ROP Throwback: DC Talk’s “Jesus Freak”

dc Talk Jesus Freak cover

Diverse. Authentic. Ahead of its time. Emotional.

These are just some of the words to describe dc Talk’s ingenious album, Jesus Freak. Released in November of 1995, it was a record that would move mountains, touching on topics such as racial equality, mental health, the doubting of truth, and the freedom that comes with declaring faith in Christ with reckless abandon. Though Michael Tait, Kevin Max and Toby McKeehan had already established themselves as gifted singers and versed songwriters, Jesus Freak solidified them as musical legends. And after 25 years, it remains a timeless cornerstone and a distinguished piece of faith-inspired art.

The boys of dc Talk open with a bang with “So Help Me God.” One of the group’s greatest qualities is their ability to combine rock and roll-influenced instrumentation with hip-hop inspired lyrical content, and “So Help Me God” is the perfect track to show off that style and set the tone for Jesus Freak. The jangly yet reverb-heavy guitar at the core is catchy and unforgettable, while the vocal harmonies from Tait, McKeehan and Max in the chorus create an atmosphere of massive proportions. This segways into one of the band’s greatest songs, “Colored People.” Though significantly more mellow than “So Help Me God,” this tune delivers in smooth vocal performance and radical songwriting. dc Talk may have been considered quite progressive in their time, but “Colored People” presents an invaluable yet biblically sound message: “Ignorance has wronged some races. And vengeance is the Lord’s. If we aspire to share this space, repentance is the cure.”

Track three explodes into the iconic “Jesus Freak.” dc Talk showcases an unabashed performance of unflinching belief in Christ. Giving examples of radical faith from figures like John the Baptist, they proclaim “I don’t really care if they label me a Jesus freak, there ain’t no disguising the truth.” Exuding vibes similar to that of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” this song rages with torrential instrumentation. McKeehan’s rhymes are perfectly delivered between mystic verses sung by Tait and Max. Whether rock and roll is your bag or not, “Jesus Freak” is an undeniable, unashamed, and uplifting anthem for Christians across the world. This is followed by the haunting “What If I Stumble?” and a unique, rock immersed take on the Godspell track “Day By Day.”

After a fun little interlude from a sweet lady named Mrs. Morgan, the band jumps into another gem, “Just Between You and Me.” Touching on the subject of forgiveness and repentance, this song boasts some of the best vocal performances from Tait, Max and McKeehan. It’s more tender than most of the songs prior, but it’s unique and is a stand-out on the record. Following this track is the fan favorite deep cut “Like It, Love It, Need It.” Though this percussion-heavy, upbeat tune is a bit more whimsical in tone compared to the majority of the record, its meaning of finding hope and happiness in Christ remains a solid and sound message for all believers.

Another lighthearted interlude paves way for a quintessential dc Talk tune. “In The Light” acts as a prayer from sinners as they desire to be closer to the Lord, to make righteous decisions, and strive to be examples of their faith. The tone of the song feels like something played at an open mic night in a coffee bar, but that’s what makes it so striking. Spanish-style guitars and bongo drums fill in the space between potentially the most ardent songwriting on the record. There’s a reason that Tait, Max and McKeehan return to it both when they are together and when they are apart. It’s a flawless example of the musical power behind the trio.

Following behind “In The Light” is the atmospheric, emotive track “What Have We Become?,” the mid-tempo jam “Mind’s Eye” featuring a speaking clip from the legendary Reverend Billy Graham, and the bonus, spoken word track “Alas, My Love.”

The Encyclopedia of Christian Rock, written in 2002 by Mark Allen Powell, said the following about dc Talk:

“DC Talk reinvented Christian music, almost single-handedly rescuing it from the contrived commercialism and derivative doldrums of the ‘80s. They demonstrated that—contrary to what any neutral observer of ‘80s Christian music would have concluded—one did not have to choose between performing music that was good…and music that was successful.”

Jesus Freak wasn’t just a success for its time, but rather a revolutionary reshaping of how Christian music was written, produced, performed and perceived. This record paved the way for even more experimentation in both the Christian rock, hip-hop and pop subgenres, and 25 years after its release, it remains the unbridled anthem for biblically inspired art and the Christian faith as a whole.

Read more reflections on Jesus Freak in our staff collaborative conversation.

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