A case could be made that no album was quite as key to Christian rock and alternative as dc Talk’s 1995 masterpiece Jesus Freak. It was the era when Nirvana and grunge rock and roll were ruling the airwaves, a movement associated with a lifestyle that many at the time thought was irreconcilable with faith. dc Talk undid the stereotypes, creating a grungy masterpiece that would lay out a blueprint for bands that came after them. The early-2000s wave of nu-metal and post-grunge, the crossover phenomenon of the Tooth & Nail glory days, the unabashed altar call lyrics of today’s rock worship bands: all of this has been offshoots of a trail blazed by Jesus Freak. The album stands as a testament to what happens when creative risks are taken for all the right reasons.
The Rock On Purpose staff (who have all been impacted by this album in some way) got together to share their thoughts about what Jesus Freak means and why it still matters so much, a quarter century later.
Matt Durlin, Lead Contributor
Jesus Freak was the gateway for me into not just Christian rock music but rock and roll in general. This album (how is it even possible that it is 25 years old?) was the first one that I pre-ordered. I had to drive to the store to pick up the cassette on November 21, 1995. I have probably listened to the album a thousand times, and it never gets old. Aside from the tongue-in-cheek reprise track, there isn’t really a bad song on the album.
I love the way the album opens with a bit of a surprise. Everyone was probably expecting anything but “So Help Me God–” the first dc Talk song to appear on a record on which Toby didn’t rap. The tone was set for the album with that song.
That these songs are still relevant in 2020, musically and lyrically, proves that this album truly transcends time. One of my favorite tracks on the album is “What Have We Become.” When I listen to that song (Spotify, Apple Music) 25 years later, I think it could as easily be a cultural question as much as a question about the American church. The song also shows off how cohesive Toby, Michael and Kevin are as verses flow from Kevin to Michael and smoothly into Toby’s parts.
“Minds Eye” is such a great song musically and a great example of the transition from being a hip hop band that includes singers to an alternative rock band. The rap at the end of this song, however, is among Toby’s finest moments.
25 years after its release, Jesus Freak continues to have a lasting impact on the Christian music industry and beyond.
Jessi Zilka, Throwback Contributor
Though dc Talk created records both before and after that made a long-lasting impact on Christian music, their crowning moment will always be the masterpiece that is Jesus Freak. Infusing elements of hip hop with a grunge-inspired rock and roll sound, this record is seeped in heavy instrumentation, progressive yet spiritually sound lyrics, and unforgettable vocals from Michael Tait, Toby McKeehan and Kevin Max.
I’ve never known life without Jesus Freak. I was very young when it was released, and it felt like an album my family simply always had around. Looking back at it as an adult who has refined her taste in rock and roll, its influence in what I enjoy listening to today is wildly obvious. Tait, McKeehan and Max demonstrate what it means to be captivating frontmen, delivering not only powerful vocal arrangements but also an ability to write content that touches a deeply spiritual place in so many of their listeners. They cultivated a sound that managed to break through countless barriers not only in Christian music, but in rock and roll as a whole. My favorite tune has always been “Like It, Love It, Need It.” Not just because I tend to gravitate to their harder material, but also because the lyrics are unparalleled and paint a simple yet powerful idea that without Christ, nothing will ever be enough.
You’ll never find peace of mind in your pool of self
You’ll never find peace of mind in your sea of wealth
You’ll never find peace of mind in your rock and roll
You’ll never find peace of mind if you sell your soul
In 2020, when society seems to be unravelling at the seams, what better record to reflect on than Jesus Freak? Its message of diversity, love, and faithfulness remain so potently true– themes that the world could use to hear now more than ever. No other album in Christian music history demonstrates itself as an anthem for the faith quite like Jesus Freak, and it’s for that reason alone that its importance and relevance has held strong for 25 years and will continue for decades to come.
Read more of Jessi’s thoughts in her in-depth throwback column on Jesus Freak.
Sharayah Franklin, Staff Contributor
When I think of iconic Christian artists, dc Talk comes to the forefront of my mind. My parents were youth pastors, and I remember the first time I saw dc Talk live, as a kid at a Christian music festival. I saw dc Talk ride onto stage on motorcycles, and I was mesmerized and an instant fan.
As I grew older and started becoming a more well-versed fan, I began to realize the intricacy and poignancy of their musical content. They weren’t just a “cool” band, but they were trying to speak an important message. I think Jesus Freak lives in honor as Christian albums go. Even when I went on the Jesus Freak Cruise last year, people were still just as enthralled and moved by their music all these years later.
Outside of the title track, Jesus Freak is a wealth of impactful tracks that speak even 25 years later. Some of my favorites off the album are “So Help Me God” and “Colored People.” “So Help Me God” because of the intensity of the music and the idea that sometimes you feel you have all these voices and ideas coming from you, but you want your faith to remain strong. I think that “Colored People” was a track that really speaks to DC Talk’s ideology, and it’s a track that is just as important today as it was in 1995.
My favorite track has to be “In the Light.” The music, the melody, the lyrical content are all a perfect blend for this track. I just find the track ethereal and beautiful. To me, when I heard this track the first time, it resonated with me and just became a soundtrack for my life. It speaks to how I wish to live my life. I want to stay within God’s light and shine that light out to others and be a positive influence to them.
In a time of divisiveness and disunity, what better of a time to be reflecting on a group that makes unity, Christ’s love and faith such an integral part of their music? Even with their solo endeavors, they still seek to speak the same message through their respective musical projects that they started in dc Talk. I think it would do society good to give this album another listen.
Zachary Van Dyke, Volunteer contributor
Realizing that this album was released when I was only five years old, it didn’t have the immediate impact on me as others. It caught my attention about the same time as I was getting into Audio Adrenaline.
It’s hard to overlook the absolute perfection that is the title track “Jesus Freak” (seriously, how many times has that song been covered? KJ-52, Newsboys, Relent, Chasing Victory, etc.), but where that song opened the door for intense, impassioned, and intrusive songs in the Christian scene, songs like “What If I Stumble?” and “What Have We Become?” ripped the doors off the hinges for music that asked painful, honest, vulnerable, and challenging questions. These two songs have had a far greater influence on my own tastes in music that any other on the album.
“What Have We Become?” hits on an uncomfortable level. Detailing matters of racism, greed, selfishness, rejection, suicide– there’s hints of the lyricism you’d expect from a more recent band (such as P.O.D.’s “Youth of the Nation”). When that second verse runs through, it almost always brings tears to my eyes.
The major hitch in this track is in the bridge where, taking all of these painful situations, they flip it back towards Christians. “What do we become when we are more concerned with ourselves?” they seem to be asking when they say, “What about love? What about God? What about holiness? What about mercy, compassion and selflessness?”
Honestly, this is such an amazingly truthful song, uncomfortable though it may be. The influence felt by “Jesus Freak” has extended far longer than is expected from a Christian artist, indeed, its influence is still felt today. That kind of longevity, that kind of influence, is something that is crucial. Writing music that is unafraid to discuss matters that make people squirm, songs that have passion and emotion, and with an unflinching pointing of all things back to Christ– that is the bar dc Talk set with “Jesus Freak.” May we all, personally and professionally, strive to meet that standard.
Jesus Freak was originally released on November 21, 1995. In 1998, the band released their final full length album, Supernatural. They have remained relevant despite not touring or creating new music as a band since 2002. Keep up with dc Talk by following them on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.
As part of the 25th anniversary of the release of this iconic and impactful project, dc Talk is making limited time merchandise available, including an anniversary box set. Visit the dc Talk store to find information and purchase the merchandise.