The Good Life: An Interview with Trip Lee
I’ve made it no secret that I enjoy Christian rap music (and I’m not above poking fun at myself, as I did with The Middle-Aged White Guy’s Guide to Christian Rap). Near the forefront of the Christian rap or holy hip-hop movement is Trip Lee. His new album, The Good Life, releases today and last week I was able to catch up with Trip to ask him about life, ministry, and this new album.
You have a new album releasing in April. Who do you see as the primary audience for this album?
The Good Life is my fourth album and I couldn’t be more excited about its release. As I put together the songs for this record, I tried to write them in a way that would impact both believers and skeptics. I’m hoping that the songs will reach all different kinds of people who’ve been impacted by hip hop culture. Because I do hip hop, it gives me opportunities to speak to folks who wouldn’t usually listen to what I have to say. I want to take advantage of that and steward the platform well.
So what is it that you want the listener to take away from this album? What do you hope it will accomplish in the listener?
I want the listener to think deeply about the kind of life they desire to live. We’re fed so many lies about what “the good life” is and I set out to challenge those lies on this album. Too often, especially within hip hop, we’ve been told that the good life is a life with money, cars, and girls. Or maybe we think the good life is a life free from worry and responsibility. Or maybe a life where God gives us everything we ask Him for. Whatever it may be, I wanted to challenge those lies and paint a new picture of the good life using a biblical lens. What is the best kind of life we can live according to God? I think the good life is a life spent believing God and embracing everything He has for us in Christ.
Who or what influenced the content of this new album? Were there books you were reading or Scriptures you were preaching that provided inspiration?
The main thing that made me choose this theme was heartbreak. I’m always heartbroken when I see people build their lives around lies. So I wanted to encourage the listeners to build their lives around God’s words. Whenever I read Romans 8, I’m reminded of the riches God has given us in Christ. There is nothing that can separate us from His omnipotent love, and the good life is wrapped up in that truth. That truth from Romans 8 is at the heart of this album.
As I read books and preached sermons during the album process, God continued to show me new things I could encourage my listeners in. It’s a broad topic, so everything I’ve been reading has contributed and inspired me in some way.
“War” is one of the tracks that has most stood out to me. Why in the context of this album did you want to focus on this battle between life and death?
Well I don’t think we can live “the good life” if Jesus didn’t defeat our enemies for us. If we look around the world, it may seem like sin, death, and Satan are winning the battle. It seems like there’s rampant murder, rape, and disease everywhere you look. This can lead us to believe that there’s no hope. But I wanted to remind the listeners that life wins and death loses. As a matter of fact, Jesus is already victorious, and one day He’ll throw death and Hades into the lake of fire. There is a “battle” between life and death but it’s not a fair fight. It’s fixed and the Jesus has already won.
As a guy who recently wrote a book on technology, I’ve got to ask about “iLove,” a song to your iPhone. What inspired the song? Are there changes in your life that were inspired by the song (or that the song inspired)?
I was inspired to write the song because I know how much my generation is ruled by our technology. We’re almost enslaved by it. I sometimes find myself filling every extra moment of my day with random Twitter checks and Google searches. It’s almost like I’m scared to be silent and think for a moment. It’s scary. This kind of attachment hinders my depth and my growth. It also hurts my ability to connect with other people. And I know it’s not just me. So I wanted to write a song that addressed the issue.
But I wanted to write it in a way that communicated how deep our obsession is at times. That’s why I talk about my iPhone metaphorically as my “girlfriend.” I love her, she controls me, and she doesn’t like my friends. She get’s jealous. Even when I try to read the text, she interrupts me so I can read another “text.” Technology can be used for good of course, as long as we keep in its proper place. I end the song by saying, “she’s only there for me to use her.” I thought it would be a fun, creative way to address a common issue.
Not too long ago you spent some time as an intern at Capitol Hill Baptist Church [Mark Dever’s church]. How has that experience shaped you?
Yeah last year I made a questionable career move and took five months off from music to do a five month pastoral internship at the church. It was a phenomenal experience. The Lord has given me a strong desire to help shepherd His people, and I understand part of my preparation is sitting under Godly men who are pastoring faithfully. It was definitely the most fruitful learning season of my life, as it was intensely academic (7,000 pages read and a paper due every day) and extremely practical. I got to sit in on elder’s meetings, got biblical counseling training, and I got to discuss the church with Mark Dever on a daily basis. I praise God for that opportunity. I think it was a huge step in my preparation for pastoral ministry, and me and my wife have flourished spiritually as members of the church. So much so that we stayed in DC after the internship ended.
How do you stay anchored in a local church in the midst of all the travel required in your vocation? How does your church remain part of your life as you travel?
It’s hard. When you’re on the road consistently, it makes everything about following Christ alongside others harder. It’s harder to be home every Sunday, it’s harder to build deep relationships, it’s harder to disciple young men, it’s harder to be discipled by older men, etc. It takes commitment and intentionality. Sometimes I have to cram all my relationships into 3 days of the week, and it gets old. But I know I need my church, and I have a responsibility to help build them up.
There are brothers who always know where I am, they check in on me, and ask me hard questions when I’m home. I sit down with my pastor every couple months, and he helps me plan out my schedule. I think through how often I want to be gone, and whether or not I’m making it too hard for myself. Plus my church is really a praying church. So they pray for me when I’m gone, especially if I’m overseas or on a tour. I’m grateful for their loving care.
From the outside looking in, it seems that there is a growing population of guys like myself who are buying and listening to these albums—guys that form a non-traditional audience for your music. Is that a phenomenon you are noticing? If so, how you do interpret it?
Well as a rapper, my aim as always been towards an urban audience, but I understand that hip hop affects more than just one demographic. Hip hop has become a global culture that affects all ages and ethnicities. Additionally, the theological content in much our music has intrigued folks who never liked hip hop before. I’ve definitely noticed more and more of this recently. But I love seeing that kind of stuff. I can’t count the number of times older, non hip-hop looking people have come up to me and said, “I don’t even like hip hop, but your music has really encouraged me. I praise God for you.” Those conversations really bring me joy.
I think it says something about unity within the larger body of Christ. We may look different, talk different, and express ourselves different culturally, but we can agree that God’s truth is good to our souls.
And finally, what does the future hold for Trip Lee? What do you hope to accomplish in this career? What might life look like 5 or 10 years from now?
Only the Lord knows. I’m not sure how long I’ll keep rapping and traveling at this pace, but I’ll do it as long as it seems best. I’m also writing a book to go along with my album, and I hope to write many more in the years to come. Lord willing, 10 years from now I’ll be helping to pastor a church, loving my wife well, and raising children in the fear of the Lord.