Hip Hop, is known by some as the small genre that encouraged black and brown teens from the Bronx to speak out against injustice. To others the industries new cash cow, or if you’re a black history major you might say it’s the new Black face American for woman and African American entertainers. Yet, some have found it to have extremely significant meaning past beats and witty word play, these people are calling Gospel Rappers.
These Gospel rappers were a group of people who understood the elements of hip hop and desired to reconcile them with their newfound Christian faith. These artists than began to share explicitly gospel-centered messages with their fans and were often seen sharing at local festivals, churches, and venues across the nation. As the interdisciplinary craft grew marketing experts, and businessmen began to create recording labels, radio shows and websites centered around the gospel rappers message. This new minority of lyricist and beat makers formed the Hip Hop subgenre known as Christian Hip Hop (CHH). (CHH has also been called Holy Hip Hop in earlier years.)
Artist like the Gospel Gangstaz and The Cross Movement began get international notoriety as they toured abroad and received Grammy nominations. Sure many non-Christian artist and fans only would see them as fake rappers, but they could not ignored these ambitious artists as their record sells began to top multiple Hip Hop charts. In 2009 CHH’s top selling hip hop artist Lecare release his third studio album “Rebel” which debuted at number 8 on Hip Hop Billboard charts and number one on the Gospel Billboard charts. He continued the trend as his next three albums debuted at number one on iTunes charts in multiple countries.
Its safe to say the CHH has grown into a legit genre with some of the games best artist. But as any good thing develops there are growing pains that accompany it, and CHH is no exception. In 2011 Reach Records recording artist (and label mate of Lecrae) Sho Baraka posted 112 words that voiced a quite but very active paradigm shift in CHH.
“Around this time, one year ago, I released my second album Lions and Liars under Reach Records. Four years ago, I officially became an artist on the label, although my friendship with all the artists and staff predates that time. Today, I bring news that is exciting, yet surprising and full of uncertainty. I will no longer be an artist on the Reach Records label. It’s been a wonderful four years doing business with the Reach organization, and it’s also been a pleasure to communicate the center of our joy via Hip Hop. Through the years I have established friendships that will last a lifetime, both with Reach Records artists and staff.”
Sho had just finished a highly acclaimed tour with his label mates and successfully released a sophomore album (Lions and Liars). Many people chimed in with speculations of what was really happening, and CHH circles, blogs, and chartrooms filled with responses. The predominant question surrounding his announcement was why? Why would an artist leave his label at this point in his career? He was just establishing a solid fan base with Reach Records so why leave? Is he crazy? Or maybe he’s in sin?
But in the coming months, Sho began to address all the accusations and his reasoning behind leaving Reach Records. He openly shares about his internal struggles with only making music for the church, and his new studies of art and culture. Studies that talked about great authors such as C.S. Lewis and Tolkien, who mastered the art of communicating God’s heart without having overtly Christian messages. He also shared his internal struggles with his philosophy of music and ministry. The many Ideas he had adopted because the church said that’s the way to do ministry.
“I’ve always felt that if God called you to something and you have something successful to lay back on, that can provide you with comfort you’ll never ever try to excel in life. And to me for some degree, Reach record was a comfort. I knew I could be successful in the Christian market, but that was never my desire to be successful in Christian markets. My desire was to communicate with people who were broken outside the church, or people in the church who felt like Christian music didn’t communicate to them. I want to become the C.S. Lewis of Urban music, I want to become the U2.”
Although Sho had a national platform to draw attention to this philosophy of thought, he is not the only artist who has felt and acted upon this tension. His former Label mate Lecrae has been very vocal about not liking the Christian Rapper label. Naturally there are others who would not agree with these artist stances and they have been very adamant about sharing it. One of which is the Ambassador, a former member CHH’s legendary group the Cross Movement.
The Ambassador recently wrote an open letter responding to the idea of Christian Hip Hop Artist shedding the CHH label. Ambassador’s letter was in response to a XXL article “New God Flow: Religious MC’s Shed Title of ‘Christian Rappers’ to Attract Mainstream Fans” Ambassador goes on record saying that does not agree with artist shedding the CHH label because it is who they are.
“Artists who formerly held the banner of not only a personal Christian faith, but also explicit Christ-centered presentation are abandoning that “brand” like it’s the plague. After reading this article, I thought to myself, “Why wouldn’t the secular hip hop community assume that ‘Christian rap’ can’t win when so many in the Christian hip hop community seem to agree?”
Though Ambassador gave a compelling argument of why the name change can lead to potential problems, I would have to say that I believe there is no true right or wrong in this situation. I believe that scripture speaks to being both CHH artist and simply a Christian artist who raps. In light of the conversations already taking place we will see why Christian Hip Hop artist must engage non-Christian mainstream music as well as Christian niche markets. My hope is to give comfort to both groups through the lens of scripture.
Ideas of Special Revelation
Throughout the whole of scripture we see that God man is not in search of God, but it is actually God who is in search of men. Since the fall, man has hopelessly lost in sin and separated from God. The bible even says no man seeks after GOD, (Romans 3:11) but Through God’s grace, he draws us to himself and allows man to know him. (John 6:44) This is what we call Special revelation, the act of God revealing himself to man and then saving him. Special Revelation can be revealed in dreams, signs, music, ect. But any example of special revelation should be tested and validated by scripture alone.
The Christian Hip Hop Artist that is gifted to share special revelation in their music can be alluded to as a Special revelation artist. These artists convey lyrics that point to the cross and God’s a salvific message. This would be the work of the Gospel Rapper. I think this is very valid and needed. The Gospel rapper has an amazing task as he/she is gifted to edify the local church and be on mission with their craft. Some gospel rappers will be lyrical theologians who are able to articulate profound biblical truths in rhythm and metaphors. Artist such those of Lamp mode recordings. Others will take the role of a Billy Gram and maintain a simple message of the cross for evangelistic purposes. These would be artist such as the DA Truth, and Swoope. But never the less they have the ability to share in and outside the local church as Paul did.
19 For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.
Naturally the Special Revelation artist will face a few challenges. One challenge is that they will often be rejected inside and out side the church. Hip Hop artist have always been associated as worldly to the church, and it’s only in recent years that they have been accepted by some. This can be discouraging, but I like to think of them as a John the Baptist type. (A voice that cries’ out in the wilderness preparing the way for the Lord.)
Another is that Special Revelation artist must fight for creativity and transparency. It’s very easy to settle with theological jargon. Throughout Hip Hop’s history the leading artist have found ways to repackage reality and emotional experiences in their music. To create and album that says “I rep Jesus” five time, “Jesus saves” three times, “I love you Jesus” one, and “lets go share the gospel” two, is played out. Its time to think outside the box and show that our father is the creator of all things, including great God honoring hip hop music. (Just side note topics: Social Justice, the 4 loves, marriage, singleness, college, paying bills, life, maybe a funny song, ect)
Along with special revelation, we see a theological term known as general revelation. General revelation allows mankind to see that God exist but does not give the details of who he is. In other words, I can marvel at a huge Oak tree and see its beauty and strength. I may even come to the conclusion that there is a God who created it. Yet I would never arrive at the conclusion that the same God who made that tree, would one day died on it (in the form of a cross) so that he could pay for my sins. Looking at the tree only tells me a piece of the story, but not enough to save me from my sin and death. Therefore general revelation must first be informed by special revelation.
“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.” Psalm 19:1-4
Psalm 19:1-4 gives us a verse that the author sees general revelation (The Heavens, The skies, the earth,) after a proper view of special revelation. To mix up order would result in another religion or unbiblical view of God.
Thus we have the General revelation artist. This is the Christian Hip Hop Artist who has the ability to make music apart for the CHH genre and often the church. This artist has been uniquely gift to create music that honors the Lord but creatively does it with out going in the depth as the Special revelation artist would. These artist might include The Breax and those of Humble Beast Recordings.
This is a gift that requires great discipline as the Hip Hop artist may find his/herself in very ungodly venues sharing their gifts. Majority of their missional efforts toward fellow artist, producers and fans would take place behind scenes after building intentional relationships. If the general revelation artist maintains an honorable life style they will be blessed with opportunities to share their faith. Therefore heeding to the words of the apostle Peter is very important
“But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15)
Where the Two Meet
With firm conviction I believe that both artist should take heed to the following thoughts and warnings in Scripture.
1. Do not neglect the Local church (Heb 10:25, Acts 2:42-47, Rom 12:1-8, Eph 5:27) The Church is Christ bride, and he died for her. If She is important to him then she must be important to the Christian Hip Hop Artist. Submitting and serving in a local body cultivates an artist’s spiritual growth, reaffirms their mission, and validates their gifts and calling. Jesus will return for the Church and artist are apart of that larger body.
2. Be Humble (Rom 14:1-12, 1 Pete 5:5-6, 1 Cor 12:27, ) No artist should look down on another. God has given specific backgrounds, gifts, and burdens to each artist to accomplish his purpose. To call one artist unholy or more holy because they create a different type of music is wrong is!
3. We must be missional minded (Acts1:8. 1 Cor 9:19-23, Matt.28:16-20, 1 peter 3:15) Not every Believer is called to vocational ministry within the local church, but we are all called to be ministers. Therefore, regardless of the Hip Hop lane we ride in we must watch and pray for opportunities to share the good news with unbelievers.
God has uniquely gifted people to share is message through Hip Hop in different lanes. One lane would belong to the Special revelation artists. Who able skillfully articulate God word on different degrees. Another would be the General revelation artist who is able to live a Godly life before non-believers while performing their music in mainstream secular arenas. Each of these artists is important to this medium or media and should be respected and genuinely embraced by the Christian community.