A Year for Christian Hip-Hop: An Introduction
I’ve written a number of pieces about Christian hip-hop over at Evangelical Outpost, as well as entrenching myself in the genre as a reviewer (both written and in podcast form) for The Christian Manifesto. When I was asked to write a few guest posts here at The Two Cities, I really wasn’t sure what I should focus on. I considered writing about The Dark Knight Rises, but that’s been pretty well covered here (I didn’t fully agree with the review, though its points are fair, and my own thoughts on the film may get me slaughtered). I considered technology, or perhaps using the request as an excuse to go spend money on seeing other recent films (Total Recall, a comparison to the original? That’d be a good post), but ultimately landed on hip-hop. After all, we’ve seen a number of excellent releases in the last year or so from Christian hip-hop artists, and more are on their way.
Someone already reviewed KB’s Reach Records debut, Weight and Glory, so I don’t need to cover the album here. The album is solid, though in the broader scope of hip-hop it is not as amazing as the reviewer seemed to believe. No worries, though. It had solid production, and certainly deserved some praise. I myself gave it 4 out of 5, and you can hear me talk about it here.
But if you’re looking for theologically rich hip-hop, you can’t really avoid mentioning Shai Linne’s music. In fact, he released an album last November called The Attributes of God. If that isn’t a straight-forward and descriptive title of an album, then I simply don’t know what is.
In this post, I’m going to stick to some raw recommendations, with a blurb about why you should care about a particular album. I’ll be back a few times this month to talk more about hip-hop, both in the present and in the future tenses, but for now, ruminate on these a bit. They’ll get you pumped for Christianity’s interaction with culture, broadly speaking, but also remind you that we take excellent entertainment seriously.
Shai Linne, The Attributes of God
If you love your theology laced with a little bit of hip-hop, rather than the other way around, you don’t need to look any further than Shai Linne. He’s been doing this sort of music for years, but this is easily his best sound. Without sacrificing content or style, Shai manages to put together an album that is both entertaining and illuminating. Highlights include “Our God is in the Heavens,” “The Omnis,” and “The Jealous One.”
High Society Collective, Circa MMXI (free)
When Sho Baraka left Reach Records, the Christian hip-hop scene went into an uproar (you can read my thoughts here). Out of this, he formed a musical group (probably? They’ve put out music under this name, but want to call themselves a group of artists not solely focused on music) with singer J.R., rapper/singer Suzy Rock, and rapper Swoope. The sound on this album is nearly unparalleled in hip-hop, Christian or otherwise. Less theologically driven than something like Shai Linne, but absolutely worth a listen. Highlights include “Devil,” “Before Goodbye,” and “Take Off.”
Swoope, Wake Up
Though you may be familiar with Swoope’s sound from High Society, his debut album with Collision Records is excellent. With a sound like Kanye West, both vocally and musically, he blazes through with some of the best wordplay I’ve heard on an album to date. The album is tough to take piecemeal, and functions better as a whole than a collection of singles, but if you only pick up one album on this list (for money), get this one. Highlights include “Fantasy,” “Mirage,” and “The Beautiful Rise.”
Lecrae, Church Clothes (free)
Perhaps the biggest name in Christian hip-hop ever, and certainly the biggest right now, Lecrae released a free mixtape earlier this year, hosted by DJ Don Cannon. The release brought a lot of controversy (which he cleared up, and I wrote about here), but is still solid production with both fruitful and explosive lyrics. He’s worth listening to beyond this release, but if you want a free introduction, this is where to go. Highlights include “APB,” “Black Rose,” and “Misconception.”
Beautiful Eulogy, Satellite Kite (free)
This excellent group composed of veteran rappers Braille and Odd Thomas and producer Courtland Urbano put out their debut to crazy critical acclaim. This is the most unique project on this list, and you may feel like a bit of a hipster for listening to it. It is well worth the sacrifice, though, as you’ll find some of the most thoughtful verses, interesting musicianship, and humble guys the rap scene has ever known. In my opinion, this will likely be the album of the year, though most of the releases on this list will be vying for the spot. Highlights include “Open Letter,” “Take it Easy,” “Anchor,” and “Beautiful Eulogy.”
James F. Arnold is the lead editor and a contributing writer for Evangelical Outpost. He’s also the music editor and podcast review extraordinaire for The Christian Manifesto. You can usually find him thinking about technology, philosophy, hip-hop, theology, and anything that finds a way to combine those topics.