The resurgence of expositional preaching has contributed to a surge of expositional hip-hop music in recent years. Shai Linne (blog | Twitter) is one of several young artists connecting urban audiences with theology through the language and beat of hip-hop.
Linne’s new album, The Attributes of God, centers its lyrics and even the tone of its music on the multifaceted character of God. In fact, each song focuses on a different divine attribute. You can stream one of the tracks, “The Judge of All the Earth (feat. Sovereign Grace Kids),” below. The theme on display is God’s justice. (Lyrics can be downloaded here.)
I corresponded with Linne on why he chose to do an album on God’s attributes and why hip-hop is an ideal genre for this subject.
The Attributes of God is your first full-length album since 2008. Tell us how you decided to record an album with this theme.
As I looked around at what has been going on in Christian music lately, I noticed that a lot of it is more about us than about God. Don’t get me wrong, there are many songs that make references to God and speak about the implications of the gospel, which is great. But a lot of it is not actually about God himself. The main subject of most of the Christian songs I hear is usually something other than God. That’s problematic on a number of levels. As the time came to do another record, I was studying Exodus 33-34, and I noticed that when Moses asked to see God’s glory (Ex. 33:18), God responded by describing his character. Jesus says in John 17:24 that his desire for the church is that we would behold his glory by sight in heaven. 2 Cor. 3:18 teaches that we are transformed by beholding God’s glory by faith now. I wanted to make an album that would encourage people to behold God’s glory by faith, as his character is described in the music.
You’ve written, “The Attributes of God project is an attempt to use music as a means of communicating truth about the character of God.” Why use hip-hop as your musical genre to accomplish this goal?
In many ways, I think hip-hop is actually an ideal genre for a project like this, because the format allows for so many more words to be used than in other genres. Because of this, the potential for transfer of ideas is much greater. Hip-hop lends itself to exposition. The challenge was finding suitable musical backdrops to properly convey the emotional depth of such a glorious topic.
How does this album differ from your previous ones (The Solus Christus Project , The Atonement , and Storiez )? Obviously the thematic focus is different, but what about your style? Has it evolved over the years?
It is different from my other projects sonically. I don’t know if that has to do with my style evolving as much as the particular producers I worked with this time around. When we began the process, I communicated that I was looking for an overall sound that was epic and cinematic, like a film score. Once I got the music, I tried my best to adjust my vocal performance to the sound of the tracks. I think the result is a mixture of styles that will strike long-time listeners as both new and familiar.
What books influenced this project?
It came primarily from studying Exodus 33:18-34:14 and comparing that with other passages in Scripture. In fact, if you look at the track listing, you’ll find that—except for the song about God’s “Omnis”—it corresponds exactly to the attributes referenced in that chapter, in order. However, over the years, I’ve been helped by books like The Existence and Attributes of God by Stephen Charnock, The Knowledge of the Holy by A.W. Tozer, The Attributes of God by A.W. Pink, and The Glory of Christ by John Owen. Those books (and more) have definitely influenced my thinking about these things.
Was there a particular attribute that struck you as you worked on the album?
The song that affected me the most in writing is the song on God’s jealousy. It says in Exodus 34:14 that God’s very name is Jealous. I don’t think I had thought very deeply about that before. In my studies, I discovered that in Scripture, God usually speaks of his jealousy in the context of idolatry. The emotion of jealousy is actually the mixture of two emotions: love and anger. The greater the object of love, the greater the anger towards the one who would seek to undermine or threaten that love. When we consider that God rightly values (and therefore loves) his glory above all else, it helps us understand why his wrath is so great towards those who would seek to undermine or threaten his glory by sinning against him. It also helps us appreciate all the more that God poured out his jealous anger on his beloved Son in our place!
What do you want people to walk away with from this project?
The main thing I want people to walk away with is the fact that God is unspeakably beautiful and glorious beyond all imagination. He’s worth making a big deal about. He’s worth writing albums about. He’s worth being celebrated in every cultural context. Knowing him and making him known is what we were made for. All of his attributes are on breathtaking display in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Through faith in Christ, we have the privilege of knowing and enjoying this God for eternity. Nothing that this world has to offer comes close to comparing with that.
Watch the album’s trailer, “The Perfection of Beauty,” featuring Shai’s wife, Blair Linne.