A.R.C. CHOIR / “Walk With Me”


The most powerful and moving a capella choir I’ve ever heard. Thirty-two voices strong, the Addicts Rehabilitation Center Choir is burning-with-faith gospel from Harlem. Every singer will tell you proudly that the Center pulled them up out of the gutter, out of the fires of hell. They sing to praise the Lord that they’ve lived to tell others. The Choir’s power will wrench your soul, get your feet moving and your hands clapping—and might just blow you off the sofa.
 —From www.mapleshaderecords.com  
arc choir.jpg The first time I heard the A.R.C. Choir’s “Walk With Me,” the record that inspired Kanye West’s “Jesus Walks,” I was dumbfounded. For me, the surprise wasn’t that Kanye had taken the A.R.C. Choir’s record and simply rapped over it; in truth, he didn’t. In terms of both production and texture, “Jesus Walks” is the more complex recording and significantly so. What did amaze me was that “Walk With Me”—an all acappella performance which was recorded live (meaning no overdubs, no samples, no post-production, etc.)—has all of the spirit, the fire and the unique energy of Kanye’s record, minus the distractions: the military chanting, the self-aggrandizement, the (intentionally?) ambiguous lyrics and so on. That was a few months ago. Then, just recently, I happened to hear an episode of NPR’s Fresh Air which featured the founder of the A.R.C. Choir, an 80-something year-old minister and former drug addict by the name of James Allen. Listening to Allen’s story, I was amazed all over again. When I first heard “Walk With Me,” I didn’t know what A.R.C. stood for. (Actually, I don’t think I knew the name of the choir at all.) I liked the song, but for whatever reason, I didn’t try to find out anything more about it. As Allen explained to Terry Gross (the host of Fresh Air), the full name of his choir is The Addicts Rehabilitation Center Gospel Choir, A.R.C. for short. The abbreviation isn’t an attempt to hide anything, it’s merely a convenience. After all, Allen said, people sometimes refer to his singers as ‘The Junkie Choir.’ When they do, he added, he doesn’t take offense. The truth is, no one in the choir has anything to hide. A bit of research turned up stories like that of choir member Frederick Parramore, who told the Daily News, “[When] people want to know how we beat drugs…I tell them about the days when my skin was full of ulcers and maggots, when I was addicted to alcohol, methadone, cocaine and heroin. I tell them about how the activity of singing keeps me away from drugs.” Or stories like that of another member who said that she joined the choir only to relapse into addiction and wind up back on the street. Two months later, she got clean and came back. For the singing, she said. She got cleaned up and came back because she wanted to sing. It’s that kind of life or death, all or nothing spirit that permeates not just “Walk With Me” but all of the A.R.C.’s mind- and soul-stirring music. And, I might add, the A.R.C. choir is just the tip of the James Allen and Co.’s proverbial iceberg. Since it’s inception in 1958 as a tiny, one-man operation, James Allen’s Addicts Rehabilitation Center has grown into one of the largest and most successful drug treatment centers in New York State. Today, it has an annual budget in the millions and serves upwards of 500 residents at any one time. As for the choir, they’ve performed in prisons and cathedrals, in hole-in-the-wall churches and in expansive concert halls. They’ve traveled the world (literally and figuratively), spreading their message of hope and praise. And, to this day, every member—yes, that’s right, every member, including the music director and Allen himself—is a former addict. The reality of where these singers have been versus where they find themselves today is surely one of the things that makes their music so powerful. In the end, I still think “Jesus Walks” is a good song. But it’s just that, a song. “Walk With Me,” on the other hand, is the sound of 37 Black souls reaching with everything they have for salvation. —Mtume ya Salaam Bonus track: “Shady Green Pastures.” Another stand-out track from the A.R.C.’s Walk With Me  album. It begins with a lone voice but eventually builds into a virtual wall of sound, complete with syncopated percussion, dynamic multi-harmony and one hell of a bassline. (No pun intended.) And, as is their custom, the A.R.C.’s only instruments are their singing voices, clapping hands and stomping feet.           Kanye, Kanye, Kanye         kanye west 06.jpg “?!?” — WTF is this? What can you say except the boy got an eye for what will prove to be popular. He’s a legitimate bootlegger. Figured out how to sell other people’s stuff. Now I ain’t saying he’s a gold digger, but he sure know how to lift other folks issue. He gives them credit (sometimes) in small print, while he be making off with a mint. I’m sure he’s sharing, at least a lil' bit. He don’t care, long as he got a hit. Kanye got sticky fingers and a good eye for what to touch. Credit where credit is due: Kanye is a music marketing genius (emphasis on marketing). Very clever. Very, very clever, no doubt. But you know "render unto Ceasar..." and Jesus kicked the money changers out of the temple... and marketing is not synonymous with meaningful. Speaking of marketing, check this. The version of “Jesus Walk” included here is from an unofficial "official" mixtape and features Mase and Common (http://www.mixflavas.com). I like this mixtape better than either of Kanye’s two official albums. So now somebody's selling a bootleg of the bootlegger's hit. That's all I’ve got to say about “Jesus Walks”—y'all can connect the dots for yourselves and draw your own conclusions. As for the ARC Choir, they are deep in the tradition of Black music as salvation for souls under pressure. And again, just like Kanye's, this choir's music speaks for itself, loudly and clearly. I do have some comments in terms of contextualizing the music but you should go to the Cover section to read that; I'd prefer this beautiful music to stand on its own. —Kalamu ya Salaam    

This entry was posted on Sunday, March 12th, 2006 at 12:58 am and is filed under Contemporary. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

8 Responses to “A.R.C. CHOIR / “Walk With Me””

Berry Says:
March 12th, 2006 at 1:15 am

OMG, this is incredible. The one thing about the Kanye effect is that everything this boy touches does turn to gold … and even platinum. He has given new life and exposure to a new generation for the Shirley Bassey song and this one as well. He is just a mid-west version of Puffy and eventually he will run out publicity steam but in the meantime he is having fun. He is publicists dream and nightmare all rolled into one.

Nadir L. Bomani Says:
March 12th, 2006 at 6:17 am

i never liked jesus walks. i always thought it was over produced like a muh@#$%*!. in fact, ever since jesus.. alot of kanye’s production have been annoyingly over produced.

Then i heard the AMC ditty. That made me lose what little respect i never had for dude. Take out the uneven rap, and all that other carbon monoxide shit mtume described and you don’t have a hit single.

And this nigga got the nerve to rep Jesus Walks like he created a stevie wonder song or something…

where his mama at?

      Mtume says:      

Nadir, it’s actually worse than that. I didn’t want to get into it in the post because I wanted the post to focus on A.R.C.—listening to those former junkies tell their stories of redemption through music almost brought a tear to my eye. (OK fine, I was crying like a little girl. Sue me.) But check this out (from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhymefest):

Rhymefest [a ‘childhood friend,’ it says] collaborated with West on the record "Jesus Walks," off the ground-breaking album The College Dropout. On February 15, 2005, Rhymefest earned the Grammy Award for Best Rap Song, along with West, for co-writing the song. Rhymefest had the initial idea for the song and discovered the sample used in the song, Arc Choir’s "Walk with Me." Rhymefest played the song for West and then gave it to him to use for the album West was working on at the time, The College Dropout. Fest didn’t have a record contract at that time and he knew that if West could produce it and become famous, he would be able to gain some notoriety from it as well. Fest co-wrote the chorus and first verse with West and even wrote and performed a third verse that did not make the final cut, but is performed on his mixtape, "A Star Is Born."

And look, before the nasty comments start coming in, I’m not trying to knock dude’s hustle. Do you what you do. Get it how you live. But don’t run around posing on crosses and wearing wings and shit when some of your best known stuff is essentially borrowed from someone who themselves borrowed it from someone. I can’t get Kanye’s line from "Last Call" out of my mind: "They heard ‘Jesus Walks’ and didn’t sign me." His tone is so incredulous when it says it too. Like, "I came up with something that fucking brilliant and original and the suits just couldn’t hear it." At the time, I was with him. But between the whole "All Falls Down"/"Mystery of Iniquity" thing and the "Diamonds"/Lupe Fiasco thing and now the "Jesus Walks"/"Walk With Me" situation, I really have to start thinking that dude is more of an opportunist than an artist. I mean, not to play ‘slippery slope,’ but what else don’t we know? Look, I love sampling. I love remakes. But too much of Kanye’s stuff walks that thin, thin line between homage and rip-off. One false step, and…. 


Qawi Says:
March 13th, 2006 at 1:08 pm

Man…He should’ve sampled the WHOLE THING. I mean, this song is much more powerful than anything that has been produced. Not only that, but considering what the choir represents, this song is SOUL STIRRING! Meaning they are singing it with their whole being, and suffice it to say, that “Jesus is walking with them.” They clearly weren’t trying to make a hit record, they were just asking for help from a Higher Power. You can’t get that from just the Hook.

Speaking of hook, I’m not a fan of Kanye, but I respect him for at least the quality of samples he picks. His lyrics are somewhat passe but he is a master of the Hook. And for a generation of short-attentioned spanned folks, that’s all that is needed.

Qawi Says:
March 13th, 2006 at 1:29 pm

One other thing about the HOOK…what makes this song appealing is the repetition. As Kalamu said in the first set, it creates a backdrop for the song. The lead vocals (or in Kanye’s case rap) is not necessarily the core of the SONG, yet it adds to it. Musicians can pick out the complexity of the arrangements behind it, but on a cerebral level the chanting, synchopation, and repetition is subliminal. Like the slave work songs of our ancestors or more currently like the melodic songs sung by Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Something about the background singing just emotes a special kinship with the singers. Which is why I’m sure Kanye and Co. selected this sample. Basically, it spoke to them on a cerebral level.

Kiini Says:
March 15th, 2006 at 4:55 pm

wow, I’m blown away by the ARC Choir. This song “Walk With Me” is amazing. I have a friend who’s into finding samples and he played “Walk With Me” for me, but I was distracted or something. But listening to the song through headphones… wow.

So flicking amazing!

I know one thing, as soon as I get back to New York I need to hotfoot it up to Harlem and go to this church and be touched by this choir.

Editor B Says:
March 16th, 2006 at 10:31 am

Beautiful. “Dumbfounded” indeed — that’s my reaction too. Almost makes me wanna get religion. Thank you.

ekere Says:
March 17th, 2006 at 1:59 pm

Editor B, I feel you!!! I was thinking, “How can I sneak up in somebody’s church real quick??” 🙂 This music can convert somebody.

one love,

Raymond Says:
May 12th, 2006 at 6:19 pm

My cut off that CD is Shady Green Pastures though…but the whole CD is pure explosive sounds

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