Shai Linne: Dear CHH
This is Shai Linne. Some of you have known me for a while. For some of you, your first introduction to me was through some hard things I said on a couple of recent songs. If that’s you, I’m sorry that we had to meet under circumstances like this. However, I trust that the sovereign Lord will use even that for His purposes.
Now, I know that some of you don’t identify as “CHH”. You don’t think “Christian” should ever be used as an adjective, but only as a noun. We can leave that debate for another time, but if that’s you and you embrace the noun for yourself, I’m talking to you as well.
In order to give you the full context of what I said and why I said it, there are a few things you need to know about me. First, I’ve been involved in CHH since before it was known as CHH. My first song dropped back in 2000.
(Yup, I’m an old head).
My first album came out in 2005. I know that there are many who came before me, but I’ve been around long enough to watch this culture/movement go through many ups and downs. And by the grace of God, I’ve been able to play a small part in it.
The fact of the matter is that I love Christian hip-hop. I know that rubs some people the wrong way, but I’m not ashamed to say it. I love CHH. I’ve loved it for a long time now. CHH brings together two of my greatest passions. Hip-hop, the culture I grew up saturated in. And Christ, whom I’ve loved since I met Him 18 years ago. Because I’m passionate about both of them, I love it when they come together. And I love to see how Christ is expressed differently through different vessels in hip-hop.
I love Beautiful Eulogy, and I love Bizzle. I love Stephen the Levite, and I love Eshon Burgundy. I love Lavoisier, and I love Jackie Hill Perry. I love Thi’sl, and I love Propaganda. I love Trip Lee, and I love Datin. I love Dre Murray, and I love Gemstones. I love Da’ T.R.U.T.H. and Sho Baraka, Hazakim and Disciple, Loso and Natalie Lauren, Street Hymns and KB, Th3 Saga and Flame. And yes, I love Lecrae, and I love Ruslan.
Many more could be named. But when I say I love them, it’s not primarily because I love their music equally, though they are all gifted in their own right. No. I love them because of the Jesus who I’ve seen in each of them. In different ways, they each point me to my Lord.
I don’t see myself as some lone ranger out there, detached from CHH. No, I’m a part of this movement, and I have a vested interest in its success (as God defines success). I also represent a good number of people who feel the same way I do, but do not have the platforms to express themselves in the same way. So please hear what I say in that light.
What I Said
A few weeks ago, I dropped two songs, one called “Random Thoughts 3” and another called “Ichabod”. In both songs, I addressed the current state of CHH. As far as I can tell, it seems that RT3 is what caused the blow-up, because of the following lines:
“Trip asked me if I was still motivated
I was quiet, but I wanted to say, ‘No, I hate it.’
‘Cause brothers in your camp causing lots of confusion
I love them as brothers in Christ, but not their conclusions
They want to reach the world? By all means, keep pursuing it
But tell me: Why they gotta diss the church while they’re doing it?”
That’s what I wanted to say, but I ain’t say it though
But no more laying low, I want them to play it slow
And I ain’t dissing them, my prayers are the proof
Like Boaz without Ruth is unity without truth
It’s been interesting to see the reactions to these lines, to say the least. I personally think social media has played a big role in shaping how people have responded. From what I’ve seen (admittedly, I haven’t seen a lot because my social media channels are pretty streamlined), many people are not engaging with whether or not what I said is true.
It seems that many of the people who were upset were bothered simply by the fact that I alluded to Reach Records on the song. So there are basically two issues: First, there is the fact that I said something at all. Second there is what I said.
First, I want to speak to why I said something at all. Some have said, “Why didn’t Shai just go directly to Reach?” And they cite Matthew 18:15:
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.”
With all due respect, this is not a Matthew 18 situation. Matthew 18 is dealing with private, personal sin against a brother or sister. We know this is the case because of how Jesus emphasizes “between you and him alone”. In the best case scenario, the brother repents, is gained and no one else has to know about it.
That’s not what we’re dealing with here. First, I’m not charging Reach Records with sinning against me. I do believe there’s error involved, and I disagree with some of the positions the brothers hold to, but that’s a different category than personal sin against me.
Second, this is not a private situation. I’m addressing artists in the public eye who are making public statements and public decisions in public spaces that have public effects. Everything that I addressed on the song is public.
There needs to be a space for Christians to publicly disagree without it being viewed as unloving or divisive. Biblically, love rejoices with the truth (1 Corinthians 13:6). I believe that my brothers are in error. If true, that’s a problem. So how is it that the divisive one is not the one who creates the problem, but rather the one who points out the problem? That doesn’t make sense. Also, we have clear biblical precedent in this matter.
Galatians 2:11-14 records an incident between the Apostle Paul and Peter. The short version of it is that Peter was fellowshipping and eating with the Gentiles until certain Jews came around. At that point, Peter basically dissed the Gentiles by acting like He didn’t know them. Peter was in error. And it was so bad that other brothers like Barnabas were being discipled into Peter’s error.
For Paul, this was a big deal. Jesus died to break down the wall of separation between Jew and Gentile (Ephesians 2:14). Peter was saying that he believed the gospel, but he was denying it with his actions towards his brothers. Here’s how Paul responded:
“But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, ‘If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?’” (Galatians 2:14)
Paul addressed Peter in front of everybody. Why didn’t he pull Peter to the side and correct him privately? Because Peter’s error was public, and it was affecting “the rest of the Jews” and Barnabas (vs. 13). A whole community of Christians were being influenced by one man’s public actions. For Paul, this demanded a public response.
I’m not claiming to be the Apostle Paul, but there are some parallels here. For better or worse, Reach Records is the public face of CHH, both to the church and to the world. They are extremely influential. It’s not exaggerating to say that tens of thousands are affected by their decisions.
One of the problems is that publicly, as far as the artists are concerned, this has been largely a one-way conversation. It seems as though Reach Records is free to make what many godly Christians believe to be questionable decisions publicly, but anyone who disagrees must do so privately? This is a dangerous mindset, because when public error is met with continued public silence, it only serves to confirm and legitimize the error.
There have been over five years of private discussions. My song was meant to draw attention to a problem that has not improved over the years, but has gotten worse in certain ways.
Even as I stated my disagreement about their positions, I did not attack their character. I affirmed my love for them as brothers in Christ. There must be a place for this in the body of Christ. Texts like Galatians 2 indicate that there is.
So let’s get to the heart of it. Is what I said true? Also, what is this discussion really about? Let’s look at what I said. The substance of it is this:
- Brothers from Reach Records are causing confusion.
- I love them as brothers in Christ, but I disagree with their conclusions.
What This is Not About
I’m writing this to address some of the particular concerns that I and many others have. But first, I need to mention what this discussion is NOT about.
Shai vs. Lecrae
This is not about me vs. Lecrae, though some have painted it that way. It’s not my aim to pit believers against one another as though Lecrae/Reach is the enemy. I don’t believe that at all. The Bible is clear about who the enemy is:
“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)
Lecrae and I are not enemies. Rather, we both have a common enemy who desires to sift us (and the Christians who agree or disagree with us) like wheat (Luke 22:31). In this discussion, we are not wrestling against flesh and blood. One way the devil seeks to devour us is for believers who fall on one side of a disagreement or the other to “bite and devour one another” (Galatians 5:15). We shouldn’t be unaware of Satan’s schemes.
Christian Rapper Title
This is also not about the long-debated Christian rapper/rapper who’s a Christian topic. While I have questions about the wisdom of going out of your way to distance yourself from a title that people will give you anyway, it personally doesn’t matter to me one way or the other how you label yourself. If you carry the aroma of Christ, you won’t have to label yourself. It will be given to you whether you want it or not (2 Corinthians 2:15-16).
Explicit vs. Implicit Music by Christians
This is also not about having to do music just one way as a Christian. There is room (and need) for many different approaches. I’ve spoken publicly about this on numerous occasions. Check out this conversation between me and Sho Baraka, for example (my explanation starts around 8:55).
Just as the Bible has many literary genres, Christian artists are free to (and should even be encouraged to) hit on the same truths from many different angles. I’ve never said and will never say that everyone must do “lyrical theology”. In fact, most of my personal favorites don’t necessarily fall into that category.
My issue has always been that whatever approach we take musically, it should not contradict the teachings of Scripture, and it should retain the aroma of Christ. We don’t stop being Christians when we enter the recording booth. And we should never sin in the name of being “artistic”.
At the same time, we don’t start being Christians when we enter the booth either. So those of us who use music to proclaim the gospel should have lives/fruit to match what we proclaim with our lips.
So if those aren’t my main concerns, what are they? I’m going to try to answer that by posing two questions. 1. Who’s our governor? 2. What’s our goal?
Who’s Our Governor?
When we think of a governor, we tend to think of an elected official. Another way to pose the question is to ask, “What are we governed by?” And what I mean by “govern” is “that which controls, influences or regulates our actions”. What (or who) is it that dictates what we do as Christians?
Anyone who has sat in a Sunday school class for 15 minutes knows that the right answer to that question is Jesus. Another correct answer would be the Bible. Yet another would be the Holy Spirit. I’ll go ahead and combine them all and say that the Christian is governed by Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit as we walk according to the Bible.
Part of my concern with CHH is that it seems as though we’re often governed by the culture of hip-hop more than we are Jesus. It seems that personal autonomy and an “I’m just gonna do me” mindset has more sway than the Holy Spirit. It seems that the rules of the music industry are more influential in our decision-making than God’s precepts and rules laid out in the Scriptures.
One recent high-profile example of this is the song “Blessings” that Lecrae did with Ty Dolla Sign. This move was so out-of-pocket that it had many Christians doing the Nick Young face, and it’s not because we’re all “Pharisees” and “haters”. It’s because it violated so many clear Scriptures.
The question of Christians collaborating with “secular” artists is another topic that has been debated for some time. That’s not even what this is about. All secular artists are not created equal.
There is a such thing as degrees of wickedness (Luke 11:26). Ty Dolla Sign is not a run of the mill secular artist. He is known for lyrics that promote evil. And these aren’t just the opinions of some uptight fundamentalist. Even the world describes his lyrics as “words only the dirtiest dirtbags would say to a woman.” He’s the type of artist that make unbelievers change the channel if his video is on around children. I know the music industry says that this is a good move for Lecrae’s career, but what does the Bible say?
“For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them.” (Ephesians 5:5-7)
The issue here is that everything about Ty Dolla Sign’s music — from his early work, to later in his career to his most recent single celebrates and rejoices in the very things that passages like this say bring about the wrath of God.
Whether it’s his intention or not, in doing a song like “Blessings”, Lecrae is communicating that righteousness has partnership with lawlessness and light has fellowship with darkness (2 Cor. 6:14). That’s not even mentioning the theological problem of implying that Christians and unbelievers are blessed by God in the same way. (They’re not. In fact, in the over 100 times the word “blessings” or “blessedness” or “blessed” is used in the New Testament, not once is it ever applied to unbelievers).
The other problem with this collaboration is the reality that Lecrae’s fanbase is still primarily made up of Christians. His earlier work gained the trust of youth pastors and parents of Christian youth and teenagers. While I’m not saying he should be a slave to their opinions, he does have some responsibility to them.
To whom much is given, much is required. I’m confident that many in Lecrae’s core audience had never even heard of Ty Dolla Sign before “Blessings”. I hate to think about the number of young/immature Christians who did a YouTube search for Ty Dolla Sign after hearing that song, especially in light of Jesus warning in Matthew 18:6-7.
My point is that we must not allow a godless culture to dictate what Christians do in that culture. This is one of the reasons I addressed the issue of sinful boasting by Christian rappers. I know that’s what the culture does. I get it. I’m from the culture. But if Jeremiah 9:23-24 is in the Bible, we must put God’s Word before the culture.
This is also why Christian community and the local church is so important. None of us are islands. We need each other. Getting counsel from our pastors and godly Christians is part of how we live the Christian life well. We are not exempt from that because we do music. If anything, because our actions have more wide-ranging effects, we should be more likely to get counsel about our content, not less. Much more could be said about that, but let me get to my second and final question.
What’s the Goal?
Why is there a such thing as CHH? What do we exist for? Biblically, the answer is the same as the purpose for which all things exist — the glory of God.
“For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:36)
This is not controversial. All Christians believe this because it’s so clearly taught in Scripture. The disagreement comes when we begin to apply this teaching in the realm of culture.
Regardless of what title we embrace or don’t embrace, we are not “just hip-hop.” We are Christians in hip-hop. Therefore, CHH exists as a reflection of and a pointer to the salvation that God has provided in Christ.
It is a basic teaching of Christianity that God gives those He’s redeemed a desire to see people saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. Many of us came to know Christ while we were entrenched in hip-hop culture. In the era of CHH I came up in, we took it for granted that God was at work to claim a people for His praise from every culture, including hip-hop.
That’s why many of us grabbed the mic in the first place. We wanted to see those from our cultural background encounter Jesus without thinking they had to put on a suit or only listen to Kirk Franklin songs (no diss to Kirk). Many of us were gripped by the question, “What would happen if God were to save, indwell and transform people from the urban context who identified with hip-hop culture?
How dope would that be? We did music the way we did because we wanted to see people saved. That was Lecrae’s aim when he started:
“I don’t care about the famous names
‘Cause when Christ comes back a lot of folks will be nameless man
and I ain’t worried about speaking His name
cause if it wasn’t for Christ yeah we’d all be sinking in flames
I don’t even wanna ‘change the game’
Your favorite rapper got saved last night
Yeah that’s the aim” – Lecrae, “We Don’t”, Real Talk (2005)
In recent years, Lecrae has chalked up that previous perspective to his immaturity at the time. But many of us would say, “No, brother. That’s not immaturity. That’s a biblical desire.”
When Paul considered the people from his culture who were under God’s wrath, he said,
“Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved” (Romans 10:1).
I can’t claim to know what Lecrae’s motivations were back then. That’s between him and God. But in saying those lyrics, he was in line with the priorities of Scripture.
Reach was built on this. Even the very name of the record company — Reach Records (to “reach” people with the gospel), reflects this priority. But over time, something has changed. This very website documented the change in the mission statement on the Reach Records website. It used to say:
“We aim to serve through art, to bring healing and show others a different way to view their world. The heartbeat of Reach is Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.”
As of this writing, it currently says:
“Fast forward over a decade, and now the achievements are larger, the sales are stronger, the mixes sound nicer, but the goal is still the same: To change the way people see the world.”
This is part of what I meant by “brothers causing lots of confusion”. When you look at the two statements you see that the goal of “changing the way people see the world” is there both times. But in the more recent statement, something really significant is missing. What’s missing is what they referred to as “the heartbeat of Reach” in the first statement — the gospel.
I’m going to give my brothers the benefit of the doubt and assume that the heartbeat is still the same, but it’s just explicitly stated in the first statement and implicit in the more recent statement.
But don’t you see why that is problematic? “To change the way people see the world” and “To change the way people see the world through the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ” are two entirely different things. One is offensive to a world in rebellion to God. The other isn’t. One will get you mocked and marginalized. The other won’t. Satan doesn’t care if we want to “change how people see the world.” So what? Steve Jobs changed the way people see the world. Walt Disney changed the way people see the world. Those things have value, but when it comes to the most significant change of all — salvation — those things are utterly powerless.
On top of that, nobody else in hip-hop is implicit in this way. Wiz Khalifa and Snoop Dogg aren’t implicit. They’re explicit about their love for weed. Ty Dolla Signs isn’t implicit. He’s explicit about how ratchet he is. Kendrick Lamar isn’t implicit. He’s explicit about his Hebrew Israelite theology.
So why is the public face of CHH implicit about the gospel in their mission statement? I don’t ask that as a way of coming at their motives, but questioning the decision itself. If you think this isn’t important, we only need to look at history to tell us otherwise. For example, do you know what the original mission statement of Harvard University said?
“Let every student be plainly instructed, and earnestly pressed, to consider well [that] the main end of his life and studies is to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life (Jn.17:3), and therefore to lay Christ in the bottom, as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and learning.”
Over time, Harvard drifted from that original mission, and today it stands as a hub of secularism, though the pursuit of academic excellence remains intact. That’s how drift works (Hebrews 2:1). It’s not usually all at once. It happens over time.
The Urgency of the Gospel
Have we lost the urgency of the gospel? Has our success made us immune to the reality that people in general and people in hip-hop culture in particular are dying under the wrath of God every day (Psalm 7:11-13)? There was a time when we were gripped by the “human emergency.” As a movement, it feels like we’ve lost some of that. On “Go Hard”, Lecrae said:
“They say tone the music down you might sell a lot a records
But it’s people out here dying and none of em heard the message” – Lecrae, “Go Hard”, Rebel (2008)
On “Send Me”, he said:
Matthew 24 and 14, we should read it twice
Before we think that life is just about us being free in Christ
Look dog, life is more than church, work, and football
What if you were dead in sin and Christians overlooked y’all
This is why we leave the couch and leave the comforts of our house
To show a dying world a God they’d prolly never read about – Lecrae, “Send Me, I’ll Go”- Rebel (2008)
Amen. Here’s the thing: When Lecrae said, “Send Me, I’ll Go”, he wasn’t going by himself. Lecrae is the product of a community. He had an army of believers behind him praying for him and rooting him on. He still does. I think the disappointment that many of us feel stems from the expectation (based on Lecrae’s own words) that he would do something very different once he arrived to where he was sent. What really caught us off guard is his responses when his interviewers speak bad about the community that birthed him. We expected him to say something like:
You might see her acting crazy,
Be patient with her though ’cause she still God’s baby — She the Church
Before you diss her get to know her,
Jesus got a thing for her and died just to show her — She the Church – Lecrae, “The Bride”- Rebel (2008)
Instead, he not only refuses to adjust or clarify generalizations and caricatures about his brothers during interviews but accuses them of adopting white evangelicalism rather than the “authentic eastern mindset”.
To this day, I think what ‘Crae said in those earlier songs is on point. Much has happened since he said those things almost 10 (!) years ago. But two things have not changed. 1. People are still dying. 2. People still need the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Who is going to tell hip-hop culture that their house is on fire? Is it not those from the culture whom God has snatched from the fire (Jude 1:23)? With hip-hop, we have a medium that is uniquely suited for being a bullhorn in a crowded room. But even if you choose not to use music for that purpose, that does not take away from our responsibility as Christians when our non-explicit music provides gospel opportunities.
There are more specifics that could and should be discussed, but I’ll bring this to a close. I wrote “RT3” and “Ichabod” to re-spark an important discussion. This is not to condemn Lecrae or Reach Records. God has used them to bear much good fruit over the years, and my prayer is that He will continue to use them, just as He continued to use Peter after Galatians 2.
We shouldn’t expect perfection from public figures. We all drop the ball (James 3:2). I dropped the ball recently when I unintentionally shifted the convo away from the issues and towards Lecrae’s salvation. I retweeted an article that I think made many valid points, but unfortunately those points got lost in the speculation about Lecrae’s spiritual state. Some brothers and sisters lovingly approached me about it, so I apologized. We’re not seeking perfection, just accountability from the Scriptures.
Ultimately, this is about God and His glory. So, upcoming artists, please hear this: Whether you are a Christian rapper or a rapper who is Christian; whether you are explicit or implicit in your approach; whether you aim for the streets or the suburbs, let us not forget that people are still dying and people still need the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Let us strive to “make the best use of the time because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:16). And let us as a community be willing to discuss these things in love where we disagree, being willing to sharpen each other and be sharpened. By God’s grace, the conversation can continue in that direction. The stakes are too high to do otherwise.