Tag Archives: music


Lifting Up Jesus Isn’t Always What You Think It Is

Sometimes all it takes to properly contextualize a verse of Scripture is to read the next one.

This is John 12:32 (NIV):


“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

I grew up hearing preachers and worship leaders quote John 12:32, and the application was, “we need to lift Jesus up on our praises! Honor him with your songs and your prayers, and God will use that to draw others around you into relationship.”

Now, let me be clear. I don’t think that’s wrong in the sense that it’s untrue… I believe we SHOULD lift Jesus up on our praises, and I believe God *does* sometimes use our public displays of affection as ways to engage others into relationship with him.

It’s a tricky thing, though, because, while Jesus did encourage people to pray and give privately to avoid showiness, he also publicly blessed the woman who showered him with expensive perfume. There’s a tension to be managed… it’s less of an either/or than a both/and situation.

Cause a lot of times, outward displays of piety come off as phony and calculated, like we’re doing it more to impress others with how holy we are. Or worse, trying to impress God! To Jesus, these displays are ridiculous and sad, akin to Ted Cruz trying to court Indiana voters by referring to the “basketball ring.”


Sort Out Your Emotions With Nikki Lerner Therapy

With her latest record, recording artist and worship leader Nikki Lerner is aiming to get some things off her chest.

Not in the I’m-angry-and-I-just-need-to-vent sense, but in the these-are-the-things-I-think-about-all-the-time-but-now-I’m-actually-going-to-say-them-out-loud sense … hence the album’s title, The Things We Never Say.

And my sense, after both listening to the record and talking to her directly (FULL DISCLOSURE: she and I have been friends for years through our connection with the Multicultural Worship Leaders Network) is that by being so frank and forthcoming, she wants to give others permission to do the same.


We Belong

So for the past sixteen months or so, I’ve been serving as the interim worship director for a church plant just west of Portland, called Kaleo Covenant Church. How I ended up there is sort of a long story for another time, but it will suffice to say that it’s more than just a gig for me. The pastor there is Troy Hoppenrath, a man whom I enjoy serving alongside immensely, in no small measure because of his crazy stories, the manic energy that only a former youth pastor can bring to the pulpit, and what I perceive as a fearless willingness to take ministry risks (case in point: me).


The Sentient Song Fallacy — Why Christian Music Sucks

If you’ve ever wondered why it is that Christian music sucks, I have a hypothesis.

But first, I just have to say —  “The Sentient Song Fallacy” — doesn’t that sound like an episode of The Big Bang Theory? Get at me, Chuck Lorre! I’m a budding screenwriter, I do some stand-up, and I can even act a little bit. I promise I won’t go on any drunken tirades about tiger’s blood.

Anyway, here’s my definition:

The Sentient Song Fallacy is the erroneous idea that a song can be Christian.

Jam of the Moment, Music

Introducing: Jam Of The Moment

So I decided my site needs a regular feature besides the longer-form stuff that I do either for UrbanFaith or for sermon adaptations.

Once upon a time, I fancied myself a blogger extraordinaire when I started my last blog, Mixing It Up. But I never quite figured out how to do shorter posts. Even when trying to do something less epic than my normal thing, I still ended up banging out 500 words before I even figured out my major themes or anything.

So I decided to go back to my roots, so to speak, and get back to doing what I did when I first started writing on the internet — yakking about music.

(For the record, I wrote that sentence using Swype on my Android phone, and it converted “talking” to “yakking” automatically. That time was no big deal, but I’m afraid one of these days, it’s gonna get all Freudian on me.)

So yeah, this time, I’m just going to keep it simple. No album reviews or artist interviews. I’m simply going to take a song that I’m loving at the moment, for whatever reason, and talk about it.


REVIEW: G1C Sequel Party Music for ‘Dreamers’

Group 1 Crew
Ordinary Dreamers
Fervent Records

So here’s the thing.

Astute readers of this blog know that I don’t do many reviews, and there are many reasons for that — lack of time, lack of interest, and reviewing other people’s junk takes away from time I could be investing in creating my own.

But every once in awhile I hear something that strikes my fancy, and I wanna tell people about it. And the sophomore release from Group 1 Crew, Ordinary Dreamers, falls into that category.

But first, a few disclaimers.

No matter what the marketing people may tell you, this is not a hip-hop album.

It is an album of urbanized pop music with rapped verses sprinkled liberally throughout. Fans of backpacker style, gritty, grimy boom-bip flavored hip-hop should probably run away in horror because this album is probably going to annoy them to no end.

But for those folks who like to dip their toes in the pool of urban culture from time to time, this album is right up their alley.

Also, while G1C does have a Christian message wrapped neatly into their hooks and chants, most of the lyrics aren’t particularly deep, meaningful, or profound. Lyrically speaking, they’re not saying anything you haven’t heard from other Christian pop artists tons of times before, even faux hip-pop artists (think tobyMac, Fresh Digress, or to a lesser extent, John Reuben). As a matter of fact, I would go so far as to say that even though what they’re saying is generally good (as opposed to many of the morally dubious messages in much of today’s pop music) the lyrics are not really what this music is about.

I think the lyrics are, more or less, just an excuse to hang some vocals around the sound. But the sound… ohhhh, the sound.

Group 1 Crew debuted with a very polished sound to begin with (hence their award nominations). The second time around, they kept the urban base that was working for them before, but broadened their sound even more. The results are impressive. The whole project has the aural gloss that one would expect from a major label pop release likes this (pitch correction and all), but with a lot of surprises. Taking their foundation of hip-hop and R&B, G1C dabbles with euro-pop (“iContact”), alt-rapcore (“Keys to the Kingdom”), and even jazzy pop (“I See You”), all infused with heaping servings of funk (“Bring the Party to Life,” and “Gimme That Funk”).

People love to compare Group 1 Crew to all kinds of other groups, and most of those comparisons fail, in my opinion. I compared them to 4th Avenue Jones for awhile (probably because both of their debuts were called No Plan B), but that quickly wore off. 4th Avenue is much grittier, and lyrically much meatier. Lazy music critics will compare them either to the Black Eyed Peas (somewhat comparable) or the Fugees (not even close).

Frankly, I think G1C’s closest competitors are a group that started with a meteoric rise, like them, but now finds theirselves on the outside looking in.

I’m speaking of the Washington Projects, formerly known as Souljahz. The siblings in this group (they started with three, now down to two) are also Latino, started off young, and were quickly the darlings of the Christian pop scene, mixing sunny, sassy vocals with brash rap braggadocio.

Sound familiar?

Well, I’m hoping that Manwell, Blanca and Pablo can stay humble, hungry, and keep progressing as artists. If they’re smart, they’ll try to team up with the WP’s, or at least reach out with a few phone calls or emails. There is wisdom in speaking to those who have traveled the road before you.

Nevertheless, even if this is the height of Group 1 Crew’s success, it just goes to show you that creativity mixed with a relentless drive for success can take you a long way. If nothing else, Ordinary Dreamers can be a blueprint for such a journey.


One more reason to go back to Japan

It’s not like I need anymore reasons. The truth is, I’ve been wanting to return to Japan for about 18 years, which is how long it’s been since I went as a high school exchange student in the summer of ’94. (Thank you, Jim Scott and Catlin Gabel.) That trip was very enlightening, full of great stories and memories, as was a similar trip I took as a college student to South Korea in the summer of ’99. (Thank you, Rollo Dilworth and North Park University.)

And I was reminded of both trips, and the weirdness inherent in the experience of being Black while immersed in Asian culture, when I saw this story about a little beach town in Japan who is going all out in support of the current Democrat frontrunner for the U.S. Presidency. What’s the connection, you might be asking? Well look at the picture.

The name of the town is Obama, which means “small shore” or “little beach” in Japanese.

Which means that if my man Barack can take this thing all the way to the house, then he’ll be the biggest African-American name in Japan, taking the crown from Kobe Bryant, whose parents named him after the famous choice steaks of Hyogo prefecture of Japan, commonly known as Kobe beef.

This got me thinking… are there any other interesting famous African-Americans getting some crossover love in Japan or other south Asian countries?

(No, the Wu-Tang doesn’t count.)

The closest one I could find was Jero, who has been making news for the last few months by becoming the first African-American to launch a career singing enka, a popular style of traditional Japanese music. His story is the stuff of legend. He got his love for enka from his maternal grandmother, and after graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2003, he moved to Japan, entered a singing contest and was discovered by Japanese label scouts.

He’s now, like, bigger than hula hoops.

For those struggling for a frame of reference, this would be akin to a young Black woman attempting to become famous by singing country music.

Oh wait, that’s happening too.

I guess there is such a thing as progress.

Personally, I have no interest in enka music, but I think it’s cool that a brotha like Jero (short for Jerome) is willing to break down some walls like that.

Which is why I haven’t let go of one of my Big Hairy Audacious Goals… to launch a tour of Japanese and South Korean cities, doing holy hip-hop with my crew The Iccsters.

Seriously, that would be bananas.

Because first of all, many Japanese people are naturally curious about African-Americans and our culture, primarily as an extension of their curiosity/love affair with American culture as a whole. And that love extends to hip-hop music, in a big, big way. (My man Okami spent a year there… am I right or what?)

Secondly, many Japanese tend to be skeptical of Western missionaries, because in their minds the message of Christ tends to be co-opted by the “American” values of capitalism and democracy. I think they might get a sense of the winds of change that are sweeping across the landscape of American evangelicalism (check the new Evangelical Manifesto) that are making it possible for people to accept the message of Christ from hip-hop heads who are doctrinally orthodox but not culturally conservative.

And I would love it if the tour would have a leg in Japan and another in South Korea, because just as our hip-hop can help provide connection and understanding between Blacks and Whites here in the U.S., I’m sure that there could be some spillover in promoting more acceptance and stemming the hostility between Koreans and Japanese people.

Not that one tour is going to undo centuries of strife and conflict, but still… I’m saying. Racial righteousness is more than just a Black/White thing, and I this tour could help illustrate that.

Plus, my man Sir-1, the other half of the crew, is 6’9″ — so they would automatically think he’s an NBA player. That alone could build a crowd of a hundred-plus, easily. (Not to mention he bears a slight resemblance to Sacha Baron Cohen from Da Ali G Show.)

Of course, doing “Cereal” (check our page and play it for yourself) might be a difficult proposition since none of our American brands of cereal are big in Japan… I might have to start boning up on Japanese snack foods.

(“Rockin’ mics, we’re not hard to get / refresh your mental like Pocari Sweat” … )

Yeah, so that might take awhile.

Still, if my experiences in life have taught me anything, it’s that there’s always support for expansion into lucrative markets with God all things are possible.

I’m Jelani Greenidge, and thanks for mixin’ it up with me.


PANIYM: The Presence of God

Is God in the house, or not?

As my friend Cole would say, it’s foolish to assume that God is present just because you experience a certain emotional reaction. It could be God, or it could be the skill with which the saxophonist is playing. There are times when God has been present and those on the scene were blissfully unaware until after the fact. And, in my opinion, there have been plenty of times where church folk have gone through the motions, acting like God was all up in what was going on, and He wasn’t … at least not in the way they thought He was.

Such tricky philosophical terrain becomes hard to manage with any sort of clarity, because who’s to say that God isn’t in the music itself, whether we’re aware or not? Colossians 1:17 says that in Him all things hold together. And Matthew 18:20 says that wherever two or three gather in Jesus’ name, that He is there taking part.

So maybe there’s a difference between having a general understanding of God’s omnipresence, and actually encountering the face of God, in a worship context.

Because that’s what the Hebrew word paniym means — face.

Maybe there’s a difference between simply invoking God’s name, and passionately giving your all to experience His presence on a visceral level.

And maybe it makes a difference when God’s people who are musically gifted can express that passion in their music.

And maybe it would make a difference if those musicians in the kingdom had a sense of community and relationship, so that there was less of a sense of competition, and more of a sense of cooperative synergy.

And what if one of those musicians was also a pastor, someone with decades of experience leading others into the presence of God? And what if being a pastor didn’t stop him from being a good musician, but in fact enhanced his musicianship because of the strength of the anointing of the Spirit of God in his life and on his ministry?

Well then in that case, you’d be talking about Paul Greenidge.

And this is my long-winded way of telling you that such passionate praise and worship events do happen, and one of them is happening soon, right here in Portland.

Paul Greenidge, one of the finest gospel pianists the world has ever seen (don’t think that’s hyperbole — trust me, it’s not) is finally… after years and years of waiting, having a live concert recording.

And it’s called… what else?

PANIYM: The Presence of God.

I’ll be posting links when the recording is available for purchase, but those of you in the Portland area can experience this firsthand, Saturday May 10th, at 7pm, at Irvington Covenant Church.


Jesus, These People Are Scary

Umm. Yeah… wow.

So there are times when I feel like I’m starting to progress in my artistic and leadership development, times when I’m starting to get a handle on what it means to be an independent businessman and a worship artist at the same time.

It’s for times like these, and for people like me… (no, not Black people… you know… professional Christians) that these videos were made.

You thought the Lark News was cutting edge? Then apparently you haven’t seen any of the “Jesus People,” a web-based mockumentary about a Christian pop group called … wait for it… Cross My Heart. (They’ve even got a tongue-in-cheek myspace page.)

Available on various websites (a brief Googling popped up hits on Youtube and FunnyOrDie), this series, the brainchild of Dan Ewald & Rajeev Sigamoney, is the most brutally spot-on send-up of evangelical Christian subculture since “Saved!” hit the big screen in 2004.

Upon stumbling onto the first video, I was at first pretty reluctant to give it a chance. I assumed it would be rigid, inaccurate, and mean-spirited, all traits that prevented me from enjoying “Saved!” more thoroughly. (The Onion’s AV Club review of “Saved!” essentially called it just as self-righteous and condescending as its intended target.)

And it certainly looked that way to me, at first glance. But having watched a few episodes, I think it was just hitting a little too close to home. Because, like “Saved,” Jesus People manages to get many of the details right. The fading 90’s crooner derailed by a sex scandal. The overly judgmental hard-ass (I’m sorry, I spent 30 seconds trying to think up a better term but I couldn’t). The token Black guy, trying in vain to inject a modicum of street cred into the proceedings.

I’m telling you, the longer I watched this, the scarier it got for me. Because I grew up around these people. I went to summer camps and college with these people. I worked in a Christian bookstore with these people. And, sadly, sometimes I am these people.

(Lord Jesus, did I really act like this? Have mercy.)

Which is why I wasn’t surprised to find that Dan Ewald has a few bylines in the archives of ChristianityToday.com, because I think only a true believer in Christ — or someone who grew up around believers in Christ — would be able to come up with this.

It’s a little like the first time I saw the series of GEICO cavemen commercials. They worked so well at depicting twentysomething yuppie/slacker archetypes, it came as little surprise that they were created by recent twentysomething yuppie slackers.

But to laud the writing too much would be damning the actors with faint praise, because these folks are funny. Most (if not all) of them have backgrounds in comedy, and many of the cameo appearances are actors in other, more popular comedies (including “The Office” and “MADTV”).

But don’t take my words for it. Watch my favorite episode so far:

Jesus People Episode 3 on FunnyOrDie.com

If that didn’t do it for you, check out their myspace page and play their horrendously bad single, “Snatched Up.” If you’ve ever worked in a Christian bookstore, you’ve probably heard something that bad. At least this time it’s a joke.

If you still want some great entertainment value, and you have any friends who are Christians and like music, find the one with the snobbiest tastes, the one who can’t resist an opportunity to bash Christian music at any opportunity… and play your new favorite song for them.

UPDATE: The time stamping on the myspace page is from May of 07… why didn’t I hear about this sooner? (First “Lazy Sunday“, now this.) I guess I’m losing my hipness quotient, or I’m too far out of the loop on what’s funny these days. Maybe I’m becoming immune to viral video… ?


Live from Newberg, It’s Monday at Lunchtime!

Just wanted to send a quick shout-out to all the folks who came to listen to my lunchtime concert at George Fox University today. I’m fairly certain that the music that I was able to present is not indicative of normal sit-down fare at a Christian school, even one known to have progressive thinkers. If you were there for the whole thing then you witnessed how I tend to borrow from many musical idioms and experiences, which some people find unusual. (Me, it’s just how I tend to live.) However, it also means that, having pulled material from a wide repertoire, I tend to not remember all of the songs that I may perform on a particular date. I lead worship on a regular basis, and I’ve done special music at different conferences and events, and the older I get the more it all starts to blur. So if you really enjoyed one of the songs I performed and you want to know more about the songs (or, in some cases, who wrote and/or popularized them if they’re not original pieces) then you are in the right place. Who knows, I may even make some of the originals available for download. Today’s setlist consisted of the following…

Walk-in music:


My favorite tune by alt-jazz-rockers Steely Dan. I got on their bandwagon (the Danwagon?) late in life, but the first time I heard this tune, I was on my way to go get a Christmas tree with my post-college roommates in Chicago. I was thinking… this is a fun little song… I like this… who is it??? Mine is the only arrangement I know of with a sequenced drum solo in the middle. Email me for an mp3 copy, and check for the original version here.

“Linus and Lucy”

This song should need no explanation to anyone over the age of 21. My arrangement is funkier than the normal one you hear, but that’s the main difference. Well, that, and I threw in a reference to a mid-80’s sitcom theme. Did anyone catch what it was? It happened in the beginning. If you wanna hear it again, email me and I’ll send you an mp3. As for the original, you can find it here.

Introductory Praise & Worship Music:

“You’re Worthy of My Praise” / “Holy Holy Holy” “One Pure and Holy Passion”
“Here I Am to Worship”

These are popular modern praise and worship songs, most of which have spent a long time (and may still sit) on the list of 25 most popular Christian praise and worship songs, according to CCLI. (I say “Christian” praise and worship because most pop songs are praising and worshiping something… a hot girl, a hip car, a cool pair of jeans… or even just love itself.)

Unplugged Number:

“The Shelter of God”

I wish I could tell you who wrote that song, because technically, it wasn’t me. At least not the words, anyway. One of my wife’s friends gave her a book of illustrated poetry once, and while perusing this book I found a poem entitled “The Shelter of God.” I was so moved by this poem, I decided to set it to music.

And then Holly and I moved to Portland from Chicago and I lost the book somewhere in the shuffle. *shrug*

I probably altered the lyrics a little to fit them to the melody, so if anyone has seen this book and knows the poem, forgive my taking artistic license. Here are the lyrics, evocative of Psalm 91:

Lord, you are my hiding place
A shelter from the storm
Protection from the heat and the cold
I rest under the cover of your wing

Your love is all around me
Your love is all around me
Your love is all around me

Above me to uplift me
Beneath me to support me
Behind me to protect me
Before me to guide me
Around me to shield me
And within me to strengthen me

Lord, You are my hiding place
This day, and forever,
Lord, You are my hiding place

This tune has yet to be recorded, because of licensing/copyright issues.

Instrumental/Smooth Jazz:

This song was born from a season of frustration for me, when I was trying to do the right thing and failing miserably. (I’ve had many seasons of life like that.) Something about the acoustic guitar arpeggiator on the keyboard workstation was very soothing to me, so I started messing around, created a groove, and then plucked out a melody for it. I’m in the process of putting words to it now, but it’s taking awhile. So right now it’s just an instrumental.

Inspired Cover:

“What A Heart Is Beating For”

This is a song by singer/songwriter Chris Rice. I must admit, I’m not a huge fan of his overall, but I heard the song for the first time last year, and I was smitten by its marriage of simple melody and heartfelt emotion. As someone who often prides himself on being relatively calm and detached, I need songs like these to be the antidote for my perfectionist inertia. The message of the song: Just get out there and love already, geez. That’s what a heart is beating for. You can find the original recording here, and you can also find Chris Rice’s blog, entitled That’s What A Heart is Blogging For, here.
Original holy hip-hop:

“That’s What I’m Standin’ On”

This was a tune I wrote for a worship conference a few years back, where the speaker was talking about standing on the rock that is Christ Jesus. I tried to capture this idea my own way. Here’s the chorus, in case you missed it:

It’s not the skills that I possess or the connections I have
It’s not the grades that I achieved in English or math
Not that way that I approach navigating my path
But the fact that when I stand I never stand alone

It’s His Spirit inside, always workin’ in me
Reminding me that He’ll provide everything that I need
In the places where He leads, I’ve struggled indeed
But He’s the solid rock in me, that’s what I’m standin’ on

“The Lord Giveth”

What I dropped today is actually a remix. The original track I used here, which was written as a companion piece for a sermon at the former Axis ministry of Willow Creek Community Church. One of their producers called me and asked me if I had any original spoken word or hip-hop material related to the story of Elijah and the widow in 1 Kings 17. I told them no… but I would pray about it and write one if the Lord gave me the lyrics.

And then He did, so they came out to my north Chicago neighborhood and shot a little video for it:


“Kingdom Livin’ (I Go to Work)”

As I’ve no doubt mentioned, my friend Sahaan McKelvey and I started a hip-hop duo way back in the day (like 8 years ago), and we call ourselves The Iccsters. (Mostly because when we got started in our church, we didn’t want anyone to call us the Irvington Covenant Rappers.) These two songs have been two of our our biggest hits. You can listen to “Cereal” and a few other tracks on our myspace page.