Everything about “He Is … I Am” is a risky endeavor. The four-minute song is a two-part concept record about guns; its first half is an introduction to East Atlanta rapper Grip and his formative years growing up with his first firearm, and the second, more daringly, is rapped from the perspective of the inanimate murder weapon. It’s the sort of thing that great rappers can pull off, and imitators tend to fall flat on the attempt. Thankfully, Grip is more than up to the challenge.
Grip’s dejected croak crashes against a warm sample. It’s a battle of juxtaposition as the spiritual sample is undercut by Grip’s various and vivid admissions of impending prepubescent doom. During the first verse, he’ll transition from a masterful scene-setting moment of early childhood (“Back when I was watching Goof Troops and eating Fruit Loops / You sprayed at your target, but the strays ricocheted and struck a kid that used to shoot hoops) to an understated lyric about digestion that cleverly plays upon the cereal reference two bars prior (“And as a kid myself, that was hard to digest, like will I die next?”).
Then halfway through the song, the bottom drops out. Grip’s gruff voice transforms into the pitched-up growl of a gremlin and the perspective shifts to a gun — who raps. The gimmick is silly, but its implementation works. Over a sinister and dissonant beat, sounds of unknown vehicles speed by as the gun transforms into a devil on the shoulder figure trying to convince Grips that if he takes his advice that his adversaries will pay “the highest price.”
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In less capable hands, the entire proceeding would come off as pretentious. Instead it’s devastating. In the micro-universe of “He Is … I Am” like life there are few easy answers and even fewer solutions. The song begins with the story of a boy and the only silver lining is that he became a man. If only the rest of the record’s inhabitants were so lucky.