The other day, I did an NCAA Tournament-style bracket to determine my favorite music album of all-time. The seedings were totally objective – there was no science or formula used to pick who went where. For the full bracket (Google Doc), click here.
I want to share these 30 albums with you because they’re albums that have 1) helped shape me or 2) brought me great enjoyment over my 22-plus years of life. I’m also going to give you one reason why you should listen to each of them all the way through. You can take it or leave it. I will say, you learn a lot about what kind of music you really love when you are forced to pick between two so totally different albums such as Shai Linne’s The Attributes of God and Relient K’s MMHMM: Which would you rather listen to all the way through? Are there any songs on either album you’d rather not hear?
Another thing: I ranked this taking into consideration my whole life, not just how I feel right now. Of the top 5 albums, I found two of them in high school or before and three in college. Of the whole list, 14 were high school or before and are on this list because of that.
1. Jess Ray & The Rag Tag Army – Jess Ray: You should listen to it because it’s worship at its rawest and realest, something that’s rare these days. Those of you who love Jesus will not regret buying this.
2. Cosmos – The Send: You should listen to it because it’s everything one could love in singer/songwriter-type music that also glorifies God.
3. School of Roses – Christon Gray: You should listen to it because it’s Justin Timberlake meets following Jesus, discussing relationships, romance and real-world issues while trying to stay pure over sick R&B beats.
4. MMHMM – Relient K: You should listen to it because it’s piano pop-punk rock at its finest, a crowning achievement of music.
5. Instruments of Mercy – Beautiful Eulogy: You should listen to it because it’s the gospel in every line, a tour de force of theology applied.
6. Weights & Wings – Matt Wertz: You should listen to it because it’s singer/songwriter with one of the best voices and greatest pens I’ve ever heard.
7. Forget and Not Slow Down – Relient K: You should listen to it because it takes you on an emotional journey through a devastated relationship that you might be able to relate to on some level.
8. Rebel – Lecrae: You should listen to it because you don’t want to waste your life.
9. The Attributes of God – Shai Linne: You should listen to it because you’ll learn the basics of who God is in less than an hour.
10. The Good Life – Trip Lee: You should listen to it because it hits everything a rap album should: production, lyrics, features, topics, everything.
11. 808s & Heartbreak – Kanye West: You should listen to it because it’s an emotional tour de force of AutoTune and honesty you don’t see from guys in Ye’s circle.
12. Business Up Front/Party in the Back – Family Force 5: You should listen to it because you’ll have more fun listening to music than you’ve had in a long time.
13. Five Score and Seven Years Ago – Relient K: You should listen to it because you’ll get to experience a mature kind of pop-punk piano rock that still knows when to loosen up a bit.
14. Bring Your Nothing – Shane & Shane: You should listen to it because it has some great worship tracks, including one of my all-time favorites “Faith to Believe,” and emphasizes the lack we have and the fullness God provides.
15. Critically Ashamed – FM Static: You should listen to it because I had this thing on repeat throughout high school because it was awesome.
16. ATLast – Alex Faith: You should listen to it because it’s a refreshing mix of honesty and unique production of which there’s little parallel in Christian hip-hop.
17. Heroes for Sale – Andy Mineo: You should listen to it because, like ATLast, its honesty drips through every song, and it’s a heckuva lot of fun too.
18. Anomaly – Lecrae: You should listen to it because it’s a mature mix of rap that challenges you and also encourages you to pursue Jesus more.
19. Sound of Melodies – Leeland: You should listen to it because I discovered this around the same time I found Cosmos and it has a similar vibe, but in the worship genre.
20. Rehab – Lecrae: You should listen to it because tracks like “Just Like You” and “Background” cut through the surface and hit reality.
21. The Walking In Between – Ben Rector: You should listen to it because Ben Rector is just so darn good at what he does.
22. The Altar & The Door – Casting Crowns: You should listen to it because Casting Crowns knows how to craft a worship song that’s more than a worship song, it’s a story and a challenge and a worship song all wrapped in one.
23. The Anatomy of the Tongue in Cheek – Relient K: You should listen to it because it’s Relient K at their goofy best, with hints of a worshipful, serious, Christian heart sprinkled throughout.
24. Love & War & The Sea In Between – Josh Garrels: You should listen to it because you’ll love driving to it in the mountains or at night, and it will bring you calm throughout your day.
25. Mali Is… – Mali Music: You should listen to it because the guy who sings the hook on Lecrae’s “Tell the World” has the best voice for soulful, positive R&B.
26. Weight & Glory – KB: You should listen to it because there aren’t many better debut albums out there when it comes to young Christian hip-hop artists. Only ones I’d say are better are Nos. 16 and 17.
27. Pages – Shane & Shane: You should listen to it because, like entry No. 14 on this list, these guys know how to do worship. Plus, their version of “Before the Throne of God Above” is the best out there.
28. Smile, It’s the End of the World – Hawk Nelson: You should listen to it because the opening track’s guitar licks are sweet and so is the rest of the album.
29. Closer – Shawn McDonald: You should listen to it because it’s a personal reflection on life you’ll love driving to when you need to be a little more sedated.
30. Sinema – Swoope: You should listen to it because it’s a movie on a CD.