On October 20, 2017, Reach Records artist KB released his third studio album, Today We Rebel (buy), which features Lecrae, Andy Mineo, and for KING & COUNTRY. The highly-anticipated successor of KB’s Billboard-charting sophomore effort, Tomorrow We Live (buy), trumpets the power of freedom. KB’s definition of freedom, though, may challenge that of its listeners.
As the album released to a worldwide ear, we wanted to get a deeper understanding of what inspired the message behind KB’s newest LP in this engaging CCM Magazine interview.
CCM Magazine: During pre-launch promotion, you stated, “The only way to deal with an un-free world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.” Where did that idea come from?
KB: I got it from reading. I’m a reader. I like to read broadly. [Freedom] is a concept that people have been grappling with for a long, long time—this tension between interests, because everybody has their own interests. Everybody has their own agendas, and so I’ve been struck by how people have dealt with the concept of freedom over the years. For me, it’s kind of boiled down to masters and slaves.
Everybody wants to be free and not bound by anything. I’m with that. I’m just saying that no person or thing will bind me because I’m bound to God. Which, I think escalates this type of freedom, because this type of freedom is actually afforded to us by the protection that we have in being bound by the Kingdom and nothing else.
CCM: What were some of the most influential books you read on that concept?
KB: There’s a book called The Very Good Gospel by Lisa Sharon Harper, where she essentially takes the idea of the gospel, and she bases in scripture, as opposed to how a lot of what we get these days through memes and online clips. We’re so entrenched in pop-theology and pop-Christianity, to the point where when people start talking about what the Bible actually has to say about what the gospel really is, it begins to sound weird and foreign.
What Harper does is root the gospel in this idea of shalom—that God has a vision to apply His Good News to all of life. How can a slave in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade experience the Good News of the gospel when all they’re exposed to is the abuse of the gospel? How can the gospel speak to those who have been misplaced? The marginalized? How can the gospel speak to those who don’t see its relevance, because it’s been mainly painted to them in a way that seems irrelevant?
That’s a good book that’s really helped to shape my thinking in this area.
CCM: Would you say that was the primary source of inspiration for the album, or were there also others?
KB: I can answer that from a few different angles. Bottom line is: I love to read about people who were able to experience freedom under chaos, like people that you see on my album cover: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Frederick Douglas, Charles Spurgeon. I also have modern influences, like my pastor down in Tampa, who’s a father to me and my mentor. That’s a big concept for him—freedom. Freedom from sin and freedom to live as courageous, as bold, and as impactful as God would allow you to be. To not become a product of your environment.
That’s a major, multi-stream theme in my life. I heard this quote the other day that said, “We are not products of our environments, but our environments are products of us.” That’s a key aim for this album.
CCM: In the title of your album, Today We Rebel, who are “we,” and who/what are they rebelling against?
KB: “We” is Jesus’s people, God’s people—period. That is my country. I’m American. I’m black in my heritage, and proud of both of those. But I’m not more proud of that than I am of being a member of the Kingdom of God.
What are rebelling against is anything that would want to take our freedom. Again, that’s another multi-layered thing. That can be Jesus saying, “On this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it.” That means there is a move for the gates of hell, the kingdom of darkness, to overcome what we have. Our reaction to that is rebellion.
We will not become the products of anybody’s political agenda. We will not become the product of our own love for security. That’s another big thing that I highlight as we go through this project… That the problem’s not just out there. The oppression is not just out there. The spirit of colonization exists in all of us. It’s sin. It’s this piece of us that wants to dominate and take things that don’t belong to us and make it our own, and, primarily and most ultimately, our lives do not belong to us. They belong to God. We even have to rebel against that selfishness in us that wants to take our lives for our own purposes.
The beautiful thing about that idea is that this resistance actually leads to freedom; that my being completely bound to God gives me the most happiness I can enjoy in this world. A place where no one’s judgment ultimately defines who I am because ultimately, God is my only judge. I don’t need the salvation of a president, the salvation of a politician, or the salvation of anyone person for that matter, because my salvation has already been secured.
CCM: Perhaps the most memorable song on the album is “The Art Of Drifting.” Do you mind sharing the story behind that track?
KB: The song’s actually inspired from a dream that I had. If you listen in the first verse, it says, “I had a dream last night, this is what I saw.” I embellish the story a lot in the song, but in the dream, I just experienced this sort-of apathy for God and Church, and my music just became a business. I literally woke up in tears. My wife had left me. My kids were gone. Luckily (in reality), I was at home, so my wife was next to me, so when I woke up I actually hugged her, because the dream scared me.
I went on to write that song because, the fact of the matter is, that drift is so subtle. We’re all experiencing drift on some level, and God-forbid you open your eyes, and you’re so far from the shore and trying to figure out where to pick up the pieces. That song is really speaking to, first and foremost, the fear of drift in my own life. Then, it’s also a challenge to the Christian music industry—no doubt, it’s so easy for us to forget Who we’re doing all of this for. I said that on a for KING & COUNTRY song: “We get so busy doing Your work that we forgot Who we’re working for.” In that respect, it’s also a call to repentance because a lot of things that I wrote in that song are true to what many people are experiencing, including myself.
CCM: How do you, KB, protect yourself against that drift?
KB: I’m going to be 100-percent honest with you. I don’t even care that this is a Christian magazine, I’ll say what I would say to anyone: the Bible. Period. I remember hearing it early in my Christian walk, “This book will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from this book.” Through all of the phases where, “This is boring. I don’t understand any of this. I don’t want anything to do with it,” or, “I just would rather get on Instagram or Twitter,” it’s fighting through all of that.
One of the issues with pop-theology and pop-Christianity is that we blindly accept that everything has been done by Jesus, so we just sort-of float until we get to where we’re going and forget about the urgency of texts like, Fight the good fight of faith. Hold fast to eternity. You have to grip this. Dallas Willard said, “Grace is not opposed to effort. It is opposed to earning.”
We have to expend ourselves for the sake of our souls, for the sake of our happiness. Ultimately, isn’t that what we all want? We want to be happy. God is actually saying, “My glory at its highest actually translates to your happiness at its highest.”
Staying faithful to our spouses, enjoying our families and not having lives that are riddled with chaos, addiction and abuse. That’s the thing about it, the things that we drift away to don’t actually make us happy. They injure us. God would keep us from that, and one of the primary means He does that is through His Word, because when you open that book, it’s Him speaking. We can’t really have relationship with people if we don’t allow them to speak to us.
In my own life, I’m at my weakest when I’m away from that book, and I’m at my most secure when I’m close to it. It can’t just be about reading it to check off a checklist, or even dissecting it like it’s science. But it is approaching it devotionally, listening for the voice of God to do something miraculous to your heart.
CCM: I’ve heard you express your interest in apologetics in the past, and that passion seemed to come out most on “New Portrait.” Could you share the story behind that song?
KB: There’s a movement in the city I was born in, St. Petersburg, I won’t name them, but they’re considered a terrorist organization. I think the FBI takes it so far to say they’re a “terrorist organization,” but they are certainly anti-police. They call officers “pigs” and want to kick them out of the community. They’re very militant. They’re non-violent, but very angry. I think some of the anger is justified, but parts of it just sound like it’s white hatred and black nationalism.
I actually went to go spend some time with them. I didn’t know who they were, but I knew that they were active in the city that I love, St. Pete, and they have a headquarters, so I went. I left my wife in the car because I know they’re against interracial marriage, so I didn’t want to get upset in there if they were to disrespect my wife. I went inside and said, “Hey, I’m from the community, and I just want to know what y’all do and see if I can talk to somebody.”
Long story short, I spent an hour up there. I tried to be as affirming as possible. Then when I started to talk, I was like, “Well I just want y’all to know, I am a Christian.” Everybody gasped in the room. “[Gasp] Do you realize what you’re doing?” I think for the first time they had a conscious black Christian who had answers for why there was no issue with Christianity and Africans. I took them through history. I started challenging them, and they had no answer for me because they hadn’t thought about it before.
I even told them, “Your hatred for white supremacy is actually making you a victim of white supremacy because the belief that Christianity is the ‘white man’s religion’ is the height of what white supremacists would want you to think, right? They want you to think that they own it. They want you to assimilate to their thing, and that’s what you believe, and it’s wrong. The most biblical, more historical way to look at this is to see Christianity as something that belongs to, first of all, the Lord—God Almighty—and He extended it not in Europe first, but in the Middle East.”
I wrote the song essentially off of that conversation to really help people realize that there have been many who have abused the name of the Lord for evil—and that’s a challenge for people, rightfully so—but you have to realize the risen Savior, the real Jesus, always emerges from the fake ones.
CCM: So did that group disband after you refuted them?
KB: I wish [laughs]. I think they got stronger.