Music has always been an important part of my life. I can remember clearly all the different musical phases I went through growing up. There’s the forgettable New Kids on the Block days. Then the country phase. Then classic rock. Then gangsta rap. Then hippie rock. Then I got saved. And after giving away my collection of over 200 Phish bootleg CDs to coincide with my new life in Christ, I began frantically searching for Christian music to quench my musical taste buds. And the more frantically I searched, the more disappointed I became.
With the exception of Andrew Peterson, Sarah Groves, and a few others, I’ve not found much contemporary Christian music that matches the glorious realities that I read about in my Bible or sing about with my church on Sunday mornings. A cursory listen to popular Christian radio will back my point. Secular pop music, which isn’t very impressive anyway, is imitated by Christian artists, to produce a quality of sound that reminds one of a baptized Disney sitcom. And while the quality of the music falls short even of its secular counterpart, the theological depth of lyrics couldn’t drown an ant. And so, my search for quality music that points me toward the God I know and love has continued without much success…until recently.
A new movement is rising and it’s source might surprise you: RAP. That’s right. Rap music. But don’t think rap music as you typically know it. While secular rap continues to make millions by creating new ways to rhyme about the same tired topics of guns, drugs, women, and bling, these new Christian rappers are bringing God-glorifying, Christ-exalting, theological content to a genre (and an industry) desperate for redemption. Rappers like Shai Linne, Lecrae, and Flame are leading the charge to bring theological depth to a culture swimming in shallow triviality.
Christian rap is nothing new. Who doesn’t remember youth group van rides with speakers blaring DC Talk? Could you ever really forget the images of acne-faced teens shouting at the top of their lungs, “What will people think when they hear that I’m a Jesus freak?”? But what I’m talking about here is something totally different. These new rappers are edifying the church with thoughtful lyrics and pointing people to Christ with a theology influenced by contemporary pastors like John Piper and C. J. Mahaney, and dead theologians like Spurgeon, Owen, and Edwards. Who would have ever guessed that the emergence of God-centered theology in contemporary Christian music would be led by rappers? God works in mysterious ways indeed.
Let me give an example. I was turned on to Shai Linne by a video of him rapping a song called “Spread His Fame.” You should really check it out. Here’s a little taste of my favorite line: “He takes in blatant, flagrant vagrants, breaks them, remakes them, and shapes them to hate sin.” Like Paul in Col. 1:15-20, Shai Linne poetically stretches the limits of human language to try to capture just some of the glory of Christ’s majesty. After watching this video, I wanted to know if there was more. So I bought Shai Linne’s new album Storiez off Amazon, and delightfully found more of the same: Shai Linne creatively, thoughtfully, masterfully, using the English language to explore the depths of human experience in interaction with the holy and loving Triune God.
The whole album is great, but there are a few highlights for me. In “The Greatest Story Ever Told,” Shai Linne beautifully raps the story of stories from creation to fall to redemption to new creation. He also has a track entitled, “Spurgeon,” in which he tells the whole life story of the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, in rap form. “High Priest” takes listeners back to the temple in Israel as Shai Linne raps from the terrifying perspective of the high priest standing between a holy God and a sinful people. “As the Hour Draws Near” tells the story of three different individuals in the hospital ward reflecting on their lives and the inevitability of death that awaits them. The mood of the music shifts to match the lyrics of one man who is uncertain about his future, another who is hopefully resting in Christ, and a third man who defiantly rejects God even to the end. The song follows this man into the next song, “Letter from the Grave,” as this same man dies and enters into judgment, begging for a mercy that he no longer has access to. The effect is haunting, causing the listener to reflect on God’s justice in light of sin. The man begs for the opportunity to warn his family, but the efforts are in vain. God’s verdict is final. His justice is irrevocable.
If you’re looking for thoughtful Christian music, look no further. Shai Linne, Lecrae, Flame, and others are doing something that has never been done with rap before: honoring Christ with thoughtful, God-centered, Christ-exalting, theological lyrics. When I began searching for Christian music that matched my experience with the God of the Bible, I never thought my journey would lead me here. But I thank God that it has.