Music is arguably the most influential art form on earth.
This influence is not only attested to by music psychology, but also by the Bible in its attention to at least two realities. First, all art forms are powerful, but those which involve words exercise extra influence.
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits” (Proverbs 18:21). God used words to create the world, and our use of words is a way we mirror him as image bearers (Hebrews 11:3; Genesis 1:27). God also uses words to save the world. “How are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Romans 10:14).
The preaching of Christians through hip-hop has been used by God to move many listeners to call on the name of the Lord.
Music and the Mind
Second, Scripture affirms the effect of music on the mind.
In 2 Kings 3, the hand of the Lord came upon Elisha when a harpist played. In 1 Samuel 16, a harmful spirit from God tormented Saul until David played a lyre. God used music in these passages as a means to breed serenity.
Matthew Henry said in his commentary on 1 Samuel, “Music cannot work upon the devil, but it may shut up the passages by which he has access to the mind.” It’s no wonder why a group of harp, tambourine, flute, lyre-wielding prophets is mentioned in 1 Samuel 10.
John Piper encouraged readers of his book When I Don’t Desire God to “wield the weapon of music in the fight for joy in God” because the Bible repeatedly commands us to sing and to play instruments (Exodus 15:21; 1 Chronicles 16:23; Psalm 33:2–3; 57:8; 81:2; 96:1; 150:1–6).
“Surely God has not created music as a pointless distraction from rational apprehensions of God,” Piper said. “Surely, this too is part of the creation that is ‘declaring the glory of God.’”
A Perfect Place for Joy
The genre of Christian music that has arguably used words the most influentially since the mid-90s has been hip-hop. And Christian hip-hop has often been significantly influenced by Reformed theology, especially Christian Hedonism.
Artists like Trip Lee, KB, Shai Linne, and S.O. have each waved the banner of satisfaction in Christ alone throughout their discographies. Jackie Hill-Perry, a Desiring God contributor, dedicated an entire album called The Art of Joy to the concept.
Outsiders may condemn hip-hop entirely because secular artists wave banners of misogyny, violence, and substance abuse. But hip-hop is a perfect place to proclaim our message of joy in God for his glory, for at least two reasons.
At its roots, hip-hop culture demands authenticity. Pioneering hip-hop emcee KRS-One once said, “It’s not about a salary. It’s all about reality.” Where better for us to declare the reality that our highest happiness is rooted in knowing the infinitely valuable Creator and Lord of the universe?
Authentic artists who truly believe “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him” will organically express this satisfaction in their art. Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks (Luke 6:45). Artists will write and rap so that their joy in God may be complete (1 John 1:4).
An even more central characteristic of hip-hop is braggadocio. “The art of the brag has been integral to hip-hop since the very beginning,” top hip-hop website DJBooth said.
The art of the brag precedes hip-hop (by several thousand years). God told the prophet Jeremiah, “Let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth” (Jeremiah 9:24).
By definition, “boast” is synonymous with praise or glorify. God created humans to glorify him (Isaiah 43:7). Emcees who boast in talent, money, or women are doing what they were designed to do — only with a mistaken supreme love.
Trip Lee grasps this. The teaching pastor, rapper, and founder of a ministry named Built to Brag released a single in 2011 titled “Brag on My Lord,” which says,
We don’t wanna waste our time braggin’ on small pleasures, you know?
We wanna brag on the greatest treasure.
A Playlist of Pleasure in God
Below are some examples of Christ-exalting hip-hop found at Rapzilla’s playlist on Spotify. These songs pass a test given by Piper in When I Don’t Desire God:
“Is this joy [that music awakens in us] rooted in something good about God? Is it shaping my emotions into a Christ-exalting configuration? Is it stirring my desires to know Christ better and love him more and show him to others at the cost of my own comfort?”
“Give My All” by KB
KB began his 100 EP with a similar heartbeat to Paul in Acts 20:24, “I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”
Funny how I don’t want the stuff people dream of,
Rich living in a beachfront, eased up with my ease up.
So what if they think you the man?
That don’t mean nothing in the kingdom.
So what I want y’all to remember me for?
If you forget my name, please remember my Jesus.
“My Portion” by Shai Linne
Since his debut album The Solus Christus Project, Shai Linne has been a champion of lyrical theology, “The study of God within the context of hip-hop.” Shai’s study of God took him to Psalm 73 on his song “My Portion.”
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire but you.
My flesh and my heart may fail, however,
The Lord is my portion forever.
“Stronger” by Json (feat. HillaryJane)
When Paul pleaded with God to remove the thorn in his flesh, the Lord said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Json and HillaryJane capture what was likely an emotional Paul with raw deliveries on the 2 Corinthians 12-inspired “Stronger.”
We’ll boast in our shame, we’ll boast in our weakness.
When we’re dead and we’re done, the world should look only to Jesus.
“Satisfy” by S.O. (feat. Adenikè)
Shortly after Jesus fed the five thousand, he told his disciples, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). S.O. critiques people’s thirst for everything except Christ on “Satisfy,” for which Desiring God premiered the music video.
How it feel like chasing the wind homie?
Don’t we do it all the time?
We never chase God,
But think that the women or the money will forever satisfy.
“The Art of Joy” by Jackie Hill-Perry
“Satisfaction only happens to those who are glad in you.” That is the message of Piper’s signature book Desiring God, and it’s the message of the title track of an album which the book inspired, Hill-Perry’s The Art of Joy.
Brought me back to himself, now I’m living in reverse,
Seeing good gifts as a glimpse of the giver,
Not the gifts as a giver.
Merry Christmas if the vision works.
“Instruments of Mercy” by Beautiful Eulogy (feat. Hello Abigail)
In his second letter to Timothy, Paul said God appointed him a preacher, apostle, and teacher for the reason Rome imprisoned him: the gospel (2 Timothy 1:8–12). God uses Christians who suffer for the gospel, which invokes praise, as “Instruments of Mercy” beautifully articulates.
It’s the strumming and pressing of strings that momentarily stings.
But in the end, it ultimately brings us to a place that causes hearts to sing.
“Lose (Jim Elliot)” by God’s Servant
Missionary Jim Elliot reasoned that his life was not too valuable to risk for the sake of spreading the gospel when he said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” These powerful words inspired an anthem by God’s Servant, who listeners will be able to tell is a pastor.
Ride with Jim Elliot, yeah, ‘cause Christ is all that our lives are for.
If we got to lose our lives, so be it, ‘cause Christ is our soul’s reward.
“Certified Gold” by Eshon Burgundy
David was as wealthy as anyone would aspire to be, yet he wrote in Psalm 19:9–10, “The rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold.” Like David, Eshon Burgundy declares that “the One that’s risen” is more valuable than riches.
I feel like we spend time prayin’ for more distractions,
Things that keep us from the glory of the main attraction.
“Amen” by Reconcile
Reconcile declares his allegiance to the Lord and proceeds to explain why on “Amen,” an open letter reminiscent of Ephesians 2. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:4–5).
Courtrooms, probation, got kicked up out the home.
I wanted to change, couldn’t change on my own.
But you took my sin, I should’ve died all alone.
That night I cried, till all them tears was gone.
Grace brought us this far, grace gon’ bring us home.
Jesus I love you, you all I’m living for.
“Tell the World” by Lecrae (feat. Mali Music)
Fellowship with the Father and his Son Jesus Christ left John joyful, but he needed to tell others about it so his “joy may be complete” (1 John 1:4). Lecrae and Mali Music vow to “Tell the World” how God graciously saved and changed them.
I was so dead, I couldn’t hear you,
Too deep in sin to come near you.
But you drew me in, you cleaned me up.
So take me home, beam me up.
Before you do, just let me tell the truth,
And let these folks know that I done seen your love.
“The Daily Gospel” by Timothy Brindle
When Paul said, “I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome,” he was writing to Christians (Romans 1:15). Celebration of the gospel does not cease after you become a Christian, and Timothy Brindle explains why it’s the Christian’s source of joy daily.
And when I see my beautiful Savior who suffered
For all of the numerous ways I have blundered,
I’m then moved to be truly gracious to others
And exhibit the Spirit’s fruit of patience to brothers.
But most of all, the gospel brings me close to my Father,
So in the warmth of his love I can soak like a sauna.
So now I want to obey him and show him my honor,
Not to earn his love, but as a chosen responder.
“Take Me There” by Trip Lee (feat. Jimmy Needham)
Paul saw death as gain because death meant fellowship with Jesus, which he said is “far better” than life on earth (Philippians 1:21–23). Trip Lee and Jimmy Needham also long for a better country on “Take Me There.”
Hey, I ain’t know about you, but I can’t wait till the day
When I’ll be with my Lord and everything is okay.
And I’ll be just like him, so my sin ain’t in the way.
Baskin’ in his glory, that’s where I wanna stay.