For years Shai Linne has spoken of his music in terms of "lyrical theology." This month, the motto became an album. The first in a new trilogy of projects from the Washington, D.C.-based hip-hop artist, Lyrical Theology Part 1: Theology is a 16-song fusion of complex rhymes, rugged beats, and biblical truth. Kind of like a soundtrack for your theological journey.
You can stream one of the tracks, "Theology Q & A (feat. Stephen the Levite)," below. (Lyrics are available here.)
[audio:http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/files/2013/04/12-Theology-Q-A.mp3|titles=Theology Q & A (feat. Stephen the Levite)]
I corresponded with Shai [Twitter | Blog | Lamp Mode Recordings] about the new album, how it compares with his previous projects, the controversial "Fal$e Teacher$" song, and more.
Lyrical Theology Part 1: Theology is the first installment in a trilogy, with two other albums (Lyrical Theology Part 2: Doxology and Lyrical Theology Part 3: Sociology) forthcoming. Why did you decide to launch this three-part project?
Theology, doxology, and sociology are categories I've been thinking about for a while now. Another way to put it would be that the knowledge of God (theology) leads to the worship of God (doxology) and to living for God (sociology). In one sense, then, each is incomplete without the others. So as I thought about making an album that would best represent what lyrical theology means to me, a trilogy made the most sense.
This has been described as a "throwback album." How does it differ thematically and sonically from your previous ones as well as others in contemporary Christian hip-hop?
It's a throwback album sonically in that it utilizes "underground" production that was more common in the '90s. Most of the more popular hip-hop artists, Christian or otherwise, use a different style of production these days. The style of Lyrical Theology Part 1: Theology would also differ from my last album, The Attributes of God. On that one, we were going for a more epic, cinematic kind of sound.
The Lamp Mode website casts this project as "a return to the roots of what inspired Shai to enter the Christian hip-hop arena in the first place." What was your original inspiration, why a detour, and why a return?
I was originally inspired by the uniqueness of hip-hop as a medium in its ability to pack a large amount of truth into a small amount of musical space. Hip-hop also has an immediacy about it that makes it a powerful rhetorical device when engaging in polemics. I hadn't really done that since "Mission Accomplished" on The Atonement (2008). Because theology is concerned with proclaiming the truth about God, one of its corresponding functions is to correct error about him. This was more common when I first began doing Christian hip-hop, and I wanted to return to some of that with this project.
The most startling part of the album has to be the song "Fal$e Teacher$," in which you call out a number of contemporary heretics—by name. Why did you choose to get so explicit and personal here?
For "Fal$e Teacher$," I wanted to take advantage of one of the things hip-hop is really useful for—communicating a message with urgency in a provocative manner that forces the listener to engage. It's similar to what Propaganda did last year with "Precious Puritans," but obviously to a different crowd for different ends. In studying the teachings of all the people I named, it was clear they fit the biblical category of false teacher—and have for many years. Once people began to ask, "Why did you name this or that person?" that would provide an opportunity to point people to helpful resources as well as address things myself in a medium more suited to in-depth argumentation and explanation, as with the open letter I wrote to Paula White Ministries after they responded to the song. I was specific because, had I only named the teaching rather than the teachers, people would have assumed that some on the list didn't fit the description. The American church has no excuse for putting up with this stuff. We have an abundance of biblical resources here. But for saints around the world who may lack those same resources, I wanted to sound the alarm so that they might re-examine in the light of Scripture what's being exported to them.
In 2008 you gave us a song about definite atonement; here, we find tracks about election, regeneration, even amillenialism. Are you concerned that such theological depth might limit the album's evangelistic potential?
The album is for the encouragement and building up of the church, so I mostly deal with in-house issues. Still, I'm careful to clearly reference and proclaim the gospel throughout, so that those whom God has given an ear to hear might believe and be saved.
I've never heard a song like "Take Up and Read," in which you, Through Hymn, Omri, and Ant manage to commend an author or book in virtually every phrase. Any idea how many recommendations are packed into those four minutes?
There are about 50 references in the verses and over 60 total, including the spoken part before the final verse. One of the things guiding my approach to music is the attempt to write in such a way that gives the songs a chance to outlive me. Hip-hop can be great at pointing beyond itself. In this case, I wanted to direct listeners to resources that have stood the test of time so that those who hear the song 60 years from now might still be helped by it.
What books influenced this project?
Outside of Scripture, I'd say Holiness by J. C. Ryle, More than Conquerors by William Hendriksen, Health, Wealth, and Happiness by David Jones and Russell Woodbridge, and Spiritual Warfare in a Believer's Life by Charles Spurgeon, just to name a few.
Matt Smethurst serves as associate editor for The Gospel Coalition. He and his wife Maghan have two children and live in Louisville, Kentucky, where they belong to Third Avenue Baptist Church. You can follow him on Twitter.