Sunday Feb 25
Review: SOJA – Strength To Survive

SOJA – Strength To Survive
Track Listing:
1.) Mentality
2.) Strength To Survive
3.) Everything Changes
4.) Don’t Worry
5.) Tell Me
6.)It’s Not Too Late
7.) Gone Today
8.) Let You Go
9.) Not Done Yet
10.) Slow Down
11.) Be With Me Now
12.) When We Were Younger

The Pier Album Rating:

Release Date: January 31st, 2012
Record Label: ATO Records
Official Website: SOJA’s Website

Group Background:
Shortly after Jacob Hemphill had returned to the United States from Africa, the roots of SOJA sprouted. In Washington D.C., Bassist Bobby Lee and Singer Jacob Hemphill became friends going into the first grade, finding in common their mutual loves for hip hop and reggae. Throughout their middle and high school days the two transformed their love for music, even performing at middle school talent shows. By the end of high school, Hemphill, Lee, Ryan Berty (drums), Kenneth Brownell (percussion) and Patrick O’Shea (keyboards) were performing at local venues and gigs, and the dream began snowballing. They made it their goal to hit the road after the last of them graduated. In 2012, the group is headlining major venues across the globe, fifteen countries to be exact.

In just the past few years, SOJA has sold over 150,000 albums. The now seven-piece is in the midst of unveiling of their fourth studio album Strength To Survive in 2012, their first for ATO Records. ATO Records was co-founded by Dave Matthews and features artists such as 311, Umphrey’s McGee, Primus, and My Morning Jacket. It was produced by John Alagia, whom has also produced records for Dave Matthews Band, John Mayer, and SOJA’s summer tour-mates O.A.R. Strength To Survive was heavily inspired by Bob Marley’s Survival; “The greatest album ever made.”, according to lead singer Jacob Hemphill.

Album Review:
Of all the upper echelon reggae bands hailing from The US, SOJA has one of the most loyal, persistently-growing fan bases in modern reggae music. As political unrest, war, and poverty spanned the globe in Bob Marley’s time, we have found the world in a similar spot in the new millennium. Then came SOJA with a universal message of love, hope, and faith, proclaimed through reggae music . With Strength to Survive, SOJA builds towards one overruling theme of world unity.

Strength To Survive is a SOJA’s best display of musical finesse yet. The ever-so-present horn section, the skanking on the numerous guitars and keys, and most importantly how well the numerous individual harmonies integrate collectively. One of those harmonies is the voice and mind of Jacob Hemphill. Sometimes raspy, other times smooth to the note; exclusive enough to SOJA that any reggae fan could recognize it.

After the album ran through my mind a few times I eventually caught myself reverting to the title track Strength To Survive. Multiple guitars, keyboards, a heavy bassline,and plenty of dubtastic effects accommodate the voice and universal mentality of Jacob Hemphill. His point is that it is amazing that our world is still intact; that as earthly citizens need to look at the bigger picture rather than selfishly. Hemphill sings “Does the dollar really matter when the whole world’s gone?”

This is why SOJA has found an international die-hard fan base. In addition to remaining true to an organic style of musicianship, they have not given in pop-culture mindset. Rather, they promote the underlying importance of values in our lives; happiness, humanity, and the future of our world. Another song, “It’s Not too Late” is another favorite of mine. Partially due to the punch the bass line packs, but Hemphill also sings that everyone is involved with this whole living-on-earth thing together and it is not too late to transform our global mentalities.

“Be With Me Now” hits another subject on the universal radar; love. The song kicks in with the keyboards and guitar skanking around each other, met with the voice of Hemphill who expresses his love to another in first-person. In “Let You Go”, SOJA paired a relatively somber subject with a positively upbeat melody. Rather than emphasizing the joys love brings, the song catches Hemphill begging his former love to come back to him.

Strength To Survive is surely a successful revisit to the music and voices of legendary reggae and roots idols, such as Mr. Robert Marley. It is apparent that the seven instrumentalists played a part in the making of Strength To Survive, and in terms of musical complexity are some of the most creative artists in the industry.

Written & Reviewed by: Matt Emodi

[Editors Note: All reviews are reflective of the album in it’s entirety, from start to finish. These reviews are the honest opinion of each writer/reviewer, expressing their feedback as a genuine fan of the music. Each star rating reflects their review of the album, not the band. Music is subjective. Regardless of the review or star rating, we encourage you to listen to the music yourself & form your own opinion. Spread the awareness of all music in its art & contribution]

“Strength To Survive” music video

11 Responses to Review: SOJA – Strength To Survive

  1. David says:

    Matt / Pier Guys,

    I read most of your reviews, and have to disagree with this particular review. Soja is undoubtedly one of the larger names on the scene, with a very strong, and an enthusiastic following. However, I don’t believe that you have touched on enough of this album in your review. I also feel that you were not critical enough. The Reggae Rock scene is most certainly a small part of the music industry, but nonetheless has listeners that are extremely passionate. I find that it is getting harder and harder to discover something truly awesome and new. There are plenty of new bands around, and new albums featured on your site, but if looked at critically, they mostly fall short. If this music is to be taken seriously and the culture is to grow, you need to be willing to be honest and really review the album. (In my opinion) This album falls short. Soja’s previous albums although filled with numerous off notes, and some poor timing were very exciting, raw, and most importantly enjoyable to listen to 100 times. I do understand that this release was intended as a more roots sound, but songs on Get Wiser, Peace in a Time of War, and Born in Babylon all contain songs that you listen to 3 times in arrow because a certain part just rocked. Strength to Survive does not. I have given the album three complete undisturbed listens, and each time find that it is difficult to distinguish the songs, and I find more and more things that do not seem right. The album although well mixed, is overly produced. Jacob’s speech patterns, and voice have been curbed. The guitar solos are unnatural to what they play live or on any previous albums, and there are very few. Bobby Lee’s character has been taken completely off the album, the basslines have been dumbed down, and the audio levels have been mixed down. I understand that they are now on ATO and want some accreditation for their music, but changing your sound for a more pop driven audience is not the way to go. It is called selling out. If you read the Itunes reviews, a lot of the hardcore fans are unhappy and disappointed. You also find that a bunch of Jason Mraz, and Justin Bieber fans <3 the album and think it is the best album ever. Your review acknowledges that their music talent has increased, and the lyrics are positive, but you did not review the album for us the fans. Peace of Mind received 4.5 stars and just might deserve it. Rebelution stayed true to their sound, process, and grew musically. The album also gets into you, and has multiple tracks that dance in your head, and are returned to for repeat listens. The album is also just as positive lyrically. With new releases from John Brown's Body, Slightly Stoopid, and the Black Seeds this year, I feel you owe another review to this album. If you score everything at the top and are not critical, where will we find room to put these upcoming albums. Slightly Stoopid has had a bigger year than ever, John Brown's Body has taken their sound way further based on their live performances, and the Black Seeds have yet to produce a bad track. If Soja gets 4 stars, I think you're going to run out of room for releases this year that are going to take this music to the next level. Please consider, I'm not trying to be a jerk, and I would love a chance to review for you.

    Thank you much,

  2. mike says:

    preach on brother dave. let him review albums for you because he’s spot on.

  3. Dillinger says:

    @Dave, I love the passion you bring and would love to read your review. As far as your points you made, people said the same about Babylon if you recall. Sometimes bands mature. And based on how much touring bands play it’s only expected their sound will get more tighter. I do like the new SOJA album (I’m also only 3 listens in). I think I prefer it more than Rebelution’s studio album (the acoustic album is key, and is on a whole another level than anything I’ve heard in a long while). The SOJA’s album brought some new elements to their sound, whereas, Rebelution was more of the same. I’m also stating that there isn’t anything wrong with that – just might get old to some. Overall, they are both stellar albums — with the acoustic one way above the rest. I do like that SOJA included some acoustic tracks as well. And for the record, I don’t like comparing bands much, but, since you mentioned it I figured what the hell… cheers

  4. Ethan says:

    Dear Dave,
    while i respect your position i must respectfully, of course, disagree, the more i listen to this album, and according to i-tunes its been about 15 times, the more i love it. I do not sense any difficulty in distinguishing between when another song has ended and a different one began. Personally, and might i stress that this is my own personal opinion, i do not believe that they have sold out in any way. I believe that they have taken their music to an entirely different level. The roots sound, and message, is simply incredible in my mind. I cant get enough of songs like Mentality, Strength to Survive, Tell Me, When We Were Younger, and Be With Me Now, i genuinely believe that they have reached another level with this album. Also i love their musical progression from Peace in a Time of War to Strength to Survive in the sense that they appear to become more roots sounding with each album (My own personal favorite song by them ever is on the stars and stripes ep, entitled,((haha)) stars and stripes). But i digress while i also think that there are many other vastly improving reggae bands in the U.S. this SOJA album is the upper enchelon for me. It stays true to the roots sound and message, this album is a cry to forever improve our ways as a human race, and continue to reduce the amount of harm that we have put on the earth, “does the dollar really matter when the whole worlds gone.” Forever speaking strong wise words, they have re-inspired me to one day join the peace corps with this c.d., after i graduate from college. Also, and perhaps most importantly, i love listening to this c.d. when im on. Sorry for the poor grammer and/or spelling, it is saturday night right before we go out.

    Peace and Love All,

  5. Connor says:

    Thank you.

  6. alas...... says:

    when we were younger…for someone to penned this song so young…wow….

  7. Damule says:

    David, THANK YOU, i agree with you 100%…they gave this album more that it deserverd

  8. MJ says:

    Dave I’ve been a huge SOJA fan for a long time and I could not agree more with your review man! In my opinion you deserve to review for them 100% keep up the good work brotha!

    One Love.

  9. GC says:

    David is the man! SOJA let us all down :(

  10. Cole says:

    Dead on!!! They stole Bobby Lee from us. The songs are all short and no long jam sessions. Jacob seems to be singing as if he is on American Idol. This album to be honest broke my heart because the 1st single Everything Changes is SOJA-esk but then atleast 6 songs on this album are their poorest work with only a couple other experimental songs from Peace in a Time of War. I hope with every fiber of my body they get back to who they are as a collection of musical artists and not this lead singer oriented mainstream Piece of ****.

  11. Jai says:

    I respectfully disagree with you Dave. I feel you are being over critical which is ok it is a review we are allowed to be critical but I believe you are listening to what the album is not. Listen to the album again three times listening to what it is… Not what its not. A great quote is ‘Comparison is the death of joy’

    The term sell out in my eyes is completely silly. So, they tighten up there sound and make some new fans. That is a great thing espically when they are spreading such a beautiful message and music. Reggae greats like Bob Marley have fans that may not even like reggae but still feel and understand the music and powerful message. Who cares if people that like cradle of filth, justin beiber or bob james like this album.

    Music is music. I honestly admit if the album sucked i might of been saying the same things you are. But i listened to it with a open mind and the album has incredible lyrical components that can be understood on a international scale. To have simple words convey such powerful messages is a very hard skill. All this is tied in with unique, relexing, uplighting, head bobbing, skanking beats and horns.

    ‘What is love really if it only affects one aspect of life?’

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