Some Christian artists go through a period of prodigal-like struggle before settling into their true musical calling. Some even go through that process twice. To wit: Andy Mineo, a 25-year-old rapper from New York who has packed a whole lot of learning and growing, rebelling and repenting into his still-few years.
Andy's first bout with acting out came in middle school. Raised by a single mom, his antisocial behavior got him kicked out of public school. Then, the summer before 8th grade, he found Christ. Suddenly his growing interest in music had a new focus.
But with no one to help him grow spiritually, Andy drifted "away from God and toward greater sin," according to his official bio. Until, that is, he headed off to New York City for college. He got involved with the urban evangelism and performing arts ministry T.R.U.C.E.—an experience that rekindled his faith and, eventually, his passion for rap.
Andy's notoriety within the underground Christian rap scene has grown steadily since the release of his mixtapes Sin Is Wack Vol. 1 (2009) and Formerly Known (2011). Heroes for Sale marks his official debut into the mainstream. About the title and theme of the album, he told the Christian music website BREATHEcast, "We make heroes out of a lot of things. We make heroes out of people. We believe ourselves to be greater than we really are. We make ourselves look like heroes to other people. What I really wanted to do is show the brokenness of the heroes that we create and the heroes that we try to be in order to show that there is ultimately only one great Hero."
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Album opener "Superhuman" illustrates exactly that point as Andy raps, "I am not a superhuman, though/I am only a man/ … I'm just another rapper that's called to point y'all to the cross." And "Caught Dreamin" follows through: "You chose to die for the sinner when nothing was good in me/ … My mistakes can never stop me, choice You make to adopt me/The holes in Your hands are the proof that You'll never drop me."
"Death Has Died" references the Sandy Hook school shootings as it imagines all the hurt that God will wipe away in eternity: "Not again, same problem, it hit a new town/26 dead, 20 of 'em kids/Where do you begin when some lives just ended?/ … Words fall short tryna comfort the grieving/But you gotta know that there's hope to believe in/One day, my God gon' crack the sky/He gon' bottle up every tear that we ever cried/ … No funerals where we wear all black/And death will be dead and we'll lock the casket."
Sexual purity stars on "You Will," which encourages, "Ladies, if you ain't got one [a wedding ring]/Don't give him none, true love is waiting/ … But if you headed down the wrong path/Go ahead and turn back/You're never too far to be made new/They said you damaged goods, but it ain't true." Later, Andy rejects worldly pursuits ("And them strip clubs, money, drugs/C'mon, 'cause you boring us/We heard it all before/And I'm still unimpressed with that sort of stuff/We were made for more, though").
"Messiah came down, He reigned and He rose," proclaims "The Saints." "That's what makes us love our neighbors/We not just omitting sin." "Wild Things" defends living in proximity to people with checkered pasts, such as "porn stars" and "dope dealers," with Andy saying, "I'm with them 'cause my life's the only Bible that they've ever seen/ … I wanna win souls/ I'm bringing church to them." Then the song wisely counsels going about such edgy evangelism in the company of other Christians.
"Shallow" laments the selfish ways Andy has related to women in the past. "Curious" warns against searching for old flames online. "Superhuman" wrestles with a man's desires when he sees an attractive woman ("Instead of looking for them sundresses/I should be looking for the Son, I confess it").
"Cocky" tells us, "Everybody worship, even if you're not churchin'/What you're living for is [your] god, power, pleasure or your job." The song also suggests that God can offer a high that's higher than any drug. The bruising "Still Bleeding" emphasizes just how damaging our words can be. "Tug of War" explores the battle between the flesh and the spirit. "Uno Uno Seis" name-checks Romans 1:16. "Ex Nihilo" speaks of God's creative, artistic capacity to make "somethin' out of nothin'." "Ayo" alludes to Philippians 1:21, and rejects a rebel's checkered past ("I don't bang with the same set that I used to clang"). It urges urban Christians exposed to the city's temptations to flee them, contrasting alcohol abuse with finding freedom in Christ. "Take Me Alive" offers up a prayer of spiritual surrender.
Did I mention that "Still Bleeding" is bruising? It concludes with raw, spoken-word examples of the harsh things people say to each other, including, "I wish you were dead," "I never loved you," "I hate you" and "Go to hell." It also describes a woman's unfaithfulness this way: "The same tongue that you used to say you love me/Was being shoved in somebody else's mouth/Don't you touch me, I'm disgusted."
Note that in a world of rap devoted to cursing, "bullcrap" and "dang" are as far down that path as Andy goes.
Andy Mineo delivers an astonishingly potent lyrical testimony to the life-changing, life-shaping power of God. Writing from a gritty urban context, he never shies away from hard issues and hard places. And as such, he deliberately references worldly pursuits and contexts, such as pornography, strip clubs and drug dealers.
That doesn't make Heroes for Sale the best Christian-music choice for younger kids, of course. But much to his credit, Andy never flirts with glorifying those things. Instead, his personal, theologically sound and Christ-centered lyrics repeatedly remind listeners that what the world has to offer can never compete with the majesty and grace of the Savior who seeks and saves us—from hell, yes, but also from our deepest personal struggles and the damaging temptations of the world.
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Debuted at No. 11 on Billboard's mainstream album chart; at No. 1 on the Christian album chart.
April 16, 2013