It is the unspoken rule among believers who love art and culture: we do not often get nice, creative things. Despite a resplendent aesthetic heritage (see Renaissance, The), Christians have learned in the modern period to approach “Christian culture” advisedly. Better not to get our hopes up than to have them dashed, yet again.
But not always. In increasing measure, the evangelical movement is stepping up its creative game.
The latest example of this heartening trend: Beautiful Eulogy’s Worthy, just released. Worthy is one of the most elegant, powerful, faith-building albums I’ve heard. It is a concise hip-hop masterpiece. Christians who delight in excellence from a heart gripped by the God of beauty, who want to steal moments from the distractions of the day to think thoughts after Christ, and who love lyricism-driven hip hop that wreaks havoc on headphones and car sound-systems, should with haste purchase this album.
There are some works of art and culture we appreciate, muse over, and let marinate. I read Roger Scruton, and must have time to run over his sentences slowly, indulgently. I watch Terrance Malick and am quite aware that I will need repeated viewings to piece together all he’s communicating (I almost said prophesying). I gaze on the paintings of Winslow Homer and know I could study just this one canvas for a long time.
But other works of art we don’t merely engage; these we fairly consume. This was my experience of Worthy, the latest from Beautiful Eulogy, a group composed of Odd Thomas, Braille, and Courtland Urbano. Worthy is the group’s third album, following Satellite Kite (2012) and Instruments of Mercy (2013).
I am not sure how to classify the group’s style; it is worshipful, doctrine-driven, and somewhat experimental. In Worthy, I heard hints of Blade Runner-esque techno, strong doses of lovely piano-based melodies, and hard-charging beats that sound in places like updated boom-bap. The artists unapologetically craft music that aims to create and concretize vibrant Christian faith.
Lyricists at the Top of Their Game
Beautiful Eulogy‘s lyricists are at the top of their game in Worthy. Odd Thomas is a rapping philosopher and theologian. In the span of seven or eight rapid-fire bars, he packs in doctrine. A few lines of “Messiah,” for example, cover a theology of pleasure, Edenic sadness, divine gifts, Christic centrality, idolatry, and a theology of emotion. Both Odd Thomas and Braille lean on the prolix side, with lines dense with words. But they are experienced rappers, each exhibiting strong breath control and facility for staccato expression. Odd Thomas’s inner-line rhymes lend an irresistible crescendo to his forceful material.
I have listened to Braille now for nearly 20 years (from his “Butterflies” days). The rapper has long been at the top of the list of hip-hop lyricists (secular outlets like URB have recognized him as such). His specialty is hard-hitting, heart-on-his-sleeve content, emotional, tapping into the struggle and glory of the regenerate human condition. Braille uses pitch and tone masterfully, occasionally breaking into what is nearly a yell to pierce the heart with biblical insight. In places in Worthy, the hair on the back of your neck will stand, as in Braille’s verse in “If. . .”:
And the grace of God is only sweet to the ears who hear the sound of it
But that sweetness won’t be tasted by the mouth of a counterfeit faith
Only the thirsty will drink from the fountain of life
And count everything as a loss for the sake of being found in Christ
The Pacific Northwest, Hip Hop’s New Fertile Ground
Braille came up in a different day in Christian hip hop—the days when lighthearted, youth-group-focused artists proliferated; when Cross Movement blazed the “doctrinal rap” trail to the tune of ferocious East Coast beats (on par in some songs with Wu-Tang Clan and other leading groups, despite serious budgetary differences); when West Coast Christian rappers in some cases battled one another and in others delivered creative and impressive records; and when Southern rappers carved out their hook-driven, boldly-believing material (this book is helpful here).
Rap, and Christian rap, has gone in different directions since the early 2000s. Beautiful Eulogy has essentially charted new territory in the Pacific Northwest. Hailing from this region, Macklemore stormed the rap game a few years back, eschewing a splashy label deal for independent distribution, progressive lyrics, and an organic—at times almost tribal—sound. I would not link Beautiful Eulogy directly to the Grammy-winner, but it is clear a new subgenre has emerged in both secular and Christian rap circles in recent years.
Worthy showcases this exciting and still-morphing sound. Though some songs on the album are better than others, there are no skippable tracks. The softening of some of the electronic musical elements from past efforts strengthens Worthy. In general, the rappers are at their best with a fast tempo and a soaring sound. The majestic intro of “Weight” sets the tone for what follows; “If. . .” speaks movingly to the nature of persevering faith; “Worthy” brings to resolution the Jesus-drenched nature of the album. Though Beautiful Eulogy, as part of Humble Beast, gives their albums away—a gracious and rather remarkable move—I encourage all who enjoy hip hop (or just good music) to buy the album. It’s easily worth the $10 investment.
Worthy Is the Lamb
Worthy reminds us, in sum, that praising and pondering God is never a waste of time, never a fruitless endeavor. Indeed, there is nothing better in the cosmos, no higher privilege we lowly worms are given. God is the end of all things for the Christian. Much as we love beauty wherever we find it, we know this above all: the Savior of our souls is worthy to receive all praise, honor, and lyrical attention.
As the record closes, Odd Thomas implores us to remember this:
Worthy is the Lamb
Worthy is the Son of Man
Worthy is the one who takes the scrolls from his holy hand.
Amen. So he is, and was, and shall be.