Mineo and L’Engle

by Philip Morrow

We are beginning to see a growing trend in rap music where up-and-coming rappers will produce a massive amount of content and drop it all at one time in the hopes of flooding the market with their material in fewer, larger bursts. This supply of content temporarily meets consumer demand, but it can put an enormous amount of stress on the artists themselves, and it is beginning to affect even well-established rappers. If they don’t keep up the pace, their brand slips, and as record labels add pressure, the fan bases waver.[1] Rather than respecting an artist’s time to make better content, the consumer demand is for more, and it has its consequences. For fans of Christian rap, it nearly destroyed the life and career of New York-based Italian rapper, Andy Mineo.

It has been three years since we got something from Mineo himself. Sure, his collab project with Wordsplayed on Magic and Bird was fun—from it we got “Lay Up.” We also heard him featured on “Not Today Satan” with KB, and “The Beauty Between” with King’s Kaleidoscope. We even got a remix of his all-time best, “You Can’t Stop Me,” which went gold just this year.[2] However, it has been quite a while since he last put out his own solo project. In that span of time his collaborative projects were great in their own right, but we almost lost his voice amidst the others.


Although his fans were met with radio silence, Andy was hard at work. And though most of it is still unknown to us, none of his time alone was wasted.

“I was creating almost every day. I was putting in the hours. But nothing was coming out. At least, nothing that I thought was worth sharing. My label was begging me to turn something in. Anything. My mind was so occupied with responsibilities, worry, fear and doubt, there was very little room for new, interesting and creative ideas. Simply put, I was stuck.” [3]

He was stuck, no doubt, in far more than “writer’s block.” Despite its niche name, the phenomenon that affronts and arrests creatives is probably more universal than we give it credit for. It isn’t simply the lack of creativity or successful ideas—it can often be a lack of motivation or even self-esteem. In Andy’s case, his fog was holistic:

“Comparison began to steal my joy. No matter how well I was doing, there was always someone doing better…It bruised my ego and created insecurity. Sometimes that can feed a competitive edge, but for me, it fed self-doubt.” [4]

Why was this so difficult for him? He admitted, in an interview with Reach Records, that it was mixed up in his most intense season of anxiety and doubt:

“The last few years I’ve been experiencing a tremendous amount of doubt. Obviously, doubt of myself. But also doubt of God and doubt of the things that I believe…I had to essentially say, ‘I’m gonna start from scratch. And I don’t know if [in] my searching for God now—after I wiped the slate clean… if I [might] fall away from God altogether?’” [5]

It was a real threat: not one to be taken lightly. Cleaning the slate, as Andy said, left him totally ungrounded and with very little assurance that he would come back as the same person. But he did come back, and he brought with him a life-changing EP called I: The Arrow.

If you listen through I: The Arrow, you will find it bookended with the songs “I’ve Been…” and “…Lost,” each opening with the same musical theme and words. The two songs (and the four in between them) all tell of his recent faith journey, and it is a hard one. You cannot fully appreciate his hard-headed determination in “I Ain’t Done” until you’ve felt his anguish in “Anxiety.” (The latter song even ends telling us how he came to write the former.) The serenity prayer[6] recited at the end of “Family Photo” speaks far beyond that song’s topic (his absentee father) to bless the whole EP. And all six tracks are pulled together in one cohesive story told in “Clarity.” This is easily the most intricate of Mineo’s projects to date: concept album-meets-biography, testimony-meets-lament. And in “Clarity” it is all distilled into a single song.

What intrigued me most about the song “Clarity” was that, in between rapping about his own crisis, Mineo samples the voice of an old woman speaking about the blessedness of her doubt in God. It’s not quite a sermon, but almost transforms the song into one. Shortly after its release, Mineo tweeted to his fans about this mysterious woman whose words end the song.

Accompanying it was an interview with Madeleine L’Engle called “Infinite Questions.”

For anyone else who recognizes the name but cannot remember why, she is the author of the classic novel, A Wrinkle in Time. Unfortunately, the recent Disney reboot reshaped L’Engle’s philosophy so much that the movie is now unrecognizable from the book. But to anyone who will dare to read it, be aware that doubt—and how to handle it—is one of its central themes. Here are a few scenes from the book that show us in practice what L’Engle aphorized in her three samples from the song “Clarity.”

  1. The Beginning of Doubt Is Movement

“The value of doubt is to keep you open to God’s revelations. If you don’t doubt, you don’t change. If you have to have finite answers to infinite questions, you’re not gonna move.”[7]

-Madeleine L’Engle, “Clarity”

Prior to the events of the novel, Meg had spent four years without a father, constantly reminded by classmates and neighbors that he was not coming home from his top-secret government experiment and she constantly struggled to believe he was alive at all. Rumors had been passed around that he was unfaithful to his wife, that he was insane, and that he was dead. Early in the book, Meg holds a sobering conversation with her mother about the likelihood of her father’s survival, and the reason for his disappearance.

“[Mother,] do you think things always have an explanation?”

“Yes. I believe that they do. But I think that with our human limitations we’re not always able to understand the explanations. But you see, Meg, just because we don’t understand doesn’t mean that the explanation doesn’t exist.”

“I like to understand things,” Meg said.

“We all do. But it isn’t always possible.”[8]

This conversation begins Meg’s personal journey of faith in the book. It is this moment of doubt—this wrestling with silence—that provides in her both a determination to find her father and a courage to take the necessary risks to do so. Her doubt that he would come home spurs her forward, and in her search for an explanation of her father’s disappearance, she sets herself on the only path that will lead not only to the explanation, but to him.

L’Engle’s comment in “Clarity” is almost a commentary on Meg—in fact it is a commentary on all doubters. It may seem unfortunate for us that doubt should be a prerequisite to growth; but in that line of thinking, Andy Mineo asks, “Tell me how you plan on gettin’ swole if you don’t ever get sore?”[9] There is a blessed correlation between a destructive thing (doubt, muscular micro-tearing) and a constructive thing (growth, muscular hypertrophy). The first must precede the second, and the result is movement forward.

  1. The Struggle of Doubt Is Confirmation

“The second I’m furious with God, I’m totally close, because you cannot be furious with somebody who’s not there.”[10]

-Madaleine L’Engle, “Clarity”

Later in the book, on a dark planet called Camazotz, Meg faces a purely evil being: the “Black Thing,” the “Happiest Sadist,” the “IT.” This faceless character is both her chief antagonist and her father’s captor. IT is the reason for his disappearance, IT is the “smoke in the air”[11] that so confused her life. In a tense battle of wits and wills, the IT asks why Meg a piercing question:

Why do you want your father?

“Didn’t you ever have a father yourself?” Meg demanded. “You don’t want him for a reason. You want him because he’s your father.”

“Ah, but he hasn’t been acting very like a father, lately, has he? Abandoning his wife and his four little children to go gallivanting off on wild adventures of his own.”[12]

From here, much of the discourse devolves into an actual fistfight between Charles Wallace (her little brother) and the IT. Charles Wallace is taken captive by the IT’s will and becomes Meg’s new chief antagonist. Such a struggle—between doubt and faith, good and evil, brother and sister—makes her “bec[o]me lost in hatred… [and] lost in IT.”[13] But it is the IT’s “fatal mistake”[14] to have forced the struggle on her, because in her struggle she found confirmation that her father and brother—both lost to the IT—do in fact love her, even despite their inability to show it in the moment.

L’Engle does not posit that God is sometimes incapable of love, but that we are sometimes incapable of perceiving His love in our circumstances. And she finds that her fury against Him serves to confirm that, at her core, she does believe He is there; and she does believe that He loves her. If we are open to this counterintuitive thinking, we may find in all situations that our struggle in doubt is actually a confirmation of the faith at our core.

Mineo chose his words with L’Engle’s in mind. Right before her excerpt above, he reveals his own struggle:

The opposite of faith ain’t doubt

It’s when I get it all figured out

Some days You’re getting all my trust

Some days I can feel so empty

Some days I feel like You love me

Some days I feel like You left me [15]

These are his last original words. From here we only have the hook and L’Engle. But the hook to this song hints at the faith he began to rediscover in his struggle:

All I, all I want is clarity, clarity

‘Cause all of my heroes are frauds just like me

So let every man be a liar; let only God be true

‘Cause all of your heroes are frauds, just like you

I can’t see through the smoke in the air…[16]

  1. The End of Doubt Is Comfort

“I want God to wrap me in the everlasting wings and say, ‘There there, it’s alright.’ And that cosmic affirmation of, ‘Yes, I know it’s terrible. I know it hurts. But be patient: it’s gonna work out. I’m not gonna lose, I’m gonna win. It’s alright.’ And that’s the basic affirmation that only true doubters can come to.”[17]

-Madeleine L’Engle, “Clarity”

Meg had been through quite a struggle: waiting four years for news of her father, traveling across half the universe to find him, facing a purely evil being that used her own little brother as a mouthpiece of doubt and hatred. She rightfully could have remained scared and bitter her whole life. And yet, the very moment she reunites with her father, she is overwhelmed by a new reality altogether:

“Father!” she cried. And she was in his arms.

This was the moment for which she had been waiting…during the long months and years before, when the letters had stopped coming…This was the moment that meant that now and forever everything would be all right.

As she pressed against her father all was forgotten except joy. There was only…the feeling of complete reassurance and safety that his presence always gave her.[18]

This “feeling of complete reassurance and safety” is that assurance that L’Engle spoke of in “Clarity.” It is the “basic affirmation that only true doubters can come to,” and it is the end of doubt. L’Engle describes this battle of doubt as a blessed defeat. When we lose—when God’s revelation overcomes us—there is a newfound peace and assurance that we could not have had unless we doubted. This happened to the biblical character of Job,[19] it happened to Thomas,[20] it happened to Meg, and it happened to our muse, Andy Mineo.

In an interview with Reach Records, he opens up about what I: The Arrow means to him, saying, “we don’t have a lot of safe spaces to be broken. But my music is one of those places, because I feel like music is a place for honesty.”[21] In his honesty he wiped the slate with God only to find Him again; in his honesty he fought anxiety attacks and suicidal thoughts; in his honesty he searched until he found solace in Madeleine L’Engle’s words; and in his honesty he produced his most powerful project yet. Welcome back, Andy.

[1]Cf. Discussion in Reach Records’ video, “Andy Mineo – I Ain’t Done.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9jiPj7qjKkc&t=107s

[2]Nick Mojica. “Andy Mineo’s ‘You Can’t Stop Me’ Goes Gold” 2018. http://www.xxlmag.com/news/2018/04/andy-mineo-you-cant-stop-me-gold/

[3]Andy Mineo, “I Was Positive My Career Was Over”: Andy Mineo on the Struggle to Reach His Creative Peak.” https://djbooth.net/features/2018-05-09-andy-mineo-creative-peak-guest-editorial

[4]Andy Mineo, “I Was Positive My Career Was Over”: Andy Mineo on the Struggle to Reach His Creative Peak.” https://djbooth.net/features/2018-05-09-andy-mineo-creative-peak-guest-editorial

[5]Andy Mineo, “I: The Arrow; or, Doubt and the Search for Clarity.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=08SrPBSzbRE&t=132s

[6]The famous prayer written by American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr begins with the line, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference.”

[7]Madeleine L’Engle, “Madeleine L’Engle: Infinite Questions.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RCdeMcAnlN0

[8]Madeleline L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time. Ariel Books, 1963p. 46

[9]Andy Mineo, “Uncomfortable”

[10]Madeleine L’Engle, “Madeleine L’Engle: Infinite Questions.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RCdeMcAnlN0

[11]A reference to Mineo’s chorus in “Clarity.”

[12]Madeleline L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time. Ariel Books, 1963. p. 123

[13]Ibid. p.207

[14]Ibid. p. 207

[15]Andy Mineo, “Clarity”

[16]Andy Mineo, “Clarity”

[17]Madeleine L’Engle, “Madeleine L’Engle: Infinite Questions.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RCdeMcAnlN0

[18]Madeleline L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time. Ariel Books, 1963. p. 149

[19]Job 42:1-16

[20]John 20:24-29

[21]Andy Mineo, “I: The Arrow; or, Doubt and the Search for Clarity.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=08SrPBSzbRE&t=132s

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