Today, shai linne’s new album, Still Jesus, dropped. Its three singles are already making waves and causing conversations.
Yesterday, shai gave what he called a twitter “rant” to clarify his thoughts and intentions. These tweets are collected here and are well worth reading for the context of the album. There’s no question about where’s he coming from on Still Jesus. You can also watch his insightful interview with DJ Wade-O which covers the issues more in depth. Both of these resources are important because they give the larger context of the album.
So why did shai put out Still Jesus? I think he says it best on “Random Thoughts 3”—
Because brothers in your camp causing lots of confusion
I love them as brothers in Christ, but not their conclusions
They wanna reach the world? By all means keep pursuing it
But tell me, why they gotta diss the church while they’re doing it?
In recent years, several prominent rapper have backed away from their previously explicit intent to preach the gospel. This has been most evident with the Reach Records crew. Being “unashamed” of the gospel based on Romans 1:16 was Reach’s theme. Now, you can’t find any of that on their website or in most of their albums. There is some artistic freedom for sure. But then, in interviews they never speak up; worse, they seem to throw the church under the bus quite a bit. So, what is the average Christian listener (not to mention unbelieving listener) to make of this?
shai comes in hard on this album, not to bash or trash, but to call Christian Hip Hop (CHH) back to Jesus. On perhaps his most hard-hitting song, “Ichabod,” shai even implicates himself saying “We” over and over again. It’s not just them he’s looking at, but CHH as a whole. For me, this gives the album more weight. It’s not about preference or reputation or fan-bases. It really is about Jesus getting glory.
So, how does all of this play out in the album itself? Amazingly well.
The greatness of Still Jesus lies in shai’s lyricism. Throughout the album, the content is masterful. From deeply embedded pop culture and CHH references to the turns of phrase that make biblical truths pop, he can’t seem to go wrong. The best example is “Supreme,” which features the group Beautiful Eulogy. The song is absolutely relentless, both in terms of beats and lyrics. It slams the listener with non-stop Christ-exalting spitting and no hook. Only at the end are we given a short break to sit back and go, “Whoa.” The opening track “Random Thoughts 3” also stands out for this.
What about the rest of the album? “Stand Up” and “Turn it Off” are single-worthy tracks in the traditional sense. But they also work to make clear shai’s aim across the whole project. He’s not fooling around here and doesn’t want to give a self-centered album; something all too common in the hip hop genre. “Turn it Off” is a great lead in to “MC Goya Battle Rap,” which is both hilarious and biting! I love it. Next we get an M. Night Shyamalan-style twist on “I’m Hot.” I won’t spoil it, but listen closely to this one. It took me while to catch what I was listening to! “One Day” provides a sober reminder that no one lasts forever and challenges us to consider what we’re really living for. I mentioned “Ichabod” earlier. It’s clearly a stand out track. In some ways, this is the heart of the album. But shai knew from the beginning, “To break the silence, I had to fight this: ‘Aw, here we go, man, they ain’t gonna like this.’”
Before “Washer’s Warning” which is an audio clip previewed on “Ichabod,” the final three tracks work well together. They all have a more toned down sound, which ends with a really worshipful “Startling Mystery” track.
One of the small criticisms of the album is that some tracks sound dated on some tracks. That might be true for listeners with a wide exposure to hip hop sounds. My range is much more limited to CHH, and I think it sounds great. The music matches the tone of the lyrics. And for me, several songs sounded fresh from what I had heard before from shai. My one criticism is that the album seems a little short (the album clocks in at 49 minutes). Maybe I’m just spoiled, but another track or two would have been great.
Overall, I think Still Jesus is another strong entry to shai linne’s discography. It ranks among his best work, and I highly recommend it. If you’re an existing fan or wondering about diving into CHH, you won’t be disappointed. But if you’re not convinced, enjoy the singles that have been released (below).