he separate spirit from flesh when his struggle between them is what makes him so passionate?