It’s been a year. Blogging is so last decade, it’s all about the Twitters. Same as last time, you’ll get the countdown, the cover art, my thoughts, and a music vid. And without further ado:
TOP ALBUMS 2011
10- 116 Clique – “Man Up”
Honestly, this album is only #10 because there’s only seven tracks. In more traditional terminology, they’d have called it an “EP” but that’s such a “physical media” thing of me to say. Basically, the 116 Clique is all your ravourite rappers from Reach Records – Lecrae, Tedashii, Trip Lee, PRo, Andy Mineo, Sho Baraka and KB – doing posse cuts non stop. This album, apparently, is a soundtrack for a curriculum & documentary – all aimed at, you guessed it, helping this generation of young men to “man up” – to lead and love boldly with grace. It’s a much-needed rallying cry, and the beats and rhymes are only outmatched by the heart behind it all.
09- Gungor – “Ghosts Upon The Earth”
Some of my in-laws turned me on to Gungor earlier in the year – specifically their debut album “Beautiful Things.” When I met Gungor, I met great harmonies, folksy vibes, and a well-honed sense of when to be quiet and restrained and when to be free, loud, and relaxed. Gungor excels at using variance in volume, pacing, and tone to capture emotion (or more accurately, capture worship) and this is true of 2011′s “Ghosts Upon The Earth” – a generous, difficult-to-describe multi-layered hyphenated-word-deserving album. Not exactly a worship album, but not exactly not one either. Delicious, in other words.
08- Emery – “We Do What We Want”
I keep thinking that Emery is gonna fall off. Hardly the case at all – We Do What We Want is arguably and in turns their most aggressive, loud and intense album and at the same time has perhaps their greatest “slow song” to date (I’d even argue it tops “The Ponytail Parades”). This is a band that has matured remarkably in… wow it’s gotta be close to a decade now! Anyways, the closing track on the album, “Fix Me” is one of the most heartfelt, earnest songs they’ve ever done and it’s my personal favourite on an album that is otherwise marked by a serious case of THE HEAVIES. Brace yourself, buckle up, and check it out. You’ll be glad and wear a grin.
07- Propaganda & Odd Thomas – “Art Ambidextrous”
Most people first heard of Propaganda when his video “G.O.S.P.E.L.” went viral early in 2011. Some of us (myself included) have been familiar with the dude since his days with the Tunnel Rats in the early 2000′s. Much to my joy, Props has gone in a decidedly Christ-centric direction with his content, and the results are great. This is not your average rapper – Propaganda is the sort of emcee who can put together a brilliant spoken word piece just as quickly as a boom bap attack. Needless to say, the lyrics on Art Ambidextrous are (generally speaking) rather heady. Not one to shy away from polysyllabics and weirding rhyme schemes, there’s a lot to sink your brain into here. Definitely worth a careful listen when you’ve got time to digest meat rather than “just some rhymes”. Oh, and did I mention that this album is FREE from HumbleBeast Records? No? Well, it is.
06- Matt Redman – “10,000 Reasons”
Frankly, there was a sizeable portion of my life where I didn’t care at all for worship music. Needless to say, those days are gone. In terms of what my generation would call “normal worship music” – Matt Redman’s 10,000 Reasons is by far the best effort of the year. Personal favourites on the record are “Never Once” (about the faithfulness of God), “10,000 Reasons (Bless The Lord)” which is about as anthemic as they get, and “Holy” (you can guess what that one’s about). Either way, they’ve been standards at church this year and for good reason – they strike great notes and (with the help of God’s people) bring down the glory.
05- Braille – “Native Lungs”
You’ll be glad to know that one of this year’s best is also one of this year’s… FREE. Braille’s been a constant companion of my hear-drums since high school and for good reason – excellent beats, excellent rhymes, and a knack for excellent guest artists. Native Lungs is, in my opinion, his best to date (closely followed by The IV Edition) – stuffed with head-nodding rhythms and brain-happy wordsmithery. There’s a decidedly West Coast flavour to this album (that’s not unusual for Braille) and there’s plenty of transparent, vulnerable honesty (quite usual for Braille) and far from a weakness, the honesty makes the record what it is. Did I mention this album is FREE? Get it here from HumbleBeast Records.
04- Great Awakening – “Songs In Secret”
Ok… so this one falls into the “worship” category, but it’s not in the “normal worship music” category I mentioned above. Great Awakening’s first album (Cities) would have largely fallen into that category. Songs in Secret, much to the contrary, is subtle, paced, quiet, meditative, pleasant, downtempo worship that is full of earnest heart. Which is to say, this album’s excellence lies in the intricacy, in the stillness, in the excecution of well-timed silence and the strange first track “Explore” which fools you into thinking that you’re about to hear an uptempo indie rock worship album. Which you aren’t. Get this album FREE from Come&Live! Records here.
03- Sovereign Grace Music – “Risen”
I’ve never kept it secret (in person, at least) that I’m a huge fan of Sovereign Grace Music. Now, in part at least, this is because most of their songs are in keys I can sing along with (unlike Chris Tomlin, for example). I like to sing, so selfishly that makes sense, right? Anyways, Risen is their 2011 album centered around the Resurrection of Christ. Fittingly, it came out just before Easter, but don’t be surprised if a grip of these songs are just starting to hit the air more visibly as we head into Easter this year (2012). Fantastic writing, theological depth, thrilling harmonies, and a load of modern hymns / spiritual songs to lend your vocal chords to. Trust me, your vocal chords are stoked to sing along.
02- Shai Linne – “The Attributes of God”
Honestly, if there could be two #1′s, this would be #1. Choosing between these two albums left me conflicted. Let’s get to the basics, shall we? Shai Linne has released the best hip hop album of 2011. The Attributes of God is not only a 15-track sendup to the character and nature of Almighty God, he’s done it with class, substance, and serious music to match. When I say “serious,” I mean these beats have my head bouncing even when I don’t have the record on. Highlights on the record are “The Glory of God (Not To Us)”, “Taste and See”, and “Mercy and Grace”, but you won’t find a dud on this one. Non-stop glory to God, non-stop beat rock.
01- Thrice – “Major/Minor”
This shouldn’t be any surprise. I love Thrice and I’m not sure if they’re capable of anything below excellence at this point. I’ll admit that I’m probably biased and blind to it, but everything Dustin Kensrue and company touch turns to ear-gold to me. Personal favourites are “Words in the Water”, “Treading Paper”, “Promises” and “Anthology”… but I could listen to the thing on repeat all day and not get tired. The lyrics, as usual, are solid “good plutonium” for your eardrums – packed with biblical allusions and weight that is difficult to describe. To say that Dustin is one of the best lyricists in music today is an understatement. To say that Thrice is one of the best rock bands in music today is, also and likewise, an understatement. Miss this one at your own expense.
Lecrae – “Rehab: The Overdose”
Playdough & Heath McNease – “Wed, White and Wu”
Hillsong Live – “God Is Able”
Hillsong United – “Aftermath”
Blindside – “With Shivering Hearts We Wait”
August Burns Red – “Leveler”
Truth be told, I spent a lot more time this year listening to albums from years gone by – albums either missed entirely until now, or rediscovered like an old friend. That being said, 2010 was not without its bright spots in audio sensory stimulation. The following is, in a particular and descending order, what I consider to be the best of the best of albums released in the year of our Lord, Two-thousand-and-ten aka TwentyTen aka two-zero-one-zero. We’ll start with the tenth-finest and work our way to the finest finest. I will include cover art (so you know what the branding looked like) and a youtube video – either of a music video from the album or, if that’s not possible, just one of the great tracks from it.
10. Hillsong Chapel – “Yahweh”
For those who tire quickly of the compositional, instrumental, and arrangement predictability of Hillsong releases, this album is a breath of fresh air. I’ve never made it much of a secret that I’m only lukewarm to Hillsong as a whole. I only find myself really drawn to perhaps half their songs lyrically. That said, they’ve collected essentially all of my favourite Hillsongs-songs here, and better yet, they have ventured into the hitherto-unforeseen geography of acoustic arrangements. Having shed their electric guitars and cacophony of harmless electronic foolery (for the most part), what emerges is a collection of songs far more listenable than anything they’ve released to date. Better yet, these songs are actually accessible for use by 99% of their audience – namely, churches that aren’t 500+ deep with multiple worship teams equipped with state-of-the-art everything. In short, they’ve done something for normal churches here, and that’s to be commended. Quite possibly the best thing they’ve released.
09. Derek Webb – “Feedback”
Leave it to Dwebb to turn another weird corner and do something unexpected. I had a few hair-brained ideas about what he’d follow up Stockholm Syndrome with, but an instrumental/experimental “worship” album wasn’t what I had in mind. Needless to say, I was surprised and glad to lay my ears on Feedback. It’s got that good juxtaposition of elements that is absolutely necessary to make instrumental music compelling (without the character and meat of vocals and words, the beautiful collision of elements often falls to the wayside). Webb pulled it off nicely, though, I’d say. Hoping he gets back to singing soon though, we need his gravelly tones and hard words in music these days something fierce.
08. Lecrae – “Rehab”
Rehab is a bit of an enigma to me. We’ve played it to death around the Bolton household for its earhole-friendly infusion of R&B choruses and its considerable number of “non-hip-hop-head-friendly” subdued and contemplative tracks. It’s the first rap album that my wife has ever professed to enjoy (and that is significant to me). Perhaps that’s the best way to explain things – Rehab is absolutely fantastic instrumentally and in terms of vocal arrangements. The choruses are “stick in your head” and “sing/hum/harmonize along” style, and the beats are top notch. The real letdown (if there is one) is simply that Lecrae & Co. don’t come across half as passionately this time around. The lyrics are alright, but the Reach Records guys are more than capable of way beyond alright. Rehab is missing the hunger we heard on earlier releases, even Rebel (think “Desperate” as a prime example of hunger on that album). So it’s really a mixed bag. This could have been #1 for 2010 with ease, but it’s a rap record and the raps are only alright. Choruses and dope beats do not a classic make, there’s gotta be some lyrical skeletons to hang that meat on, if that makes sense. Here’s hoping that “Rehab: The Overdose” (due early 2011) shows some of the passion that was absent here.
07. PND (Poems & Dust) – “Dirty Words”
This is the record most of you will have never heard of. You’re probably all “Poems who?” and “Dust who?”. Poems aka Sareem Poems aka the artist formerly known as Sharlok Poems of LA Symphony is, well, all of the above. Dust aka DJ Dust is half of the rap euphoria two-man supercrew known as Mars ILL. When their powers combine, I am… err… they make great music. Dirty Words is a great example of how to throwback to “old school” hip hop without coming off corny and wannabe. It’s chill and sublime and has delicious samples and is many, many kinds of good. I’m not really sure what else to say except that more people need to pay attention to these guys. This thing is clean sounding (if that makes sense), gritty in a good way, and is probably this year’s standout example of a “sit back and chill” album. Great guest spots too.
06. The Chariot – “Long Live”
I’m getting old. The amount of time I have left in life where I’ll be able to rock out to the “Cha Cha” is drawing to a close, I fear. In all of time, no band has more encapsulated pure, unadulterated energy and adrenaline-charged furor than this band has. Long Live, their first album post-SolidStateRecords, is a continuation on The Chariot’s previously well-established themes: Play guitars until they fall apart, scream at the mic until it overloads, record everything live in a single take for maximum organic-ness and unbridled joy, and do it all fueled by barbecued meat. Their live show is a spectacle of hyperactive creativity being expressed in furious, joyous tones and inhuman quantities of action… and Long Live captures just enough of that avant-garde-blow-your-face-off to be possibly their best since their lengthily titled debut, “Everything is alive, everything is breathing, nothing is dead, and nothing is bleeding”.
05. Living Sacrifice – “The Infinite Order”
One of the most musically noteworthy happenings of 2010 was the return of the mighty, mighty, mighty Living Sacrifice. Known for ushering in a new epoch in metalcore, LS hung up their guitars in 2002 after releasing a payload of high quality metal/metalcore. They returned this year with “The Infinite Order”, and metal is better for it. If you enjoy being yelled at by your music, as I do, it’s difficult to find a better tenant for your iPod than Living Sacrifice.
04. Shad – “TSOL”
Shad’s a Canadian boy, so he gets bonus points for reinforcing the fact that “hip hop isn’t dead, it’s up north with me” (to quote a recent Canadian radio anthem). Better yet, he’s a wordsmith in the truest sense of the word, fond of utilizing homophones and multi-syllabic rhyme schemes. The beats are alright, the chorus are alright, but it’s really Shad’s flow that shines on this record. It’s essentially the reverse of Rehab (which shone in the other areas and fell flatter vocally), and since the common music between the two is the rap music, that should explain TSOL’s superior position on the list. Rap is always going to be ultimately about the emcee, not his supporting context.
03. Underoath – “Ø (Disambiguation)”
Not Underoath’s best (that still goes to 2008′s “Lost in the Sound of Separation”), but Underoath is the kind of band where, even when it’s not their best record, it’s still one of the best records of the year. Disambiguation is noteworthy because it marks the departure of the final founding member of the band, drummer and clean vocalist Aaron Gillespie, who has moved on to pursue his band The Almost full-time (in addition to some other opportunities). I had my share of concerns that this would not bode well for the band, but U/O pulled it off with this disc. Disambiguation is their usual combination of raging introspection, hummable/memory-worthy melody lines, and discord-driven unpredictability. Oh, and the breakdowns are, as always seems to be the case, wondrous for your ears.
02. Trip Lee – “Between Two Worlds”
Since we’ve already talked about Rehab, it should come as no surprise that the year’s best rap album is Trip Lee’s release “Between Two Worlds”. The beats fly, the guests hit their marks, and Trip takes us on an articulate, theologically-rich lyrical journey with his smooth southern drawl. Reach Records has a roster chock-full of incredible talent with all cylinders firing for the Gospel, and for that I rejoice. Between Two Worlds is ultimately a record about Jesus Christ and his “invasion” mission to rescue humanity. It’s also ultimately an amazing sophomore outing for this relatively-unknown emcee.
01. Ascend the Hill – “Hymns: Take The World, But Give Me Jesus”
What to say? I grew up on hymns, and although I never had much affection for what accompanied them musically (organ and piano aka the “wooden brothers”), I always appreciated the theological depth and provocativeness they contain. So, it should be no surprise that when everyone’s favourite indie-worship-band Ascend the Hill put out a Hymns record, it was the best thing to come gurgling out of the year 2010. Which is to say, if Ascend the Hill isn’t your favourite band that writes original worship songs and plays them in an indie-ish vein, they should be. These guys load up on the quality level, as well as a transparent reverence, and a musical accessibility that is a really hard mark to hit. Their self-titled debut was quite good, with its main weakness being how repetitive some of the songs were. Since this album consists of Hymns with pre-defined lyrical content, it meant that the repetition was avoided wholesale. This is a great thing, and it makes the record shine all the more. Ascend the Hill gives these old standards fan-tas-tic new arrangements that are engaging and yet they don’t seem to get in the way of, well, worship taking place. It’s rather uncanny. The addition of choruses and bridges to some of the Hymns is both appropriate and well-executed. So, having said all of that, I should point out one more thing. Ascend the Hill releases all of their music for FREE (the real free) through their record label Come & Live! Records. So, you can acquire my most-favouritest-album-of-2010 free of both charge and guilt. All you have to do is click here and do what comes naturally.
That’s it for 2010. Hope the year was as engaging for your eardrums as it was for mine. God is a giver of good gifts, and music is one of them. I’m thankful more than ever for artists who create things for me to listen to, be stretched by, thank God for, and best of all, worship Jesus Christ to.
Currently listening to: “Hills Humbled, Mountains Made Low” by So Long Forgotten
So Long Forgotten is my favourite band at the moment. You can download their incredible album “Things We Can See And Things We Cannot” for FREE from THEM at COME&LIVE. The album’s title is a nod to the so-called ‘already/not yet’ elements of Salvation. Here’s a choice line from the record: “And I pray you have remained a Carpenter, sanding down my edges ‘til I am full of grace.” Check them out, now. Thank you.
I got a “real” job.
It’s one of those jobs that didn’t exist three years ago… you know, those ones that nobody’s been to school for because no school has managed to monetize the field by offering it as a degree track in order to give various and sundry individuals some kind of arbitrary certification that says “I can do this stuff”. Yeah, one of those jobs where the stuff I’m doing and the devices/tech/media I’m doing it on didn’t exist five or six years back. I hear they’re all the rage or something. All I know is, though, that it’s been a dream. We’re doing our best to thank God every day for His provision. The commute is quite good considering what part of the country we’re in, I can provide for my family, the work is fun (!!!) and enjoyable, and I get to keep learning new stuff every day (as well as mastering all that old stuff).
It’s been about six weeks now, and I’ve already (essentially) forgotten what it was like to be on the job hunt. Or perhaps I’ve banished it from my mind.
I graduated from Trent a year and a half ago (May/June of 2009). It was a long year and a half of hunting. There’s a lot of story in that time, but the primary story is that God used the time to increase our dependence on Him. In the same period of time, our church went from an idea to a plan to a reality – by God’s grace. Although it is now ten weeks old, being a part of the plant has been spiritually intense and stretching in the best way… again, it too has increased our dependence on Him. Also during the same period of time, our daughter, Audrey Renata, went from (pardon the expression!) an idea to a plan to a reality – by God’s grace. Again, increasing our dependence on Him.
Needless to say, it was an intense season. Since graduation, I’ve become a father, celebrated my second wedding anniversary with my wife, started seminary, watched God provide for us in incredible ways (physically and spiritually), and spent a mind-numbing amount of time on Workopolis, Monster, Craigslist, Canada job bank, and all other kinds of job sites. I’ve been at various times depressed, melancholy, happy, sad, excited, elated, grumpy, and all shades in between. I’ve watched one of my best friends’ life implode. My trust in God has been at turns both strong and completely pitiful – meanwhile He has simply continued to prove and re-prove his trustworthiness in every way. I’ve had good friends along the way to talk it all through with, to be encouraged by (and to encourage, at times). At times, I’ve followed Jesus well. At other times, I’ve dishonoured Him greatly. Sometimes I’ve been gracious and compassionate, abounding in love. Other times I’ve been little more than contentious and pretentious. I’ve been irritable at times, lonely at times, confused at times, frustrated at times. I’ve been hopeful, healthy, joyful in God. I’ve been generous and also incredibly selfish. I’ve avoided God and I’ve prayed. There’s war in here, and I pray it’s a sign of life.
Through it all, my wife has resolutely and consistently dismantled my defeatist arguments and depressive musings (her methods of dismantling are second to none). She has loved and cared for me, and for our daughter, so well. Through the highs and lows of looking for a way to provide for my family, she doggedly affirmed, encouraged, exhorted, rebuked, reproved, and loved me. Without her help, the season would have probably crushed me entirely. She’s not a perfect woman by any means, but she belongs to a perfect God, and sometimes by His grace, she looks a lot like He does. I’m so thankful for you, Stephie.
Through it all, our church has supported us in ways uncountable, being the body of Jesus Christ so tangibly and so practically. Example: We didn’t have to buy a single meal for a month after Audrey was born. People regularly prayed for us (and with us) through it all. I don’t really have words to do thanks justice. Even beyond the limits of “our church”, we’ve seen the Church on a larger scale support us as well, and we’re amazed at the beauty of Jesus’ bride at times like this. I have greater hope for the church than I think I ever have – God is powerfully at work in His people.
Through it all, His faithfulness has remained a constant rock to ground ourselves on. Unchanging, Immortal, Eternal.
I’m thankful to have a job. It’s really a better job than I could have designed for myself.
I’m even more thankful for the year and a half of hunting. God’s grace abounds in weakness and need.
Psalm 28:7 says:
The Lord is my strength and my shield;
in him my heart trusts, and I am helped;
my heart exults,
and with my song I give thanks to him.
Needless to say, I’m posting about it here because I won the book. I didn’t come here to brag (there’s nothing to brag about, I was randomly selected!), but rather to suggest you watch the trailer for the book here. It’s pretty much the best trailer for a book I’ve ever seen. Granted, I haven’t seen too many.
I’m also posting about it here because Jacob had me share a little bit about the church plant that I’m involved with here in the Durham Region (Oshawa, Whitby, Ajax, Pickering) – just east of Toronto. Here’s the blurb I sent him:
Harvest Bible Chapel Durham is a new plant (starting in 3 days!) in the Durham Region of Ontario, Canada. Every Harvest Bible Chapel is a part of Harvest Bible Fellowship, which is a fellowship of like-minded churches that share virtually identical doctrine and philosophy of ministry. The first Harvest Bible Chapel was launched in 1988 by Pastor James MacDonald and 18 others in Rolling Meadows, IL (near Chicago). After experiencing tremendous growth and blessing in their church, they began a church planting venture in 2000 which, to date, has seen over 60 churches planted in the 10 years since. Harvest Durham will be the first great-granddaughter church in the movement, as we are being planted by Harvest York Region (located in Markham, Ontario – a northeastern suburb of Toronto) who in turn were planted in 2006 by Harvest Oakville (a city southwest of Toronto) who were planted by Harvest in Chicago back in 2001. So, we’re a part of a church planting movement in a very real sense. It’s a blessing to be a part of something like this and to be able to draw from the collective experience of many church plants.
What I would add here is that WE LAUNCH THIS SUNDAY. Please pray for us. We have a quick way of summarizing our goal as a church:
Lost people saved. Saved people matured. Mature people multiplied. All to the glory of God.
Currently listening to: “The Invasion (Hero)” by Trip Lee featuring Jai
Trip Lee’s new record “Between Two Worlds” is out, and it’s exceedingly good. Make sure you give it a listen if you’re into Christ-exalting and Gospel-centric hip hop.
A lot has happened since I last posted anything, and that’s why I haven’t been posting. Makes sense, I trust!
Needless to say, Audrey Renata Bolton was born at 11:33pm on June 11th, 2010 – much to the delight of her auntie Eileen, and Great Uncle Lance who share her birthday. Audrey clocked in at 10lb, 4oz and 22 inches in length (in other words, almost TWO FEET). As you have likely surmised by now, she was two weeks overdue and has a rather tall father.
I’ve had a short post sitting as a draft that I wrote during Audrey’s second week of life. It says the following:
“Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation”
1 Peter 2:2 ESV
For those who don’t know, infants are all about REGULAR INTAKE with intervals measured in hours (not days!), they’re all about getting a FULL FEEDING whenever possible, and if it’s time to feed, soothers don’t soothe… infants are all about the REAL DEAL.
For those who are good at missing the point, let’s spell it out. Our longing for the Scriptures (aka the “pure spiritual milk”) should be, in a sense, infantile. We should seek regular intake, full feedings, and vitally – the real deal. May it be so.
Sorry for all the dead air. I think I’m back now. Oh, I also started my Master of Divinity at Southern Seminary while I was gone. Long story with a great ending.
Currently listening to: “It Is Not Death To Die” by Sovereign Grace Music
Total disconnect from the content of the post you’re about to read, but SGM makes some amazing worship music (better yet, they write thick, deeply theological lyrics for that music). Definitely a go-to group of musicians in the Bolton residence.
Let’s start with the obvious: I’m white. I’m middle class. Suburban. Only gun I’ve ever shot was my dad’s hunting rifle at target practice out in the woods at grandma’s. I draw graffiti on paper, not illegally on walls. I’m anything but “rough rugged”. Certainly not a “Playa” of any significant Game. I have soft spots in my heart for indie rock and uptempo metal (not that I should call any metal “uptempo”, doing that’s not very metal of me). Oh, and for folk, electronic, and (recently) jazz.
Apparently, that makes me a prime candidate for loving hip hop music. And I do. Boy do I love me some deep bass, a sharp snare, and clever instrumentation all slathered together into tasty beats. I have no affection for a lot of the ‘culture’ that usually gets packaged with it (after all, hip hop is not on the radio) – the bling and sexploitation and violence and whatnot. But I have a great deal of affection for the sounds of hip hop.
Let’s make matters worse: I’m an English and Philosophy major with a background in Biblical Studies. I LOVE words. My brain plays with words. Sentences are like playgrounds to me – places to frolic and laugh exuberantly and enjoy life. I’ve always been enamored with communication and the means by which we accomplish it. Most of all, I’m dumbfounded by how God has chosen to communicate Himself to me (and the rest of you humans) through words – recorded in text, preserved through aeons of history, study-able, deep deep depths of words. As I’ve been reminded much lately – God wrote a book. It is written – “it” being the communication of God to man, the holy Scriptures. Inerrant, authoritative, sufficient, complete… profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, exhortation… all of it communication from God, put in human words for humans to read, know, and understand. We serve a God who communicated his Word with perfection – we should strive for excellence in our communication. It should be our goal to grow in clarity, conciseness, robustness, ‘copiousness’ (depth and breadth), and total self-control.
A love for words makes me a prime candidate for loving hip hop music. See, rap is the music of words in a way unparalleled by other forms. Hip hop is the modern theater for poetry – it really is. I don’t read modern poets, I listen to them “spit rhymes” (read: recite) over beats. Through hip hop I am able to enjoy such (otherwise neglected) vocal magicks as cadence, flow, rhythm, meter – all the hallmarks of performed poetry. Through hip hop I am able to enjoy sonnets and rhyme schemes and rhyme forms of all kinds – polysyllabic, internal, complex, couplets – the list goes on. In terms of structure alone, rap is responsible for so much remarkable innovation in poetry. Besting that, hip hop provides the ideal theatre to showcase thoughts and treatises on subjects far more detailed and technical than most other forms of music. Long words aren’t frowned upon, but indeed are often celebrated (this is significant when we consider the potential for proper theological, philosophical, scientific, or linguistic use).
I love hip hop. Particularly, I am drawn to hip hop that honours and glorifies Christ Jesus the King of Kings. I was first introduced to what is sometimes called “Holy Hip Hop” back in the late 90′s when my bimonthly copy of now-defunct music mag 7ball arrived in the mail, sporting its usual compilation CD filled with usually unheard-of artists. Although the mag focused primarily on rock and alternative music, it sometimes ventured into the then-risque territory of hip hop. This particular issue featured a song on the pack-in compilation called “Cypha The Next Day” by The Cross Movement. I was hooked – great old-school beat, clever and talented emcees busting out wonderful God-honouring rhymes, and to top it off, theological depth. This wasn’t some campfire “sing-songs to Jesus” deal, this was a bunch of Pastor-Rappers roughing me up with biblical insight and not only dropping poetry, but sermonettes, expositions, and commentaries on biblical passages in their verses. Average people like me started calling it “holy hip-hop” (hereafter “HHH”) and the name stuck.
Here’s something that excites me greatly – there’s been a real renaissance of HHH over the course of the last decade. What began with artists like P.I.D., SFC, and Dynamic Twins in the 80′s and continued in the 90s with artists like The Cross Movement, Urban D, and Corey Red & Precise… has experienced a renewed fervency and urgency in the last five years in particular. Artists like Lecrae, Trip Lee, 116 Clique, Shai Linne, Sho Baraka, Flame, and Tedashii (not to mention solo efforts by Cross Movement members Ambassador, Phanatik, and Tonic) are quite literally tearing things up. The beats are amazing, the rhymes are full of bounty, and the biblio-theological depth, missional focus, and Christocentric emphasis is both refreshing and disarmingly confrontative.
So, this post (which has been on the backburner for two months) is just a simple expression of my thankfulness for how God is using men (and women) that he has greatly gifted in wordplay and music to glorify Himself through hip hop; to glorify Himself through the proclamation of his word and his Gospel through skillfully crafted poetry put to the kick and the snare.
Thank you, Lord:
- for the gift of living at such a time as this
- for the gift of ears to hear the kick, the snare, and the wordsmithery
- for the gift of a mind to follow and comprehend what’s being said
- for the gift of faith to believe in the biblical truths being expressed through your servants
- for the gift of hip hop music, the gift of rap
James 1:16-17 ESV
Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
I’ll close with a personal favourite. There’s this one guy named Shai Linne, and you won’t have to watch for long to see that God has given him a remarkable gift for compacting complex biblical truth into memorable, remarkable, mind-blowing rhyme schemes.
Currently listening to: “Suddenly” by BT
I actually only started listening to BT because Celldweller did a remix of this track for the Suddenly EP. Once I checked out some of his catalog, I discovered a lot of really great electronic stuff – and honestly, that’s about as specific as I can get, because this guy runs the gamut – trance, techno, house, etc. etc. etc. Good stuff for sure.
Things have been hopping. Between the looming Harvest church plant this coming September in Durham, our soon-coming daughter (or son, if the tech’s wrong!), juggling three part-time jobs, looking for a full-time job, and all sorts of other things… writing has really fallen by the wayside.
It hasn’t been from a lack of things to write ABOUT. There’s an abundance of that. Here, lets bust out some of it. Rather than my usual routine of apologizing for being inconsistent, lets just get right so some of the thoughts and ideas that have been hard at work in my head lately, by God’s grace.
First, something that came up out of my recent studies in John:
John 1:16 ESV
And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.
How true is that? I think the old adage was “count your blessings”, but lets be really honest – they can’t even be counted.
I love this phrase – “and from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace”. The Apostle John was no theological slouch (if that weren’t clear from his epistles), nor was he crusty, and so it should not surprise us to find a remark of sheer praise and exclamation here amidst such profoundly theological statements. To think of the ‘grace upon grace’ instilled in my own life is remarkable if I spend any small amount of time bringing to mind the things of the past, or even the things of the prior week.
God’s grace (ie. things I don’t deserve) literally floods my life: Salvation through the gift of faith, a loving wife whose desire is to be useful to our Lord Jesus (full of “theological astuteness” and gentle wisdom), a child in her womb whose development has been (evidently) ideal and healthy, the blessing of godly leadership at Harvest York Region (whose leadership is both humble and authoritative!), a surrounding of friends who spur us on to love and good works, a series of God’s people to counsel and aid, a healthy God-fearing Bible-preaching church of small groups to be part of, the input of godly men in my life, a juggling of jobs to keep me productive for my family, the hope of full time and stable employment on the horizon as God provides, and so much more. I am inundated with grace upon grace – undeserved blessing is a hallmark of my life in Christ Jesus. His fullness is poured out in and around me with alarming regularity amidst both the glorious circumstances and the horrific events of present history.
Yet, just as often as I consider the abundance, I’m wholly mindful of the solid fact that I don’t deserve any of it. I’m a lawbreaker, a mutinous rebel.
I deserve hell, not all this grace upon grace.
The Gospel is an amazing thing – to think even briefly on the fact that the Holy and Righteous God who created me, the God whose laws and standards I spurned and spat on… entered human history, took on human flesh, and took my hell on the Cross. I don’t deserve it. Grace upon grace.
Second, a bunch of quotes that have been ricocheting around my noggin:
“There is no correlation between new and good.” (CS Lewis)
“Duty is a poor substitute for love.” (CS Lewis)
“Joy is a deep, durable delight in the splendor of God that ruins you for anything else.” (Sam Storms)
“Christians who understand gospel logic should be, taking one thing with another, the most accomplished and least envious people in the world.” (Douglas Wilson)
“Curse the scalpel, if you must, but kiss the Surgeon’s hand.” (John Piper)
and, most of all:
“It is written.” (God)
How incredible is it that God has communicated himself to us through a book – the written word? Grace upon grace, all over again, times infinity.
Currently listening to: “Circles” by Thrice
Thrice recently did a session at Daytrotter, and the results are stripped-down, sparse, largely acoustic, and predominantly wonderful. If you’ve ever wondered what a masterful rock band would sound like when given a room with a bunch of instruments in various states of being, this is a great example. You can listen/download the tracks here at Daytrotter.
I have a bundle of news for those who don’t know me personally – namely, a bundle of Bolton that is on the way! Yes, my lovely Steph and I are happy to announce that (with God’s help) we’re in the midst of welcoming a new human being into the world. It’s one of the reasons that I haven’t been able to devote the kind of time to writing that I usually like to. The other reason is that my rebellious heart prefers distraction, abstraction, and escape to reality. So, truth be told, I’ve been much in the habit of wasting time on things far less than eternal.
So, with that said, and with my apologies implied therein… I would like to share some of what God has been teaching me through his Word as He speaks to me in the midst of the constant swirl and ebb of the circumstances of my life.
For starters, it hasn’t escaped me that for 21 weeks now, I’ve been a father. Granted, I haven’t been conscious of that for all 21 of those weeks, but increasingly as our lives already feel the weight of changes and as my wife’s abdomen swells with new life… I’m conscious of the responsibilities I now carry before God. Being a father means that, in addition to my wife and I, there is now another person for whom I am very intimately responsible. Another person, one for whose training and fathering I will answer, for whose provision I will be held to account, and to whom I must strive to be an example of the gospel in action. My daughter (assuming that the Ultrasound Technician was right – and they’re not always) or son will look to me to be an example of pastoral, godly, disciplined righteousness.
I love my daughter deeply – more with every passing day as she grows and develops and learns and changes and as God shapes and knits her together. I love my daughter, young as she is. I love her, and so many questions fill my mind:
Someone mentioned to me today that, because of how I love her, she will always be “Daddy’s Little Girl”. My head reeled. Not because I don’t treasure the thought of taking care of this little girl, nor because I really hope she doesn’t stay little. Neither was it because my hope and prayer is that she grows into a godly woman who loves Jesus Christ. No, I reeled because the thing that immediately jumped into my head was a question:
Is this Little Girl mine?
Let me explain:
How dangerous would it be to my soul if I thought she was MINE… of all things? If I believe that she is “mine” and I lose her in any of the above ways I might despair of life or betray God!
Isn’t it true that so often the line between responsibility and idolatry is very thin?
Or what about the line between love and idolatry?
I am responsible for my daughter. I love my daughter.
But she is not mine.
At my church, we’re about to start into a series in the book of James. This week we’ll be delving into the first twelve verses, which (among other things) say the following:
James 1:2-5 ESV
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.
If you’ve been a Christian for some time, you probably have encountered these kinds of ideas before. After all, from Genesis to Revelation, God makes incredible good come out of incomprehensible evils. Joseph’s brothers sell him into slavery and ultimately Joseph saves them from a famine many years later. David is pursued all over Israel and the surrounding areas by Saul (who is rabidly trying to murder him), and becomes a “man after God’s own heart”. Jesus, God of very God, is betrayed, spat upon, brutally beaten, and crucified… takes upon himself sin – that which he justly and righteously hates, and experiences the full Wrath of God poured out against sin… and in submitting himself on the Cross in this way makes a way for sinners to be reconciled to God.
If you’re like me, the principle makes sense: God allows and sometimes causes trials and suffering in our lives in order to refine and purify us, in order to transform us and conform us into the likeness of Jesus.
But James didn’t just say “Accept it, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds”. He said to count it all joy. Joy. In other words, James is saying “rejoice when you suffer!” and “be delighted when you go through difficulty” and “chalk it up as a sweet thing when your circumstances are sour and bitter”.
What? I understand accepting that, as Joseph said to his brothers, “you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20)… but to rejoice in suffering? How?
Everything we have is loaned to us that we might point to and make much of Jesus Christ and him crucified. ‘The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly’ – they are all given to us or allowed to us so that in all of it we would rejoice in the Cross.
The Cross, through which our worst adversity becomes an instrument of God in subjecting our hearts more wholly to him!
The Cross, through which everything that would seek to destroy us serves instead to strengthen us – conforming us more and more to the likeness of Jesus!
The Cross, the greatest sin ever committed, but through which sinners are reconciled to God!
How else can we move beyond merely accepting our circumstances (especially when they constitute trials and suffering) to REJOICING in them? How else but to see God’s grace and mercy overflowing as he works through our varied and frequently terrible circumstances to accomplish the transformation of our hearts and lives?
We rejoice in adversity because the worst of circumstances is a gift from God. The worst of circumstances is the gift of a dark, painful, and evil place in which to say to a watching world (and to our rebellious hearts):
“God is enough! He is all I need! He is my life and sustenance! There is no world, no meaning, and no hope without Jesus Christ!”
I am responsible for my daughter and I love her… but she is not mine. (May God grant that I never see her as mine!) My daughter, much like every good thing that I have, is a gift from God, created and sustained by him for my joy and for His glory.
Without much ado, here are my best beloved musical albums of the year 2009. In descending order, building up to an apex of musical happiness.
10. Emery – “In Shallow Seas We Sail”
Although this record doesn’t really jump forward on Emery’s generally uncomplicated lyrical themes, it is a wonderful example of a band returning to their roots while incorporating everything they’ve learned in the meantime. Even though this won’t win awards, it’s a gutsy rocker with just the right amount of tenderness to make it all come together. Definitely a great record to throw on.
9. Fee – “Hope Rising”
I first heard of Fee this past spring after we began singing one of their (then unreleased) songs “Glory to God Forever” at Harvest York Region. By the time “Hope Rising” came out in the fall, I was stoked to hear it. The more I listened to it, the more stoked I became. My only critique is that it comes off a little overdone (particularly the production), but otherwise this is an anthemic, thoughtful, and lyrically excellent collection of original worship songs. As a plus, they work great when sung by a big crowd of people.
8. Maylene & the Sons of Disaster – “III”
Maylene is just all kinds of fun. Take former Underoath vocalist Dallas Taylor, mix his insane gutteral vocals with a whole truckload of southern twang and smash-you-in-the-eye guitars, and you have Maylene and the Sons of Disaster. This year’s “III” continues their pattern of putting out stuff that just ‘southern rocks your world’.
7. Tedashii – “Identity Crisis”
With the Cross Movement focusing on solo projects primarily now, it’s been interesting to see successors to the Holy Hip Hop legacy rise up in their wake. Other than those on their own Cross Movement Records, cats like Lecrae, Shai Lynne, and Tedashii have really impressed me with deep, theologically informed yet immediately accessible lyrics. “Identity Crisis” isn’t the best example of this new wave of HHH (that goes to Lecrae’s 2008 disc “Rebel”), but it’s this year’s finest.
6. Project 86 – “Picket Fence Cartel”
Hard to believe this year brought Project 86 all the way to album number seven. “Picket Fence Cartel” wins points for bringing back a lot of the heavy that was missing on 2007′s “Rival Factions”. It also wins points for some great apocalyptic and devotional lyrics. Songs like “The Black Brigade” mean that this one will see repeated plays for quite some time.
5. Oh, Sleeper – “Son of the Morning”
Metal record predominantly ‘voiced’ by Satan but made by Christians. Nine tracks on this record are written from the perspective of the Devil himself, with the final track being from that of the risen and living one – Jesus Christ. Conceptually this pushes the envelope (if that idiom even means anything anymore), but trust me when I say that it’s full of Bible and theology, full of great moments, and full of excellence. Closing track “The Finisher” is a blistering, potent reminder of the all-consuming power of the Almighty One.
4. Matthew Good – “Vancouver”
Ah, Matty Good. He’s kinda the odd one out on this list, and not just because he’s Canadian. “Vancouver” does a lot of what 2007′s “Hospital Music” did, only better. The only thing it’s really missing is a blow-your-face-off rocker like “I’m A Window” was for that record.
3. Deepspace5 – “5print Mixtape”
What happens when an unknown but skilled producer has a whole whack of beats NOT used for Jay Z’s “The Blueprint 3″? He, Alex Goose, puts it out for free online as “The Blueprint Outtakes”. What happens when rap supercrew Deepspace5 gets ahold of those beats? Magic. This mixtape is freely available at Deepspace5 dot Com.
2. David Crowder Band – “Church Music”
After the letdown that was 2007′s “Remedy”, it was great to hear the return of the sprawling, almost experimental David Crowder Band ala 2005′s “A Collision”. Unlike that watershed record, though, there’s no bluegrass or Americana to be found on “Church Music”, just delicious electronics, top-of-your-lungs stuck-in-your-head choruses and a whole lot of heart and soul.
1. Thrice – “Beggars”
It’s no secret that I’m an avid, blathering, emphatic fan of Dustin Kensrue and his band Thrice. Between Dustin’s biblically-conscious, thoughtful, high-grade, genuinely epic lyrics and the band’s brand of toe-tapping groove-infested rock… it’s all win. “Beggars” is my Album of the Year with a vengeance. It’s also, in this fan’s opinion, Thrice’s best offering yet.