Before I begin, an important distinction. There’s a difference between my “favorite” songs and my “best” songs. My “favorite” songs are ones I can relate to or I enjoy. The “best” ones are the songs that are well-constructed instrumentally and perfectly-written. These are my “favorite” for your reading pleasure.
1. “Fear” | Lecrae | Anomaly | Reach Records
There are so many lines in this song that I can 100 percent relate to. Lecrae raps about fear and how it can grip us, how it can hold us back from doing what God has called us to do, but also a reminder of how God is there the whole time, and all we have to do is call on Him. The line “Bible on my dresser that could teach my pain a lesson but I’d rather not address it” sticks out in particular.
I often find myself in that place when there’s things I’m struggling with. I use the wrong tools to deal with my issues, the wrong methods, the wrong paths, when instead, I should just go to the Lord, remember His Word, believe afresh in the truths of God. It’s like trying to drive in a screw with a saw: it won’t do anything positive and it will definitely hurt things. At least, that’s what I think will happen if you try to screw something in with a saw.
The beat of “Fear” is nice and the overall production is quite stellar. It didn’t get the Grammy-nomination-sized recognition that “All I Need Is You” did, but I think “Fear” is the best song on the album and my favorite song this year.
2. “Sweet Victory” | Trip Lee featuring Dimitri McDowell and Leah Smith | Rise | Reach Records
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” Paul asks. “Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger or sword?…No, in all these things we are more than conquerers through him who loved us” (Romans 8:35,37). Trip raps about the struggles that he’s faced from popularity and health issues and how we can only find victory in our circumstances through Jesus. I love this song because the message is true and it’s super-personal.
I love songs like this and “Fear” in which the artist is vulnerable and transparent, and it’s something that I’ve found is most beneficial in my life, when I’m honest about what I’m dealing with. It’s easy to feel overcome by life’s worries and circumstances, but we are more than conquerers through Christ.
The hooks from McDowell and Smith are killer, two great voices that contribute beautifully. I wasn’t a fan of this album as a whole, but this song went to my top list as soon as I heard it. Not even a question. And that’s why it’s here at No. 2.
3. “All of Me” | John Legend | Love in the Future | Columbia Records/G.O.O.D. Music
The soulful voice, the solitary piano, the honest, straightforward lyrics, I dig just about everything about this song. It’s well-written, something uncommon for a lot of popular songs today. It’s a unselfish look at love, with John praising his lady’s “perfect imperfections” and promising to “give (his) all” to her. The song is dedicated to his wife, which makes it even sweeter.
I’m a big fan of sappy love songs that are actually well-done, like this one. And I fell in love with chill music this year, and this fits the bill so well. And, as I said, it’s incredibly noble, especially when you contrast it with something like Pitbull’s “Give Me Everything.” When this song first got popular, two of my roommates and I had a brief heated debate about which one of us would claim it as our wedding song. I passed up eventually, but it wasn’t an easy decision. Plus, I imagine that stuff can change.
Also, check out this video with added violin by Lindsey Stirling. Just beautiful.
4. “Wanna” | Christon Gray featuring JGivens | School of Roses | Collision Records
This upbeat tune from probably my favorite Christian singer Christon Gray (no, not the one from 50 Shades of Grey) examines the dangers of succumbing to sinful desires, particularly with a seductive woman (which the video focuses on) and potential musical stardom. School of Roses just might be my favorite album from this year because Gray’s songwriting is a growing talent and his voice…good gracious, that voice.
The production is great and JGivens’ talent as an MC is super-evident throughout his verse. He appears once more on this list and is, I think, a rising talent in the CHH industry. Collision is putting out a bunch of good music right now – they’re one to watch for the future.
5. “Not a Bad Thing” | Justin Timberlake | The 20/20 Experience – 2 of 2 | RCA Records
Last year it was “Mirrors.” This year, it’s “Not a Bad Thing.” JT just has a pulse on my sappy love song desires right now. Again, a reminder that you don’t need vulgar lyrics or super-selfishness to make a great song in the “secular” industry these days. Plus, I want his voice. One of six people in the world whose voices I want, along with Michael Buble, Josh Groban, Matt Thiessen of Relient K, John Legend and Sam Smith. And, according to the personnel credits, JT also played guitar on the track. Bonus points.
It’s a song about taking a risk on love. “Don’t act like it’s a bad thing to fall in love with me, ’cause you might look around and find your dreams come true with me.” It’s a song about making a lifelong commitment, uplifting the woman and sacrificing for her. Plus, it’s got a sick boy band vibe (which makes sense). Anything with that kind of vibe, I can dig it. Always a good thing.
Note: the album technically came out in 2013, but the song was released as a single in 2014, and it wasn’t until it was a single that I found out about the song, so it counts as 2014.
6. “Doubts” | KB | 100 | Reach Records
KB begins the song explaining how his life since 16 has been all about living for Christ doing full-time ministry. He’s lived unashamed, like it’s his middle name. “But sometimes I still feel like I’m in the dark/Let me explain the conflicts of Kevin’s heart/maybe the fact that my father left me plays a part/and why I’m so afraid that I could one day walk away and leave God.” It’s another song with a high amount of honesty and forthrightness about struggles, something that Christian music seems to either avoid or be super vague about the majority of the time.
When I first head this song, I instantly related to it (in other words, bonus points). It hit me square in the chest because I’ve been struggling with doubt this year, doubt of my salvation, doubt in Jesus, doubt that God loves me, a lot of things. And to hear a guy I admire be honest about his struggle on an open platform really encouraged me. Is this the best or most creative song I’ve heard this year? No. But it ministered to me on a Top 3 level.
7. “Royalty” | Mali Music | Mali Is… | RCA Records
I can’t remember how I discovered this album, but it’s probably my favorite album this year. It’s not the best album, but it’s my favorite. The voice behind the hook on Lecrae’s “Tell The World” brings a mix of storytelling and powerful statements, none more pertinent to believers than the one on “Royalty.” We who are believers are sons and daughters of the king, making us royalty. 1 Peter 2:9 states, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
The production is top-notch, with piano keys complementing tight 808s with the occasional guitar strum and strings coming in the background. And his voice is almost as beautiful as that beard on his face. He challenges people to know their identity and to live their lives based on that. “Mercy changed everything for me and you,” he says. It did. And continues to do, those of us who are believers.
8. “Awkward Pt. 2” | Social Club featuring Abiv | Misfits 2 | Self-released
So this is a straight-up silly addition to this list, as is the next one. I discovered the rap duo Social Club through their mixtape Summer of George last fall, and their 2014 album Misfits 2 did not disappoint. This song is about being awkward, which is the calling card of Social Club member Marty. The song isn’t what you would expect from a couple Christian rappers, but that’s what Social Club is about, doing the unexpected.
9. “Paisano’s Wylin'” | Andy Mineo featuring Marty of Social Club | Never Land | Reach Records
There’s a music video coming soon, apparently, that I can’t wait to see. Bring in Marty of Social Club, and you get Andy Mineo’s goofy side. There are a couple good theological points in here, but really this song is aimed at paisanos (“a peasant of Spanish or Italian ethnic origin,” here Italian) having a good time. It caps off with a Godfather-tinged punishment for “running your piehole” from Andy.
10. “#SameTeam” | Swoope featuring Yaves, Tedashii, Dre Murray, JGivens, John Givez | Sinema | Collision Records
10a. “#SameTeam Remix” | Swoope featuring Jackie Hill Perry, Taelor Gray, KB, JGivens, Alex Faith, KIDD
It’s hard to mention the original without including the remix. The song promotes community and unity in the body of Christ, particularly in the Christian rap industry, not competing but working together, being on the, if you will, #SameTeam. Killer verses from JGivens, John Givez, KIDD and Tedashii make this pair of tracks must-haves.