Often, artists of Christian hip-hop fall neatly into one of two camps: gospel rappers, speaking to the culture with the simple message of Jesus, or lyrical theologians, presenting themes of holy scripture within musical verse. Stephen the Levite is one exception who wanders the wilderness between each encampment. Where his last release focused on God and His Church, the Levite’s third studio album Can I Be Honest? takes doctrine to a practical and personal level, tackling common hardships with a unique sound and Biblical insight.
“Frenemies” contains a single drug reference. Sexuality is a main topic of transparent – though never explicit – discussion. Stephen addresses temptations of porn and masturbation, and confesses how he struggled to forgive in light of his wife’s history suffering sexual abuse.
That said, the Levite also talks about growth through reconciliation, freedom from past guilt, and the authentic joy of sex within a covenant commitment. If you’re spiritually mature, prepared for sensitive subjects, and comfortable with a celebratory perspective that mirrors the Old Testament’s Song of Solomon, this album’s content is for you.
Album Theme/Cover Art
Given that the album illuminates life’s messiness with a mature tone and personal perspective, the cover art is fitting. Someone physically painted that whole set in red and white, and though the lines aren’t perfect that might just be the point. Stephen the Levite is centered, relaxed, and purposefully dressed amidst the furniture one would expect inside a personal study. He isn’t creating these songs to put on a show, but to honestly reflect on how the Gospel changes him and encourage any adults facing the same trials.
Before Can I Be Honest? embarks on a candid conversation containing twists and turns, the opening track “Entering and Breaking” gives listeners an accurate feel for its overall direction. There’s a boom bap beat complemented by a classic jazz vibe. Stephen spits clever rhymes, yet he’s also setting out to answer the rhetorical question: “Does lyrical theology gotta be lofty/ to cause the people to stop and think of our God and His awesome deeds?”
Through the aggressive turntable scratches and creative storytelling in “Frenemies,” J. Givens and Tragic Hero join the Levite in describing their relationship with hip-hop as influential, yet marked by tension. The focus shifts away from the stage and toward the home after this point. “The Dynamic Duel” makes for a rousing and memorable anthem of our fight (even after conversion) against sin, while “The Dynamic Dual” transitions to a more vulnerable and contemplative tone, praying directly to God and relating how miscarriage impacted him and his wife.
The following five tracks all concern the for “better or worse” of marriage. “Truth Is” gives a real look at how sin and conflict are exposed, but both are used to sanctify and strengthen couples over time. Sho Baraka appears in “Date Night,” where both rappers talk about the financial difficulty of dating and the importance of creatively spending time with their spouses. “Baggage”’s emphasis on trusting God’s sovereignty and grace with the regrets of our past promptly leads into “Honeymoon,” a passionate crescendo that shamelessly celebrates sex between husband and wife.
The album finishes with just as much sincerity and emotion in “Double Dutch” and “Smile,” where Stephen confronts how he falls short maintaining relationships – with God included – through the fleeting and stressful pace of life.
Though its focus seems scattered at times, Can I Be Honest? definitely adds something fresh to the Christian hip-hop genre. Instruments and featured singers achieve a distinct sound for each song without straying far from the unifying theme.
In additional to musical excellence, the album sets an example for bold transparency, offering wholesome wisdom for its listeners… whether they’re maintaining their marriage, preparing for a spouse in the future, or simply seeking how to apply the Gospel to relationships and life in general.
The Bottom Line
This album has something new to offer Christian hip-hop listeners in its classic boom bap sound, and can be a valuable resource for Christ followers in general with its artistic honesty and mature perspective.