Note from Zach: This is part 1 of a 14-part series in which I explore 14 songs that have meant something to me in my life. The order of these songs is not reflective on anything regarding their impact or depth of meaning, they’re simply done in alphabetical order of the artist.
“There are so many things that I don’t understand
Like why am I so lost if I have a captain?
I’m tossed back and forth by deceitful winds,
And if it all falls, look within.
I’ve been breaking hearts way too long
I did this from the start, now I’m all alone.
So focus on the heart if you want a home
I can’t settle for that cardboard box no more.”
One thing I love about Andy Mineo’s artistry is his transparency, especially in the album Heroes for Sale. He’s willing to talk about things and share personal feelings and concerns. One of the best examples is the song “Shallow” featuring fellow Christian rapper Swoope.
“Shallow” is all about how shallow men can be in their thoughts about women, even Christian guys. It’s something that I admit that I’ve struggled with. In the first verse, Andy talks about a conversation with his mother and he reveals where his heart is:
But let me be blunt, no pothead,
I’m going through a process to stop seeing women as objects
‘Cause the meaning of marriage is not sex.
It’s so much more, this ain’t no beauty contest
When you play that game then somebody’s always got next.
If charm is deceiving and beauty’s vain, then I bet
The standards that we judge most people with are nonsense.
I put too much emphasis on my preferences,
Dang, I’m feeling shallow just addressing this
‘Cause God loves me despite of how much a mess I am
And I’m writing off shawties whose bodies is less impressive like, dang.
When I first heard this, I nodded in agreement. It was my junior year of college and it hit me square in the eyes.
This is a conversation topic that doesn’t come up often generally in Christian circles. But among guys, talking about how a girl looks is common. For Christian guys, at least for me, there’s a conflict. Yes, we admire the beauty of certain girls, especially the ones we’re dating/engaged to/married to. But actually talking about that beauty brings some conflict.
We all have to go through a process to stop seeing women as objects because the meaning of marriage is not sex. And it’s a difficult process because our sinful hearts mix with our appreciation for female beauty. There’s something (the appreciation for beauty) that is in and of itself good and even godly in the proper context. But throw in the sinful nature, and it’s a mess.
That’s why I love this song. Andy talks about his heart and his attitude and I’m right there with him. I face that temptation to only look at a woman’s value based on her appearance. Especially for someone who’s single. And Andy’s willing to talk about it in a song.
I listen to a lot of music, but I’m not about to tell you my music taste is totally refined. You can talk to my brother Addison for that. But in my listening to a lot of different music, I run across some gems every once in a while. Here are five that are going into my ears consistently right now. I’ll post Spotify boxes below the album where applicable. Not all of these are on Spotify.
1. Jess Ray – Jess Ray and the Rag Tag Army – 2010
I was recently introduced to this artist, as in about three days ago recently. I’m hooked. The honest lyricism matched with the sincere reverence and worship of God combined is good enough for me.
“I’m deaf and dumb and blind and lame, with no hope, no way, no chance…Jesus Christ of Nazareth, You’re my only chance!” Ray exclaims in the chorus of “One Name,” one of the better three songs on the album. The second is aptly-titled “Better,” where Ray lists what knowing Christ is better than. It amounts to pretty much everything, which is truth. “Gates” describes the joy of the believer in light of weaknesses – “In my weakness, it’s far more clear. In my failures, it’s far more clear to me just who You to me and what You did to me, to me” – and the longing to see heaven – “And I can’t wait until You walk me through those gates, hallelujah!”
Looking for solid worship with a melodic, indie kick? Check out Jess Ray and the Rag Tag Army.
Not often do we find great love songs that are clean with wonderful lyricism and a refreshing approach to the genre. Ben Rector is that, and with his latest output, The Walking in Between, he captures the topic of romantic love in several different ways that are truly refreshing each time.
The highlight for me right now is the upbeat, driving “When I’m With You,” in which Rector describes how he feels when he is with his special someone – “But when I’m with you, I’m no longer wondering. But when I’m with you, I swear I can breathe. But when I’m with you, I know who I am and who I want to be.” Other highlights include the simple “I Like You” (“There’s no need to complicate, dress it up or overstate it, without too much hesitation, here’s the way I feel, I like you”) and “Forever Like That” (“I wanna love you forever I do, I wanna spend all of my day with you, carry your burden and be the wind at your back, I wanna spend my forever, forever like that”). The iTunes version of the album includes an acoustic version of “Forever Like That.”
He also tackles non-love topics, such as “Making Money” and a plea to God (I’m guessing) on “If You Can Hear Me” (“Sometimes the devil sounds a lot like Jesus, telling me I’m not enough. I don’t believe it, no no, but I can feel it. And I need You so, yes, I need You so”).
Like the romantic singer/songwriter-vibe? Check out Ben Rector’s The Walking in Between.
This Christian rapper’s major exposure is little to the common Christian rap fan. Murray appeared on the song “Welcome to H-Town” on Lecrae’s Church Clothes mixtape last year. He’s part of the group W.L.A.K. (which includes Alex Faith, Swoope and Christon Gray) on Collision Records. But after this album, it will be hard to ignore him.
The album follows how a man is trapped in his obsession with material possessions, playing with the motif of Egyptian kings and queens who were buried with their gold and wealth in hopes it would come with them to the afterlife. Highlights “Maybe One Day” (featuring Christon Gray) and “Pharaoh” (featuring Tragic Hero) capture the image of a man who is seeking for the material that will satisfy him. On “Pharoah,” Murray exclaims, “Dear Pharoah with a tomb for your gold, food and drink abound, not an inch for your soul. Your death will soon show that you’re not in control.”
My personal favorites are “Fiend” and “Gold Rush.” On the former, the narrator laments how he has become a “fiend,” a danger to those around him because of his desires, while the latter is a track that captures the theme of the whole album, how the possessions just aren’t worth it in the end.
(Also: Christon Gray shows up four times on the album, which instantly makes it better.)
Like rap that approaches a real topic with some nice production and honest, real lyrics? Check out Gold Rush: Maybe One Day.
Some dapper young fellas grace the cover of this Christian rap group’s debut Kings. The album is filled with “bangers,” songs that you can drive to, work out to and jam to. The theology isn’t too deep, but the message is clear.
The standout is “No Sex” (featuring Willie “P. Dub” Moore), in which the guys rap about how sex is best saved for marriage, that that approach is the most God-glorifying. It’s a refreshing look at sex as opposed to most of what we hear these days – “We can hit the mall and go shopping while we in it, and you be looking good, baby girl, I must admit it, but I don’t need no sex, sex, sex, sex, sex, because you’re worth more than that, that, that, that, that. Please don’t get me wrong, ‘lil mama, you so fly! But I listen to my Daddy, and that’s the reason why, that I don’t need to sex…”
Trying to just jam? Check out “Bingo,” “Keys & Yams” and “Winner” (feat. Jordan Armstrong. STC also shouts out to the beauty of doing relationships the God-centered way on “Miss You” (featuring Nina Sims) and “Loyalty.” “War” (featuring Mic Tunez) approaches the battle inherent in biblical warfare.
Like some upbeat Christian rap with a few songs refreshingly approaching romantic relationships? Check out Kings.
I mentioned this guy a couple albums ago as being a supporting actor on Dre Murray’s Gold Rush: Maybe One Day. This is his first output as a solo artist, and it’s tight. The guy can sing and rap and glorify Christ while doing both. I can’t tell you which one I enjoy better. To get a hint of both, listen to this album. This is just about all singing, but it’s beautiful.
The highlights are the worshipful “Reign” and the title track. The former is a soulful track praising the reign of God over the world and over the life of the singer. The latter is an exclamation of how God still works in the life of the believer, “even with evil with” him – “Now I am trying to be the hero, just to find that I’m the criminal. And I’ve discovered through the course of sin that I’m no good alone. Jesus, oh Jesus, my Jesus, that’s why I love You so. Stories I am not inclined to tell, to say the least I laid my bed in hell. But You were there to catch me when I fell, tossed my sins in seas and fared thee well. Surely, goodness and mercy should always follow and never return void.” Gives me chills.
But perhaps the best is “Isle of You.” It’s a piano-driven love ballad Gray wrote about his wife – “Lord knows I deserve nothing, I’ve got everything, yes I do. Flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone, baby, He knows I’m no good alone. You bring out the best in me, and let me tell ya bout the way you make me feel.” It’s one of those wedding songs.
Like soulful, Gospel-lite Gospel-centered music that will drive you to worship? Check out Even With Evil With Me.
That’s a pretty bold statement for sure. But God has used Trip Lee’s The Good Life to pour truth into my life when I needed it. And I want to share with you each song and the truths found in each of them. Thanks to Rapzilla.com for having a listening session with each on their front page here. Check it out.
NOTE: This is part 1 of the series. There are 15 songs on the album, so there will be three parts of 5 songs each.
1. New Dreams feat. Sho Baraka and JR
“If I find I have a need this world cannot meet, then I know this life is a place my hope should not be. I’ve been chasing those things that are real fake. This is not a real place, this is a dream state. Functional saviors ain’t hip, they’re a real waste.” – Sho Baraka
“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” Jesus asked his disciples, as recorded in Matthew 16:26. All throughout the Word, the world and its pleasures are spoken against. In 1 John 2:15-16, John wrote, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the love of the father is not in him. For all that is in the world – the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions – is not from the Father but is from the world.” Sho Baraka’s bit emphasizes that the world cannot fulfill our needs. And any dreams we have on earth that are not glorifying to the Lord are worthless.
“To the Lord, the good life is really dying.” – Sho Baraka
“The good life is the life that’s been laid down.” – Trip Lee
Check out Matthew 16:24-25, where Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” It’s very reminiscent of PRo’s album Dying to Live, and the song “A Life Worth Dying For.” It also reminds me of 1 Peter 5:6-7 — “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the might hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” If we really humble ourselves to God’s power and God’s will, and be patient on His timing, we will see His care for us and His guidance.
TRUTH: Jesus asks us to deny our selfish dreams, anything we personally want for ourselves, and totally submit ourselves to His will for our lives. Only then will we see His will.
“So I was still a drone, nothing but a clone, I only knew the lies cause that’s all that I was shown. But I been remade, my heart is no longer stone. Where my ex-Robots who can sing this song? Now I’ve been remade, I’m no longer hollow. A real man came, changed everything that I know. He gave me truth, that’s a hard pill to swallow. He gave me new commands, and He freed me up to follow.” – Trip Lee
Admittedly, I’m not the biggest fan of the beat of this song, but the message is truth. Trip talks about how he used to be a “robot,” sitting under the commands of his flesh and what man is naturally. But once He became a Christian, his life was changed. He saw his heart had once been subject to the ways of the world, but it had been changed to be submissive to the Lord and “freed…up to follow” God’s commands.
It makes me think of Romans 8:2-6 — “For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of the sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.”
TRUTH: Once we have been set free from control of the flesh by Christ’s death on the cross, and the imputation of His righteousness on us cleanses us from sin’s control, we can follow God’s commands. We’ve got a new Master, and we follow Him alone. We want the good life till it’s gone.
3. I’m Good feat. Lecrae
“I know that I’ma suffer, that’ll only make me tougher. Death is just a doorway to take me to my faithful lover. The lover of my soul’s with me, you can shake a brother. But you’ll never knock me down or take me under, bring the thunder. Let the storms come behind us and hurt us. They can’t take our Lord from us, we got us a verdict. Not guilty. He’s with us and He stays present. He never leaves me, He even gives me stage presence.” – Trip Lee
Great video, by the way. This video really puts the entire song into perspective. It really hits hard on persecution.
Ever read 1 Peter? It was written by the disciple Peter to a group of scattered exiles from Rome who were kicked out of the city when the emperor Nero blamed them for the Great Fire of Rome in AD 64. The group was undergoing intense persecution. Peter encourages them with verses like this — “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:3-5). Despite being under intense persecution, those Christians had a great reward to look forward to. Romans 8:1 says we have no condemnation if we’re in Jesus Christ. Death is gain for the Christian (Philippians 1:21) because we get to see Jesus.
“Partner, you know I’m good to go. Pressure creates diamonds and fire refines the gold. Ain’t nothing on this planet that’s satisfying my soul. I’m living for tomorrow, today is out of control.” – Lecrae
1 Peter 1:6-7, following that awesome bit of verses 3-5, says, “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith – more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire – may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” As you see in those verses, we go through trials and tribulations, which may include persecution for our faith, but it’s to make us stronger. And we go through it because nothing on this earth will satisfy us.
TRUTH: We’re good because we have a place in heaven if we trust Christ with our life. No matter what persecution we go through, any earthly thing we lose is worth losing. We know where our eternal resting place is. That’s the good life.
“This is war, like you ain’t seen. This winter’s long, it’s cold and mean.” – Dustin Kensrue.
“Entombed souls everywhere, dead bodies rottin’. Big glocks poppin’, bodies still droppin’. But I ain’t gonna cry though, ’cause death’ll get swallowed. The Father sent His Son, and the troops gonna follow.” – Trip Lee
Life is spiritual warfare. And this song speaks to it. Life (God) and death (Satan) are in a continual battle over the earth and its inhabitants. Ephesians 6:12 says, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Consider Tedashii’s “Make War.” In the beginning, it has a sample of John Piper — “I hear so many Christians murmuring about their imperfections and their failures and their addictions and their shortcomings, and I see so little war! Murmur, murmur, murmur, why am I this way? MAKE WAR!” Tedashii then goes into a diatribe against Christians who don’t fight their sin.
In this song, I think Trip’s simply saying – there’s spiritual war in the world. Life is fighting against death. But because Christ conquered death, life will win, God will win.
The song samples Dustin Kensrue’s “This is War,” the official music video of which is above.
TRUTH: Check Romans 5:18-21 — “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
5. Fallin feat. J. Paul
“Feeling like throwing in the towel, the guilt is kicking in. Sometimes I climb to heights, but I’m at my lowest sin, cloaked in deception and overdosing on potent sin…now I’m doubled over with my face on my knees, and decide it’s where I want to be. There I go again, I’m fallin.” – Trip Lee
“Face to the pavement, once again faced with the same sin. I don’t think I’mma make it, don’t know how much longer I can take this. So I’m caught up in this sin, I wonder if I’ll see Your face again. Fallin’, fallin’, fallin’, there I go.” – J. Paul
I love this song because it talks about the process Trip goes through once he’s committed a sin. He talks about how sin calls out his name and entices him to join.
I think Romans 7, the entire chapter, is good background Scripture of what Trip’s trying to say here. Paul writes in verses 18-20 — “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.”
When we reach that stage in our week or our day, it can be very easy to wonder if God really does love us, or if He really will pick us up from the sin we find ourselves in.
“Everytime I fall He go’n pick me up. The Lord is my shepherd, homie, He go’n pick me up. I fell into the trap again, but He go’n pick me up, remind me of His promises, in Him I put my trust.” – Trip Lee
“So I gotta face this, but I know there’s nothing that He can’t fix. Looking to the cross where they placed Him, ’cause I know His grace is amazing. He’s covered all my sin, it’s gone, never to be seen again. So we’re callin’, callin’, callin’, out to you.” – J. Paul
The amazing part of this is that God’s grace is amazing. Romans 7:24-25 — “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.” Also, Romans 8:38-39 — “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
TRUTH: That’s one of God’s awesome promises, that He will never leave us nor forsake us, that nothing can separate us from the love of God. Despite our sinfulness, if we are God’s children, He will always love us.
Check back soon for Part 2, covering the songs “iLove,” “Know Me,” “One Sixteen feat. Andy Mineo and KB,” “Heart Problem” and “Take Me There feat. Jimmy Needham.”
So I love Christian rap. Anybody who knows me somewhat well knows that’s my favorite kind of music. There are several songs right now that are my favorites that I think any Christian should know about because these Christian rappers glorify God and that’s it. So here goes.
“Need It Daily” | Tedashii featuring PRo | Blacklight | 2011 | Reach Records
Tedashii here drops some rhymes with PRo about being in the Word daily and knowing that’s so important. The flow is incredible, the lyrics are great and they praise God. Watch and listen…I don’t want to spoil anything.
“Get It” | PRo | Dying to Live | 2011 | Reach Records
PRo raps about evangelism on the streets and living out what he believes. A separate music video was shot for this, taking out a verse of this song and adding a verse from “Merked, Pt. 2.” Again, a great beat, clever lyrics and God-honoring. I think PRo is one of the more clever artists in Christian rap, but he brings Jesus glory and honor. Again, that’s all that matters. Just listen.
A regular contributor to 116 artists’ tracks, Flame has put out three albums of his own with great songs like “Go Buck” and “Joyful Noise.” This track stands out because of the call to obedience. As Christians, we are called to be obedient. That’s what Flame emphasizes on this song.
“Chase That (Ambition)” | Lecrae | Rehab: The Overdose | 2011 | Reach Records
My favorite song off of this follow-up to the excellent Rehab is about chasing what Christ offers and what we are supposed to do as Christians. Challenging, for sure. It’s sure a call to being something different; one line goes, “I’m never gonna be who I used to desperately want to be, I’m too worried about the Lord getting credit instead of me.” Whoo. Note on the video: This is a sweet typography video of the song.
“Just Like You” | Lecrae featuring J. Paul | Rehab | 2010 | Reach Records
Arguably the most hard-hitting song lyrically on Rehab. Lecrae raps about his past without a father and the people he looked up to and how they took him down the wrong path. He points to Christ as the role model we should want to be most like. The video is great because it puts Lecrae as a grown-up looking in on moments where he as a kid got bad influence. Just watch and listen.
“Man Up Anthem” | 116 Clique (Lecrae, Trip Lee, Tedashii, KB, PRo, Sho Baraka, Andy Mineo) | Man Up | 2011 | Reach Records
This is the intro track to the album on manhood from the 116 Clique aptly called Man Up. It’s great because it’s a sampling of all these guys and their talents and their heart for God and for men. The entire album is incredible and such a call for men to man up for God.
“Twisted” | Trip Lee featuring Lecrae, PRo and Thi’sl | Between Two Worlds | 2010 | Reach Records
Just an awesome track about how people get God and His Word twisted. The thing gets stuck in my head all the time and I really don’t mind it. Great lyrics, beat, everything. Just listen to it.
“The Glory of God” | Shai Linne | The Attributes of God | Coming out soon 2011 | Lamp Mode Recordings
Shai Linne is one of the most Biblical rappers I’ve ever heard. Not that the others aren’t, but Shai Linne pulls no punches in going straight to Scripture to pull out lyrics. This is a hallmark of that, a song where he talks all about the glory of God. Just listen.
If you want to listen to all of these songs on YouTube without having to find and search each one, here is a playlist I made with all of them.