My brain creates ideas and thoughts at random moments. As I was lying down for bed with my girlfriend and son during Hurricane Irma, preparing for one of the worst storms I’ve ever experienced, I remembered my mom telling my brother and I to say the Lord’s Prayer during troubling times as a kid. “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep”, popped in my head just like I had recited it when I was younger. My mind began pondering if what millions of people have been taught over the years with religion was really something bad. What if this Lord we prayed to take our souls was really a bad entity? By no means am I a religious person but you see how my brain operates. Then I began thinking of Pastor Troy’s ‘Vice Versa’ and the whole concept of everything being not what we originally thought.
‘Vice Versa’ is a record that is criminally slept on. Unless you’re a Hip-Hop enthusiast or a fan of southern Hip-Hop you may have never heard of Pastor Troy. The Atlanta, GA rapper didn’t garner much commercial success during his career but ‘Vice Versa’ will go down as his Mona Lisa. “What if heaven was hell and vice versa? If I told you go to hell would you tell I cursed ya?” PT Cruiser begins the Carl Mo produced record, offering a thought provoking question. What if heaven is really hell? Could you imagine believing one thing for your entire life that’s supposed to be good, only to end up being lied to and it being the worst fate you could imagine for the after life? We’re brought up to believe what we’re taught at young ages are absolutely right but aren’t taught to question them. Any sort of a challenge is looked at as disrespectful rather than discussion on why someone’s belief system is like this. My brother and I were in church three times a week while living with my mom. It wasn’t necessarily the notion of us questioning if it was the right thing to believe in, moreso the demand of going so many times that we opted not to attend once we were able to make decisions for ourselves. As we got older we were able to develop our own beliefs based on life experiences, world events, and many other things (religion is always a circus freak show to talk about between my brother and my mom at Thanksgiving). Yet Pastor Troy, a southern rapper, questions everything from the beginning of his long verse on this classic record.
“Again I ask heaven was hell or vice versa/would you start doin’ evil in order to nurture” -Pastor Troy
The south has always been portrayed as a region that didn’t have “lyricists” or “conscious” sounding artists for many years. “Y’all don’t hear me you just wanna dance” would be the prime quote for most people who heard the likes of Outkast, Goodie Mob, Scarface, and more as there were plenty of artists who had a message; they just styled it in a way that was more fun to digest. Pastor Troy’s ‘Vice Versa’ is nearly 4 minutes of discussion about spirituality. This is one of the first records to ever make me question my beliefs. At first it sounds like a discussion you would have with your friends after smoking or drinking a little too much on a Saturday night when the party is ending at 4am. The more you listen to ‘Vice Versa’ you begin wondering if your belief system is the right one. Religion is such a divisive topic because Americans believe Christianity or Catholicism are the only correct ways to worship. Who’s to say we’re right? According to the Bible, Jesus’ hair was “that of wool”- I’ve never seen a white person with hair of that texture yet all the propaganda of Jesus is painted as a white man (also part of the “white savior complex” that many Caucasians have). What makes their religion the one that’s correct? What if Muslims have it right? Or Buddhists? Or even Atheists? ‘Vice Versa’ makes you question life and all the little details you were brought up to be correct. What if that entity you’ve been praying to all along is the evil that people have been trying to warn you about?
Let’s switch focus from the message and discuss another key element for ‘Vice Versa’ being one of the best songs in Hip-Hop history. The Cory Mo beat elevates Pastor Troy to a level that many artists, past and present, have never ascended to in their career. Backed by menacing bell tolls and electric guitars, it sounds like Pastor Troy and featured artist Peter The Disciple are preparing for the end of days. It isn’t the beat alone or the lyrical content that make this an incredible song. As Pastor Troy begins his verse, you can hear the emotion in his cadence along with his growling “Yeah!” adlibs in the background. The tone of the record becomes more aggressive as the song continues before the adlib takes a life of its own, increasing in tone and volume on two separate occasions. This climax of adlib mixed with vocal progression make ‘Vice Versa’ an emotionally charged song, a big part in why it should be considered one of the best songs in Hip-Hop history. At a time where people were writing off southern Hip-Hop, Pastor Troy used emotions to create a record that required you to rethink everything you’ve grown up to believe.
‘Vice Versa’ was released on Universal Motown in 2001. I was just learning about Hip-Hop at this time and it took me several years before I discovered the beauty of this record. Had I listened at 14 I may not have understood it as well as I did at 24. When you go back and listen to ‘Vice Versa’ as an adult it makes you put your beliefs in perspective. This is the power of Hip-Hop, and music in general. You’re supposed to feel something from music, whether it’s joy, pain, sadness, or something deeper. You’re supposed to question everything you’re taught instead of blindly going along with it as direct narrative. Pastor Troy let it all out on ‘Vice Versa’ and created one of the best songs in Hip-Hop history.
– By Joe Hova