Lend Them Your Ear: My Top 10 Favorite Songs of 2014

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.

Honorable Mentions:

Take Me There

How often do you get depressed about what the world outside looks like? How often do you see your sin and shake your head in despair and disgust, wondering if it will ever end? How often do you wish it all would just go away?

I’m there with you if you say yes to any of these questions. But I want to encourage you with a piece of Scripture that a friend just texted me as encouragement. It’s 2 Corinthians 4:16-18:

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

Our outer selves are wasting away. If you look at yourself in your sin, you see your sinful nature rebelling against what you were created for. We’re called to do everything for God’s glory (1 Corinthians 10:31), and anytime we don’t live that way, we’re rebelling. But praise be the God that, because of His grace, those who are saved, their inner selves are being renewed every day! Romans 8:29 says God predestined that some men would be “conformed to the image of his son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” Those of us who are believers, we’re being made more and more into the image of Jesus! Let’s go!

The things we see now, the “light momentary affliction” that we have, is that, light and momentary. In the long run, it’s momentary and it’s light. You see that juxtaposed with “eternal weight of glory.” Eternal vs. momentary, weight vs. light and glory vs. affliction. Heaven, that “eternal weight of glory,” is what awaits us on the other side! It’s far greater than anything we face here on earth. Paul expressed it again this way: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).

One day we’re going to see Jesus! And we have to keep that eternal destination at the center of our attention. We have to keep that which is unseen at the center. That’s why Romans 8:6 says the mind that’s kept on the Spirit is “life and peace.” In the long run, we should see our “momentary afflictions” as just that, momentary.

But what do we do in the meantime? What do we do when the world is stressing us out? What do we do when there seems to be no hope?

The gospel. The forgiveness offered at the cross means we have everything we need now and everything we need for later. That means, if we are of Christ, our home is not here. “Our citizenship is in heaven,” Philippians 3:20-21 says, “and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” Christ’s power, the one that gives Him power and reign over all things, is the power that will one day

Man. I just want to go where I’m only breathing Your air. Father, hear my prayer, take me there, take me there. I just want to see You brighter than I’m used to, finally see it clear, take me there, take me there.

The Truths in the Greatest Christian Rap Album I’ve Ever Heard, Part 1

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.

2. Robot

“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 stoneWhere 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.

4. War

“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.”

My Favorite Christian Rap Songs Right Now

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.

“Move” | Flame | Captured | 2011 | Clear Sight Music

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.