Koryn Hawthorne – “Unstoppable” (July 13, 2018)
NBC’s The Voice has brought a number of Christian singers into the spotlight, and Koryn Hawthorne is one who has absolutely stormed onto the Christian music scene. Hawthorne has moved from being a member of Team Pharrell on the aforementioned show, to gracing the front of Spotify’s current gospel music playlists.
The album’s lead single Won’t He Do It (Remix) has been in prominent spots on gospel music charts for a while now, and for good reason. It’s a perfect blend of gospel and pop-R&B songwriting, accented by Hawthorne’s powerful vocal delivery and the slightly “trappy” production style that keeps the track stylistically relevant and market ready. The relatively light tone sets this track – and the rest of the album, honestly – apart from other darker sounding “trapsoul” counterparts in the mainstream market (and even the current wave in “CHH”). In fact, in spite of all the 808-style percussion, fluttering hi-hats, and 8th note triplets, the harmonic structure of these songs usually manages to keep things adequately in the gospel realm.
This genre fusion is perfected by the fact that it is executed in a self-aware and intentional way. Studio albums by gospel artists can sometimes come across as stylistically scattered (see Tye Tribbett and Israel Houghton’s offerings in this category). Hawthorne and her team know exactly what they are going for and manage to keep the album diverse without any radical or distracting departures. The album is gospel enough throughout that the ballads and worship numbers don’t feel out of place (You Still Love Me, Speak The Name), but also has enough of a modern edge for a rap feature on Reasons to make sense, as well as the distorted-guitar-driven album bookends Warriors and Down Goes Rome.
The strongest feature of this offering is Koryn’s voice, by far and without a doubt. Her versatility is constantly on display: she is compelling and emotive on the softer tracks and manages subtle backing vocal textures, but leans heavily into her belting zone just as often. The grittiness in her voice an the frequent rawness of her delivery is perhaps the quintessential anti-mumble rap. The weakest part of the album might be repetition and brevity. Four of the ten total tracks are repeat songs from her previous self-titled 2017 EP. The album totals 37 minutes of playtime – a respectable runtime in general, if not for the fact that some of the songs feel like they end a little too abruptly or inconclusively (Down Goes Rome, Truth).
Overall, this record should serve as an excellent introduction for Hawthorne as a promising new artist. She has plenty of room to grow, but in this case that is a good thing. She delivers a stylistically relevant pop-gospel album without sacrificing vocal quality or songwriting, takes Christian radio by storm, and manages to do so without being cheesy. Things are looking good for Koryn Hawthorne. If she can crank out a greater volume of songs and continue to hone her craft, she may in fact prove to be unstoppable.
(P.S. It really should also be mentioned that the phrase “Won’t he do it!” had already become something of a meme prior to Hawthorne’s song hitting the scene. This is definitely a continuation of the trend of Christian artists un-ironically turning memes into songs, as Hillsong United did in 2017 with “Not Today” – clearly playing off the “not today Satan” phrase that had swept through social media. I’m honestly hoping that we see memes become the next wave of Christian hymnody, anticipating titles like “I Can Has Justification By Faith?”, “Shalom There! General Kenobi!”, “I Need No Other Evidence (Change My Mind)”, “Away In A Manger (Is This Your King!?)”, and “Mr. Stark, I Don’t Wanna Go To The Lake of Fire”…. I’m only half joking, in the sense that I would be thrilled if Richard Dawkins’ legacy in creating the term “memes” resulted in a batch of popular, culturally self-referential Christian songs. That would be absolutely golden.)