All views presented in this Album Review are those of the reviewer and not of DJ Wade-O.
As the Christian Hip-Hop (CHH) movement has grown, the need has arisen for songs and hymns to reach and serve the urban church.Artists and leaders driving the movement have been used by God to plant churches all over the country. Congregations such as Christ Crucified Church in Washington Heights, NYC, Blueprint Church in Atlanta, Georgia, Legacy Movement in Chicago, Epiphany Fellowship in Philadelphia, Crossover Church in Tampa, FL, The Bridge Church in Brooklyn, New York, Hampton Roads Fellowship in Virginia Beach, Virginia, as well as both Resurrection Church and Legacy Church in Houston, Texas all reach young urban america with the gospel.
Taking all of this into account, shai linne then presents us with the important question: “Many churches being planted in U.S. urban areas. What will they sing?” As we review Lyrical Theology, Pt.2: Doxology (LT Pt.2) we ask, “Did shai accomplish his mission?”
In Lyrical Theology Pt.1: Theology (LT Pt.1), shai appealed to our minds, in LT Pt. 2, he appeals to our hearts. In line with the artistic approach and recent creative directions at Lamp Mode Recordings, LT Pt. 2 ambitiously seeks to pave new ground for the CHH movement and urban communities of faith. While LT Pt.2 is groundbreaking in some ways, in many ways it is consistent with what we have come to expect and appreciate from shai linne as an rap artist.
For shai, the main priority is not the music, but knowing God and making him know through the music. In LT Pt. 2, you will find doctrinally sound, “lyrical” theology with east coast rhythms mixed with an old-school hip-hop vibe. What is new is the tenor and diversity of the album. Both content and style is purposefully directed towards worship. Where LT Pt.1 sought to promote an accurate understanding of God, LT Pt.2 seeks to encourage adoration, praise, and worship towards God.
The core of LT Pt.2 is self described as “Doxology.” shai provides in the first track, “Doxology Intro,” a thorough explanation of the vital importance of Doxology, “an expression of praise to God.” According to shai, all theology should lead to doxology; both are needed for without an accurate understanding of God, our praise can become a form of “idolatry.” LT Pt.2 is an attempt by shai to provide “a Praise & Worship record with contextualized psalms, hymns & spiritual songs.”
I would say he achieves this goal. Songs such as “You Alone Are God,” “To the Praise of His Grace,” and “Our Treasure” are easy to listen to and help us focus on the presence of God. shai is best known for his articulate, lyrical exposition of theological themes in individual songs. In LT Pt. 2, he helps us “doxologize” and accomplishes this as an urban hymn writer through the entire album.
shai takes a collaborative approach featuring artists such as Chris Cobbins, Leah Smith, Brooks Ritter, Joint Heirs, and Wes Pendleton to create a new experience in CHH & R&P. As we come to expect from shai, several tracks are grounded with that east coast, classic hip-hop sound that stands in stark contrast to the latest commercial, radio influenced, mass produced Christian Hip Hop. Yet the listener will note a noticeable presence of “Reformed Presbyterian-styled” worship (such as classic hymns “Nothing but the Blood” – with all the verses… and “Doxology Outro”).
Additionally, fans of shai may find themselves disappointed that shai takes a back seat as an MC to achieve the goal of “Doxology.” “Be Glorified” featuring Chris Cobbins is the best example of this blended R&P feel. “Nuthing but the blood” and “You alone are God” are additional examples as shai abandons the typical “three 16’s and and a 8 bar hook” format on all three songs in favor of providing a format for corporate worship with only one rap verse between the three songs. “Come, Lord Jesus, Come”, combines a negro-spiritual foundation with a contemporary vamp and layers a hip-hop praise that can potentially unite intergenerational congregations in worship.
I believe we may be witnessing a water-shed moment in CHH with shai linne’s sixth solo release. Similar to what Thomas Dorsey did by integrating gospel music with the Blues, and artists like Sam Cooke and Johnny Taylor did in integrating hymns on the Quartet circuit, shai seeks to contextualize classical hymns and spiritual songs in the expressive CHH & R&P genre for the urban church. This movement has the potential to reach and impact believers who perhaps cannot relate to the traditional church and who’s experience, as the video for “Be Glorified” explores, is drastically different from the suburban context. I believe shai has masterfully has established a new pattern for CHH & R&P music that the urban church can get into. Perhaps with LT Pt.2, the new wineskins of urban church plants will be ready to receive this new wine (Luke 5:37-39).
As an urban church planter in Houston, Texas, I have a personal interest in this project. LT Pt.2 is an answer to my prayers. This album has been received in our house as “streams of water” and a breath of fresh air. My children can get more biblical instruction by listening to a 4 minute track then perhaps they would be able to receive and retain in a month of Sunday School (it’s all about contact time). For urban youth who struggle with reading and have short attention spans, tracks like this can help impact our urban youth at a young age and firmly ground them in biblical truth.
Music plays a critical role in worship. Music helps form and shape our self-image. It informs and affirms our identity and purpose in life. Biblically, the Word says God inhabits the praises of his people (Psalms 22:3). Additionally, we are encouraged to sing about Christ with hymns, songs, and spiritual songs (Colossians 3:16). shai places this as his priority and intentionally saturates each track with accurate theological praise. You won’t find LT Pt.2 breaking the Top Ten list in iTunes. But in twenty years from now, the kids who were raised in worship singing “C.H.R.I.S.T.” and “Worship God,” and “Come, Lord Jesus, Come,” may well be teaching these songs to their kids. I know my boys will.