Disclaimer: All views presented in this review are those of the reviewer and not of DJ Wade-O.
“Ayo I’m back, but nobody’s been asking where I’ve been” is a phrase that stirs up a lot of nostalgia, excitement, and joy in long time fans of Christian Hip-Hop. It’s how shai linne opened his first solo album, The Solus Christus Project, back in 2005. That became one of the classic albums in CHH history, and kicked off one of the best careers in the sub-genre.
So, when shai started his new album, Still Jesus, with that same phrase on “Random Thoughts 3”, it has that excitement that I mentioned earlier, but also a bit of irony. For fans new to CHH, that phrase is very true. It’s been three years since we have heard from the lowercase emcee. In today’s climate that is a long time, and the genre has changed, a lot.
The question for both long time fans and new fans is how does shai linne and Still Jesus fit into the genre.
shai doesn’t take long to answer that question. On the aforementioned opening track, he hops right into his intentions as an emcee:
“Ayo I’m back, but nobody has been asking where I’ve been
Because Christ centered music is no longer the hot trend
Logic says maybe I should just stop then
But I never got into this for a spot in the top 10”
As the song continues, there is no mistaking why shai raps and why he did this album. This is no surprise to anyone that has heard a shai linne record. This is what he does. Since coming into the game shai has been overtly Christ-centered. The term “lyrical theology” comes from him and his label, Lamp Mode. He has never turned or shied away from it. His music is an extension of who he is, and Still Jesus is no different.
This record is Christ-centered to its core. For most, it’ll be a return to a style that isn’t at the forefront of the genre anymore. Everything on this record points to Christ. Still Jesus is shai leading us to Christ, offering Christ as the solution and stating that Christ should be our motivation. This part of the album is great. shai excels in communicating this. He educates and inspires in those moments. This is best encapsulated on “Startling Mystery” featuring Quinten Coblentz. This is a beautiful track where shai just worships Jesus. As the listener, you can’t help but worship along with him. It’s the highlight of the record and exactly what this album is about.
The Christ-centered message on this record is for everyone, but where some listeners may take issue is shai’s opinions on CHH and where it is at. shai is not one to bite his tongue, and on Still Jesus, he doesn’t hold back his feelings about CHH. On this record, he takes out mumble rap, Christian battle rappers, boastful rappers and Reach Records. There are few songs on the album that don’t touch any of these topics. “Turn it Off” gives you another clear picture of his intentions by telling listeners to turn his record off if you’re looking for certain things like mumbling – what’s on the radio, and bragging.
He continues with “I’m Hot” that has shai mocking rappers that brag on their songs. It’s clear on Still Jesus that shai is not a fan of what CHH has become. It is a controversial opinion and it may turn off a lot of younger fans, but he has also given voice to how some long time fans of CHH have felt for a while now.
shai linne isn’t only known for being outspoken, he is also known for his bars. He is an incredible lyricist. He is one of the best that CHH has to offer. There are times on Still Jesus where he showcases his incredible ability, most notably on “Random Thoughts 3”. I quoted it early, but his lyricism really shined later in the song when shai simultaneously used two separate schemes. He talks about his life before Christ and how he was a “bad boy” by using the “Bad Boy” Pistons and Bad Boy Records. It was an amazing show of lyricism, but as an icing on the cake, he finished the song with a Cross Movement Records scheme that is sure to drop plenty of jaws.
“Random Thoughts 3” may be where the lyricism shines the most but it isn’t the only place in which it does. “Ichabod” has a more tempo than shai fans will be accustomed to. While “Startling Mystery” has him communicating the gospel, beautifully. There are plenty of times where shai hits punches and uses double entendres, but the beauty of his lyricism isn’t just skill. It’s the ease and clarity in which he communicates his point. You know exactly what shai is trying to say and there is never a time where you won’t walk away learning something.
As great as the highs are on Still Jesus, this record isn’t without fault. Most of the problems lie in the production. The album sounds fine and shai stretched more creatively with the production than he has in the past. There is a good variety of sound and style on this record, but most of it didn’t come together. The Beautiful Eulogy assisted “Supreme” is sure to disappoint because the production gets in the way of what is great lyrical work. The song is too busy. There is too much going on behind the artist, which makes it distracting.
Another problem was that the overall sound of the record felt old. Still Jesus doesn’t sound like a record from 2017. “Stand Up” gives you strong Cross Movement vibes and “I’m Hot” sounds like an early 50 Cent record. Neither of these songs sound bad; they just sound like a song from a different era. That’s the vibe for most of the record. It doesn’t all sound bad, just misplaced.
Overall, Still Jesus is a good record. Your personal preference on style of music will determine how much you like this record, and how much playback value it has. Songs like “Random Thoughts 3” and “Startling Mystery” have tons of playback value, but the rest of the record is really up to personal preference. If you are a long time fan of shai linne, then this record is a return to some of the things you loved most about his music, and in turn, you’ll love this record. If you are new to his music, it may not be a record that you return to over and over again.
shai linne’s Still Jesus is set to release Friday, July 21.