The first time I heard Shai Linne was on FLAME’s track called “To My Heart” where he played the antagonist, his heart, which FLAME needed to resist. Besides the track being genius in painting a picture of the daily battle every Christian face with a heart that’s desperately wicked (and clever), one can’t help but notice how well-crafted Shai Linne was in terms of lyricism and flow in that track. As skillful as I thought he was, I honestly thought he was one of those one-time features. I did not know much about him or his work. This was around 2006 or 2007.
Fast-forward to 2008, Shai Linne releases The Atonement. It’s a bit self-centered of me to think that God caused Shai to produce that album just for me, but that’s what it felt like at the time! I had very recently learned and embraced the doctrines of grace, which caused quite a bit of controversy within my church and circle of friends. I was discouraged and weary from the constant debates, along with battling my flesh and sin. Not having a church to call home anymore was a hard pill to swallow, especially since I had only been a Christian for almost 3 years. My heart seemingly began to harden as I felt the pull to never go to church again, due to this experience. I started to think that perhaps I was wrong and confused about what I thought to be true, but how can these beautiful teachings of the Reformation be wrong if they are clearly so biblical? I had so many questions and one thing I also wondered was, “Does anyone else believe these truths anymore? Am I and the couple others I know the only ones who affirm these things?” And by God’s providence, around that time is when I finally listened to The Atonement!
If you’re a fan of Shai Linne then I don’t have to tell you, but you know that he’s the type of Christian to point you to the cross over and over and over again! The Atonement was earth-shattering for me. Not because it was soundly biblical and “reformed,” but the very fact that it forced me to take a deeper look into the atonement of our Lord. The track “Were You There” broke me at a point in my walk when I began to feel almost nothing but coldness and defeat. It brought me back to the point when my eyes were first opened to Christ. It reminded me of what Christ did on that cross for his elect! The entire album pointed to the life, death, burial and resurrection of our Lord in a lyrical fashion.
Let’s talk more about Shai’s lyrical ability by highlighting a Wade-O interview with battle rapper, Loso. If you’re familiar with battle rap then you know about this incredibly skillful wordsmith. You can’t hide behind a hard beat or loud noise in battle rap. Literally, silence fills the crowded halls as they wait for the next punchline to be delivered by one of the two rappers who are battling each other. These kind of rappers rely completely on their creative writing ability and delivery. Loso is no amateur in this industry, so listen close to what he has to say bout Shai’s lyrical ability. (Video starting point at 23:30 – 24:01)
Speaking of lyrical ability, there’s something else Shai Linne popularized in CHH. Much of Christian Hip Hop since the early 90’s naturally taught theology, especially when you think about groups like Remnant Militia or The Cross Movement. But for the most part, much of CHH was a means of evangelism. It was a means to reach out to the loss. Shai’s work includes this aspect (evangelism), but highly focuses on the edification of believers through teaching theology. He calls this “lyrical theology.”
The phrase “Lyrical Theology” was something I never heard before I listened to The Atonement (more specifically, the track with Stephen the Levite called Atonement Q&A). In a previous album, here’s how he explained it:
“Lyrical Theology is just that. It’s lyrical, which is rhymes, rhyme schemes, rhyme patterns, and theology, the study of God. So, it’s the study of God within the context of Hip-Hop. And what we do is we take passages from the Bible and put it directly into rhyme form. So this could be either the explanation of a particular doctrine from Scripture or it can be a line by line exposition of a passage.”– Shai Linne “Lyrical Theology (interlude)” on the Solus Christus Project
Of course Shai did not invent the concept of learning theology through music. The early church taught Scripture through song, as well. But to learn solid theology through rap music is taking it to a whole other level!
Shai’s previous album, Solus Christus Project, led me to look into what’s called “The 5 Solas of the Reformation.” Remember, this was during a dark time early in my Christian walk. There was something about him calling his album “Solus Christus Project” that made me curious. So, with the help of his album, I looked into the 5 Solas. Little did I know, my life would be changed and influenced greatly because of this man. The loneliness I once felt due to the rejection of others over theology and that thick fog of confusion and frustration that I could not seem to escape started to finally evaporate. I began to live with joy, peace, comfort and confidence in my Lord once again. Who would have thought that God could use rap and hip-hop to do such work?
Over the years I’ve had many brothers and sisters share similiar experiences with CHH, especially with Shai Linne’s work. Despite this being a common trend for those who listen to CHH, there are many Christian brothers and sisters out there who disagree with it. It’s too bad that many can’t even fathom the idea of learning theology through rap music. Most critics focus too much on what this genre of music is known for in the secular world. In a CredoMagazine interview, Shai answered an important question, in regards to Christians using something like Christian Hip-Hop as a way to glorify God as opposed to what it was originally intended for. This is what he wrote:
To those who say, “How can you take that thing that is used for evil and glorify God with it?” My two word answer is “The Cross.”
But my response to that particular criticism is usually to simply re-phrase the objection. I would say something like, “Are you saying that you have a problem with me taking a medium that has been used to blaspheme God and using it instead as a medium to praise and exalt God’s holy name, proclaim His glorious gospel, speak biblical truth and magnify the infinite worth of the Lord Jesus Christ?” Arguments against “depraved genres” are ultimately arguments against redemption itself, because depraved genres are the products of depraved human beings, who need redemption. (In fact, “depraved genre” is a misnomer because it’s ascribing moral value to a medium, which by definition is morally neutral until informed by content.) Once God has redeemed a person, it’s fitting for the Christian to take the “genres” or vehicles (such as books, cameras, canvasses, the internet, language, musical forms, etc.) that he or she once used for evil and now use them to promote the glory of God. Those who make the objection (especially as they use the internet to do so) are often unaware that they themselves use “depraved genres” all the time.
Shai made a strong case for CHH and continues to uplift it for God’s glory, and we ought to thank him for it. The whole idea of CHH is truly about God’s plan of redemption. I think that’s beautiful and God deserves all the glory!
Perhaps a lot of what I wrote in this article is new to you. I challenge you with the same thing I was challenged with a little over 10 years ago. Pick up Shai’s album(s), open up Google and start researching these phrases and terms. Feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions! Years ago, I truly felt alone when I came across these awesome truths. If you reading this, let me tell you that you are not alone in this. We’re here for you along the way! I truly hope and pray that Shai’s work blesses you as much, if not more, as it blessed me. Let me conclude with one of my favorite lines from The Atonement album:
“Anything else? Well, I guess this overview must suffice
But none of this is possible apart from union with Christ
And finally, once you know the ways of the Lord than the
only thing that you can say is Soli Deo Gloria!”