Each work of art etches a moment in time. That said, Christon Gray’s fourth full-length offering, Clear The Heir [RCA Inspiration], marks a moment of bold transformation for the Columbus, OH singer, songwriter, rapper, and producer. For as much as it showcases the progression of the artist’s patented hip-hop-R-&-B hybrid, it also illustrates intense personal growth. Both of these journeys converge on the record’s eleven tracks as he opens up like never before within signature deft bars and soulful crooning.“You’re hearing me become a man,” he affirms. “I’m not just a 24-year-old making songs for the first time anymore. I’m being as honest as I’ve ever been. I felt the freedom to not sugarcoat who I am. It’s not all perfect. It’s raw. I caught up to myself and based my music on a new chapter. You’re just witnessing a regular person be real.”
That humble demeanor belies a growing legacy that’s anything but “regular.” In fact, he set the stage for such progression by quietly becoming one of hip-hop’s pre-eminent Christian rappers. His last two releases–School of Roses  and The Glory Album –both bowed in the Top 5 of the Billboard Top R&B Albums Chart and Top 15 of the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums Chart. The latter yielded a crossover smash in the form of “Stop Me,” which powered a trailer for the Dwayne Johnson blockbuster Rampage and featured on HBO’s Ballers and FOX’s Lethal Weapon, in addition to campaigns for Honda, ESPN, and The ESPY Awards. It even kicks off Madden ’19 as the theme song for the game. Receiving acclaim from Jet, Essence, Billboard, and more, he ignited the stage everywhere from BET’s Music Matters to Alive Fest.
However, at the top of 2017, Christon made a conscious decision to “shut down.” Leaving his label, facing a divorce, and enduring a period of trials and tribulations, he took a break from social media and released “No Hesitation” independently. A bold declaration of faith and celebration of the Christian acts who paved the way for him, he turned up at the Stellar Awards with a fiery performance of the track and turned his attention towards the next body of work.
“After experiencing a divorce, seeing some highs and lows in the business and my personal life, and watching my daughter turn six, the music started to naturally develop,” he admits. “In shutting down, I found that a lot of the things I was relying on, whether they be social media ‘likes’ or sales, didn’t define me at all. I reconnected with who I was. I started to see who I was becoming as an adult. Clear The Heir is a double entendre. On one hand, I’m clearing the air and telling my core fan base where I’ve been these past two years. At the same time, I’m placed in a position to make personal change, hence Heir. This was an opportunity for me to let people know Christian music still exists–and it’s stronger than ever.”
Tracked throughout 2018 at studios in Cincinnati and Toronto, he amplified every aspect of his approach. He introduces the record with “Together Forever.” Driven by slow piano and choral harmonies, his cinematic storytelling takes center stage as he recalls memories like, “Kirk hit me before he went to see Kanye. I told him don’t even worry, just do what God says.” The chorus illuminates the expanse of his voice as it crescendos to staggering heights.
“We had to come with a hip-hop ballad first,” he says. “It describes my life up to this point. Every bar plays out like a different scene. I want to bring new listeners up to speed and give longtime fans the answers they’ve been looking for about my personal life, relationship with Kirk Franklin, where I’ve been, and how I feel things are in the Christian and mainstream spaces. I’m catching everyone up.”
Something of a spiritual sequel to “Stop Me,” “Time Out” hinges on high-energy, heavy, and hypnotic bars before the stadium-size hook, “I ain’t never calling time out.”“It highlights that being the underdog is a privilege,” elaborates Christon. “We’re never going to call it quits. We’re going to play as if we’re at the end of the game and everything is on the line. People said Christon Gray was going to be one and done. Here we are working on something epic. I can’t take the credit. All I can say is we’re not going to call any timeouts.”
He’s also got quite the team behind him this time around. Andy Hull of Manchester Orchestra lends his voice to the emotionally charged “By The Way,” while Underoath guitarist Tim McTague adds robust riffs to “You & I” as longtime collaborator JGivens makes a “secret cameo.” Lastly, his brother Taelor and the talented Tragic Hero join Christon to provide a deeper look at race relations in America and the role Jesus plays on the well done, “Gray”.
In the end, Clear The Heir sees Christon reach a new level.
“This body of work properly represents me,” he leaves off. “That’s all I want people to see. I hope they walk away knowing we’re human and we’re loved by an invincible God who has a human quality to Him. Let me show you what that’s been like for me.”