Trust in the Son’s sacrifice… all other awes are empty.”
-Kevin Burgess (KB)
Years before his debut album, Kevin Burgess (known as KB) approached a classmate who was listening to a rap CD. He knew this classmate was a Christian, yet he was listening to music that seemed a lot like the sex, drugs, and fast-living music he played. Was this guy, a “believer” declaring to live one way of living and then celebrating another?
“Another hypocrite,” Kevin said. “What are you listening to?”
The classmate let him take the CD home. Burgess pressed play on that album and was presented the gospel on the eighth track and committed his life to Christ. “God saved me, and I’ve been living for him ever since,” Burgess said. Soon after, he started rapping about his salvation amassing a small following of fans and peers. His group HGA (His Glory Alone), began performing at local churches and people started putting those performances up on Youtube. One of these videos found its way to Lecrae. The rest, as they say, is history. KB joined the label, Reach Records, and his platform expanded.
This year is the tenth anniversary of a KB album I listened to a hundred times in high school—Weight & Glory. I hadn’t heard the songs in years, so one day, with a long drive ahead of me, I put it on. As the album played a wave of nostalgia swept over me. And I cried.
I was moved by the music anew, but the tears fell because I remembered having been moved by the music a decade before.
My Musical Pastors
Before Lecrae won a Grammy, before Trip Lee was speaking at large conferences, and before KB won a Dove award, these men had my attention. They spoke with confidence about Christ on top of beats I could bop my head too.
As a missionary kid, I was moved by the lyrics of my musical heroes across countries. They provided an anthem and comfort I could carry with me on my MP3 player no matter where we lived. When my family moved back to the States, I kept their lyrics as a constant companion turning to them in between classes and after a long day.
I knew those songs had mattered to me, but as I relistened and reflected on one of my favorite Christian hip hop records of all time, I was struck by the substance in so many of the songs. All other awes are empty sounds like a line one of my seminary pals might underline and take a photo of for their Instagram story. I wasn’t reading what these guys were reading, but as a high school kid I had been learning too. I waited with anticipation for what these hip-hop preachers had to say next.
The Gospel in 14 Tracks
The month before Weight & Glory graced my iPod, Beautiful Eulogy’s first album had dropped for free, introducing me to theological concepts I didn’t have words for and complications of a Creator that I owed far more than I realized. I wore that album out. The meaning stuck with me, but the melodies started to lose their power the way a word does when you repeat it over and over again. I was ready for another album and in the middle of that summer KB would give me one.
When I waited up until midnight for the digital drop of Weight & Glory, I didn’t know how much those fourteen tracks would impact me. There were fun adrenaline anthems like “Zone Out” and “Church Clap.” In between these songs, however, was something incredibly pastoral.
In track 3 (“Anomaly”), KB raps “I love you more than safety, I’m tryin’ to change your eternity.” In a world where self-promotion takes priority, KB’s lyrics promote the legacy of someone else.
In “Mr. Pretender,” KB speaks as the personification of sin itself with a Screwtape Letters-esque inverse holding a mirror to the vices we entertain. Three years before this, label-mate Tedashii released a song entitled “Make War,” with lyrics reminiscent of John Owen’s quote, “be killing sin, or it will be killing you.” Sin, these artists were telling me, is not meant to be taken lightly.
They didn’t rap a half-hearted gospel. They gave me all of it in fourteen tracks.
On the 12th track on Weight & Glory, “Hello,” KB addresses the listener that hasn’t been killing sin. “What do you do when the guilt doesn’t cease the morning after a fall, crying Lord would you send relief?” What do you do when you’re “recommitting the sins [you] feel most guilty about?” (very Romans 7:15). Here, for the defeated Christian, KB and vocalist Suzy Rock gently remind us of His “new mercies,” waiting for our repentant hearts.
In “Heart Song,” KB features Phil Wonder and Jasmine Le’Shea, two artists with complicated medical histories. The latter went through two heart transplants, and her vocals blast through the track as a testimony to the miraculous journey she’s been on and a heart that will beat for her Creator long after her time on earth has passed. These deep, thoughtful tracks helped expand my understanding of what it meant to walk with God. “It would not always be easy,” I heard these artists say, “but it will be worth it.”
In the middle of the album (track seven), and perhaps the best example of the heart behind the music, “Battlefield,” KB and peers Trip Lee and Swoope gather around a pile of letters.
“I really appreciate y’all comin’ out to pray with me,” he tells his friends, “my heart’s been real heavy here lately.” The group proceeds to rap through several letters from fans, including one from a young lady named Ashley struggling with same-sex attraction, pornography, and self-image issues. After this, Trip Lee prays over the hurting hearts that these letters represent. In one sixteen bar verse, he breaks down the place of Christ in the midst of our troubles: Jesus was slain and rose again; Jesus walked through the same temptations we do; His peace can surpass our understanding; His grace is sufficient. This is more than skillful rhymes. This is ministry.
Building a Legacy of Faith
Christianity Today described Weight & Glory as an “urgent” album, the urgency KB brings doesn’t come from a desire to be seen, but a desire for those who have not heard the gospel to encounter it. And many did. In fact, it debuted at number 34 of the Billboard 200, number 4 on Billboard’s rap albums, and number 9 on Billboard’s Independent. The day it released Weight & Glory landed at #2 on the iTunes Hip-Hop/Rap chart and climbed to #7 of iTunes overall chart.
A lot happens in ten years. Over the past decade, KB has released three new albums and some very impressive freestyles. His circle of peers has expanded and his influence has grown. Trip Lee has battled a serious illness and he rapped about the good life not being tied up in physical gifts. Several of their producers and collaborators have passed away. Tedashii lost his young son unexpectedly and he rapped about trusting God’s heart when you don’t understand his hands. The gospel continued to be presented throughout their discographies in every season. I was grateful for it in 2012, and I’m more grateful for it now; these artists ministered to me.
On Reach Record’s YouTube channel, weeks before the release, KB says Weight & Glory is about “being blown away by God every day, going to the Lord in His word and asking him to reaffirm his amazingness in our hearts. That we would be more enthralled with Him than we are with anything else in this world and that is the means to fighting sin and enjoying God. Feeling His weight and beholding His glory.”
Before I heard the “is it Christian music or Christians making music” discussion, I loved the melodies. Before I felt sheltered for primarily listening to music with the gospel in it, but I loved the lyrics. These songs didn’t replace my desire to fellowship with other believers or dive into Scripture for myself. These songs led me to desire more of Christ.
KB and his peers had gotten to my heart. They shaped the way I thought, spoke, and acted. When I met some of them after various concerts, I was relieved to find that they seemed to speak, think, and act the same way they rapped: full of grace.
KB, thank you for the most important lesson a hero could teach me: “it’s not about us.” Weight & Glory helped open my eyes to the beauty of the gospel and there’s not an iTunes chart that can place value on that.
Cover image by Ben Wiens.