My 30 Favorite Music Albums of All-Time, and One Reason Why You Should Listen to Each of Them

The other day, I did an NCAA Tournament-style bracket to determine my favorite music album of all-time. The seedings were totally objective – there was no science or formula used to pick who went where. For the full bracket (Google Doc), click here.

I then went on to list the top 30 albums in order. Check it out here on the right.Screen Shot 2015-03-16 at 12.03.20 PM

I want to share these 30 albums with you because they’re albums that have 1) helped shape me or 2) brought me great enjoyment over my 22-plus years of life. I’m also going to give you one reason why you should listen to each of them all the way through. You can take it or leave it. I will say, you learn a lot about what kind of music you really love when you are forced to pick between two so totally different albums such as Shai Linne’s The Attributes of God and Relient K’s MMHMM: Which would you rather listen to all the way through? Are there any songs on either album you’d rather not hear?

Another thing: I ranked this taking into consideration my whole life, not just how I feel right now. Of the top 5 albums, I found two of them in high school or before and three in college. Of the whole list, 14 were high school or before and are on this list because of that.

My list.

1. Jess Ray & The Rag Tag Army – Jess Ray: You should listen to it because it’s worship at its rawest and realest, something that’s rare these days. Those of you who love Jesus will not regret buying this.

2. Cosmos – The Send: You should listen to it because it’s everything one could love in singer/songwriter-type music that also glorifies God.

3. School of Roses – Christon Gray: You should listen to it because it’s Justin Timberlake meets following Jesus, discussing relationships, romance and real-world issues while trying to stay pure over sick R&B beats.

4. MMHMM – Relient K: You should listen to it because it’s piano pop-punk rock at its finest, a crowning achievement of music.

5. Instruments of Mercy – Beautiful Eulogy: You should listen to it because it’s the gospel in every line, a tour de force of theology applied.

6. Weights & Wings – Matt Wertz: You should listen to it because it’s singer/songwriter with one of the best voices and greatest pens I’ve ever heard.

7. Forget and Not Slow Down – Relient K: You should listen to it because it takes you on an emotional journey through a devastated relationship that you might be able to relate to on some level.

8. Rebel – Lecrae: You should listen to it because you don’t want to waste your life.

9. The Attributes of God – Shai Linne: You should listen to it because you’ll learn the basics of who God is in less than an hour.

10. The Good Life – Trip Lee: You should listen to it because it hits everything a rap album should: production, lyrics, features, topics, everything.

11. 808s & Heartbreak – Kanye West: You should listen to it because it’s an emotional tour de force of AutoTune and honesty you don’t see from guys in Ye’s circle.

12. Business Up Front/Party in the Back – Family Force 5: You should listen to it because you’ll have more fun listening to music than you’ve had in a long time.

13. Five Score and Seven Years Ago – Relient K: You should listen to it because you’ll get to experience a mature kind of pop-punk piano rock that still knows when to loosen up a bit.

14. Bring Your Nothing – Shane & Shane: You should listen to it because it has some great worship tracks, including one of my all-time favorites “Faith to Believe,” and emphasizes the lack we have and the fullness God provides.

15. Critically Ashamed – FM Static: You should listen to it because I had this thing on repeat throughout high school because it was awesome.

16. ATLast – Alex Faith: You should listen to it because it’s a refreshing mix of honesty and unique production of which there’s little parallel in Christian hip-hop.

17. Heroes for Sale – Andy Mineo: You should listen to it because, like ATLast, its honesty drips through every song, and it’s a heckuva lot of fun too.

18. Anomaly – Lecrae: You should listen to it because it’s a mature mix of rap that challenges you and also encourages you to pursue Jesus more.

19. Sound of Melodies – Leeland: You should listen to it because I discovered this around the same time I found Cosmos and it has a similar vibe, but in the worship genre.

20. Rehab – Lecrae: You should listen to it because tracks like “Just Like You” and “Background” cut through the surface and hit reality.

21. The Walking In Between – Ben Rector: You should listen to it because Ben Rector is just so darn good at what he does.

22. The Altar & The Door – Casting Crowns: You should listen to it because Casting Crowns knows how to craft a worship song that’s more than a worship song, it’s a story and a challenge and a worship song all wrapped in one.

23. The Anatomy of the Tongue in Cheek – Relient K: You should listen to it because it’s Relient K at their goofy best, with hints of a worshipful, serious, Christian heart sprinkled throughout.

24. Love & War & The Sea In Between – Josh Garrels: You should listen to it because you’ll love driving to it in the mountains or at night, and it will bring you calm throughout your day.

25. Mali Is… – Mali Music: You should listen to it because the guy who sings the hook on Lecrae’s “Tell the World” has the best voice for soulful, positive R&B.

26. Weight & Glory – KB: You should listen to it because there aren’t many better debut albums out there when it comes to young Christian hip-hop artists. Only ones I’d say are better are Nos. 16 and 17.

27. Pages – Shane & Shane: You should listen to it because, like entry No. 14 on this list, these guys know how to do worship. Plus, their version of “Before the Throne of God Above” is the best out there.

28. Smile, It’s the End of the World – Hawk Nelson: You should listen to it because the opening track’s guitar licks are sweet and so is the rest of the album.

29. Closer – Shawn McDonald: You should listen to it because it’s a personal reflection on life you’ll love driving to when you need to be a little more sedated.

30. Sinema – Swoope: You should listen to it because it’s a movie on a CD.

Five Albums You Should ‘Star’ on Spotify/Buy on iTunes: First Edition

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.

jessray“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.

Get “Jess Ray and the Rag Tag Army” on iTunes

2. Ben Rector – The Walking in Between – 2013

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.” benrector

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.

Get “The Walking in Between” on iTunes (No Spotify for Mr. Rector)

3. Dre Murray – Gold Rush: Maybe One Day – 2013

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.

dremurrayThe 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.

Get “Gold Rush: Maybe One Day” on iTunes

4. Still Trill Christians – Kings – 2013

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…”still-trill-christians-kings_n

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.

Get “Kings” on iTunes

5. Christon Gray – Even With Evil With Me – 2011

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.

Even+With+Evil+With+MeThe 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.

Get Even With Evil With Me on iTunes


If I keep finding more and more awesome music, I might just do this again. That’s a “First Edition” with a hesitancy.