Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Lyrical Theology. Holy Hip-Hop. Reformed Rap.

If you know me or have read my blog, you know that theology and rap music are two interests of mine. They have almost always been distinct and separate interests, for me. While I had heard some good (and lots of mediocre and bad) Christian rap back in the 90s, and early aughts, none of it was extremely theological in character. And even the best Christian material I heard from those times wasn't among the best hip-hop music being made, in terms of the aesthetic and artistic quality. Around the mid aughts I stopped keeping up with newer rap music in general and didn't have any connections that would alert me of quality Christian rap that was being released, so the little amount of it that I had heard was all that I was aware of.

Last month Challies -- a reformed blogger-pastor -- posted something about Shai Linne's new album The Attributes of God, giving the album very high praise. As a hip-hop aficionado myself, I was highly skeptical as to the actual quality of the rapping and beats (I had never seen Challies post anything about hip-hop), even if the theological content was excellent, as Challies was claiming (I trusted him on that count). After giving the album a listen on Spotify, I was stunned. Not only was the rapping top notch quality, but the content was vibrant, coherent, intelligent, Christ-centered, and unrelenting. The first comparison that came to mind when listening to Shai Linne's album wasn't golden-era, mid-90s, boom-bap rap music (though stylistically, that is his heritage), but Reformed theologians! Not only was this Christian rap, but it was lyrical theology and it was brilliant.

As I had become largely calloused toward, and weary of, new rap music in general, this was a revelation on two levels: re-igniting my interest in new rap music, period, as well as acting as a portal into the Reformed Rap or Holy Hip-Hop world, which I didn't even know existed (outside of The Cross Movement). Two of my interests and passions were combined thereby creating a more intense love for both of them.

After listening to The Attributes of God -- which shares the title of, and is kind of patterned after, the book by A.W. Pink -- I went on to listen to a few more of Shai Linne's albums such as Storiez and The Atonement, which were excellent as well. After this, I listened to some material from a guy named Timothy Brindle, who was featured on a number of Shai Linne's songs and who seemed to be a phenomenal emcee. It turned out he had two albums to his name, The Great Awakening and Killing Sin, which were both excellent. Though it's a somewhat tired touchstone for comparison, Brindle is comparable to a Christian Eminem, in that they both made waves in the secular battle circuit, and stylistically they have similarities.

Another artist that had collaborated with Shai Linne was named Evangel, and since his couple of verses were incredible, I sought out some more music by him. There were no solo albums of his on Spotify, but he was a member of a group called Christcentric who had a newer album out called The Ephesians Project, which is a hip-hop-album exposition of the entire book of Ephesians. His songs and verses on there were great, as was his song Beautiful Church which was on the compilation The Church. Evangel is just a beast with a wicked flow (but not a wicked message, of course).

Discovering one new incredible hip-hop artist would have itself been a revelation. That happens very rarely, especially in the current climate of hip-hop, which is fairly dismal. Having been introduced to three incredible rappers, who all have a solid amount of material recorded and released already, was just that much more amazing. Essentially discovering a whole new genre, one that strongly appeals to my intellectual and spiritual interests, which can actually enhance my relationship with the living God, and a genre which all of these phenomenal, newly discovered artists are working within was just that much more incredible.

I know that sounds like a lot of breathless, overzealous, hyperbolic rhetoric for some rap music, but I should tell you that I'm a very cynical and critical hip-hop consumer. Even if these guys were praising God and glorifying Christ with sound theology, but they had weak beats and rhymes, it wouldn't do much for me. But the actual quality of the lyrics and the rapping catapulted all three of them into my upper echelon of living, working rappers.

Since this discovery, I haven't listened to much of anything else on Spotify except my Lyrical Theology playlist, which is quite extensive. Lampmode records, which boasts both Shai Linne and Timothy Brindle on its roster, has other artists who I haven't even yet given a proper listen, who may also be great. Stephen the Levite, for instance, had two great tracks on The Church compilation, and I haven't yet listened to his solo album in its entirety. So, even with the new universe of Holy Hip-Hop opened to me, and having already explored it heavily, there's still more to discover, not to mention whatever else God has in store in the future, working through these artists and new ones. Hip-hop is back on my radar and it's being used to glorify the ruler of heaven and Earth.

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