There are a few formidable voices in contemporary gospel that inspire with their creativity and sometimes slightly unorthodox approach. These artists cater to as many people as possible; reaching out to those that have rarely experienced church service or who generally avoid listening to Christian music. When Kirk Franklin, Tonex and Deitrick Haddon succeed in regularly etching their name on the radio and the charts, they successfully expand the gospel mainstream in the process-all without compromising their biblical viewpoints.
Deitrick Haddon, in particular, has grabbed every opportunity to live and breathe the lively spirit that exemplified his native Detroit's rich gospel and soul music history. In a recording career spanning nine discs, Haddon has consistently stamped the gospel industry with his gospel soul trademark. His trademark blends old and new school elements inspired by soul/pop icon Michael Jackson, gospel and soul legend Sam Cooke and hardcore R&B artist R. Kelly; tossed with hints of rock, pop and blues. The latest work from the singer/songwriter, Revealed, is by far the most eclectic of the bunch. It opens another chapter in his ambitious quest to connect with a worldwide audience that can appreciate gospel music with a soulful slant.
For a person that was once shy when it came to music, there were plenty of resources at Deitrick's disposal to carry out his lifelong mission. Deitrick witnessed many prolific gospel artists based out of the Detroit region, including The Clark Sisters, Commissioned, and The Winans -- especially Pastor Marvin Winans -- incorporate secular music influences into their gospel music to reach a contemporary urban market. The more he was impacted by their charismatic performances and far reaching ministry, the more it appeared in his mind that he also wanted a piece of motor city history. Besides concerts, Deitrick committed to attending many gospel musicals held at David's Cathedral, where the praises continued until the wee hours of the morning. His parents, Bishop Clarence Haddon, senior pastor at Detroit's Unity Cathedral of Faith, and Prophetess Joyce Haddon were also major musical influences of a different order, pushing their son-who at an early age once hated singing-to achieve his fullest potential.
While serving as Minister of Music at Unity Cathedral, Deitrick along with the church choir, Voices of Unity, signed with Tyscot Records in the mid-nineties. Come Into This House, Live The Life and This Is My Story effectively meshed mass choir arrangements with heavy doses of funk, R&B and reggae. In 2001, the re-recordings and remix collection, Supernatural, showcased several radically remixed cuts from the 'early days' of VOU including: "Raptured Away (Isley Mix)," which sampled the laid back funk from Dr. Dre's "Today Was A Good Day," and "Chainbreakers (Jiffy Cornbread Mix)" which incorporated the refrain from "Come Together" by The Beatles. In the same year, Deitrick, his wife Damita Haddon and his brother, musical director Gerald Haddon, joined forces in spotlighting the best youth choir vocalists from Detroit. Detroit Sings Nu Hymnz Vol. I...Sing A Nu Song and the sequel Nu Hymnz II: Live From The Motor City reconstructed classic hymns like "It Is Well," "What A Fellowship" and "By & By" toward a younger generation that had embraced an edgier R&B and hip-hop attitude in their gospel music.
With 2002's Lost & Found, Haddon's solo gospel star started shining brightly, continuing in the gospel soul tradition from his collaborations with VOU. The disc reached #1 on the Billboard Top Gospel Chart. There were songs ready made for the clubs -"Oh Yeah," the Calypso jam "The Praises Go Up" and of course plenty of old and new school shadings, including the impassioned "Sinner's Prayer."
Two years later, Crossroads, which crossed over into the top 40 of the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop charts, successfully echoed the same formula as its predecessor, sealing Haddon's reputation as a gospel soul stylist. Two highlights were the dance-friendly, funk-tested single "God Is Good" a winning formula that blended in call and response, and "Had Not Been" which teamed Haddon with gospel legend and former Stax recording artist Rance Allen.
The next venture from 2006, 7 Days --guided mostly by the esteemed, Detroit-based R&B producers Tim & Bob -- steered somewhat in a more mainstream direction but never stripped Deitrick of his gospel soul trademark sound. The blazing but controversial single, "Heaven Knows," was a relevant social commentary on the world's instabilities, from the war on terrorism to racial differences.
Deitrick's latest, Revealed, encompasses rock, pop and even jazz tidbits, but emphasizes many of the futuristic R&B and hip-hop beats currently ruling the urban airwaves. In most cases, this contemporary setting is tailor-made for Haddon's gritty soulful demeanor and Energizer Bunny personality. The first bass-booming single, "I'm Alive," works both for worship and as an inspirational song to blast on the car radio. "Go With Me," an updated disco joint, could fire up any Soul Train dance line. Tim & Bob's production spark mellifluous grooves with "Reveal My Heart." "Love Him Like I Do," first released on the compilation Gotta Have Gospel 5, features Ruben Studdard and Mary Mary and a hypnotizing hip-hop hook that reels the listener in.
For the diehard fans, there are a few old school soulful moments. Drummer David Haddon, Deitrick's brother, and a swinging horn section set the tone for "Jesus For President," a throwback to the Tower of Power era. "The Word," an intense, fully orchestrated ballad, focuses on Haddon's natural ability in being convicting without preachy, a gift in which Deitrick idol Marvin Winans excelled. The rock/pop flavored, Gerald Haddon produced tracks, "Ungrateful" and "Don't Take Your Spirit Away," are favorable, if soulfully less than impactful.
Overall, I believe Detrick communicates urgency and a strong musicality on every track of Revealed, even if the vocal power is lacking at times. What Revealed lacks in power is made up for in the enthusiasm Deitrick brings to the table from watching and soaking in all those inspirational artists growing up. In my estimation, this should be enough to highly recommend Revealed to those uncomfortable with gospel music and those who appreciate a soulful heart at work.