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When Hip Hop went to Church

"I met this girl, when I was 10 years old 
And what I loved most, she had so much soul 
She was old school, when I was just a shorty 
Never knew throughout my life she would be there for me 
On the regular, not a church girl, she was secular 
Not about the money, though studs was mic checkin' her" - Common "I used to love H.E.R

I've had a strange relationship with the music I create and perform. I don't actually like addressing it directly. I sort of address it within the lyrics from time to time.

You see I came in the double doors of Hip Hop and gospel music. What a strange entrance. Traditionally one of the doors should be marked entrance and the other exit since it seems you can't do both at the same time. I don't subscribe to terms such as "holy hip hop" (because I think that is corny and something Robin from the old Batman series would say as in "Holy Hip Hop Batman, to the Bat mobile!) and I don't subscribe to or use the terms "gospel rap" "gospel hip hop" "christian rap" "christian hip hop" etc etc because I think the word Christian is a bad adjective and a better noun. Even the term "gospel rap" just doesn't totally feel authentic to me. If I'm real all these terms sound forced and corny. If you subscribe to any of these terms please don't shoot me, I'm not dissing anyone else for doing so. It's just a personal thing to me. Don't mind me with my personal opinions! Lol.

As for gospel music, I'm finding out more and more it is a genre of music in these modern times that doesn't have it's own sound like it did before. They say Christian music is the only genre defined by the lyrics first and not the sound. I don't know if this is a good or bad thing although Christ remains Christ and the message of the gospel remains what it is as defined by The bible. I think the problem is my generation doesn't have a lot of understanding of what has come before them. It does help to know where even the term "gospel music" came from and it wasn't from your bible so trying to impose biblical definitions of what the gospel is on to the music without acknowledging where the term "gospel music" came from is bound to lead to endless debates around issues like positive vs inspirational vs gospel vs message vs style vs genre. I've touched on this elsewhere. All I will repeat is gospel music does not always mean the same thing as the explicit gospel message and when some refer to the phrase "gospel music" they could be referring to a sound and not even the gospel message at all. It all depends on the context of the conversation you're having and who you are talking to at any given time.

When I was coming up in the christian faith I was taught hip hop is the devils music and even some view it as a false religion (which made me only listen to christian praise and worship music for 3 years and nothing else). So when rap and hip hop influenced beats were made popular in gospel music by the likes of Kirk Franklin and others something happened. It made rap and hip hop music fused with that throwback choir gospel sound acceptable and lets face it, the music was beautiful! It also made those who were christians who rapped feel the need to prove themselves harder as real believers to be accepted in the gospel music community/industry. I mean Kirk Franklin got Salt from Salt N Pepa to do the verse on "stomp" and you can't tell me there weren't any christian female rappers then! If I remember one of the members of the gospel rap duo A1-Swift was a female rapper and funny enough she popped up on the remix of "you are the only one" by Kirk Franklin which got a video (YouTube that!) and wasn't on the actual God's Property CD.

I think because young people who are part of this Hip hop generation were being sought after to be part of The Faith and come to church that terms like "holy culture" "holy hip hop" started popping up so that Christians could enjoy hip hop without feeling that they are being associated with the "negative" and "dark side" of hip hop which is what most people seem to link the genre to and define it by (the same can be said about grime here in the UK and any "urban" music). I understand how you can love the artform and want to redefine it for yourself according to how you want to express yourself. The truth is Hip hop always had room for individuality, it used to have a varied representation. It wasn't just ONE thing. The main thing was to represent who you are with style and skill (I mean some MCs were down with Islam or the 5% Nation of Islam and it didn't stop folks who didn't share those beliefs from enjoying the music) although it must be said that in this present time it's more about materialism and gimmicks and less about being authentic and skillful.

The is an actual advert

I remember when Common did a song called "I used to love H.E.R" where he personified Hip Hop as a lady he loved. I think of christians relationship with hip hop the same way. It's like a guy falling in love with a lady of ill repute or to put it blatantly a hooker but he brings her to church and is determined to marry her. He believes he can make a ho' a housewife. He wants to put her in a spotless bridal gown and he wants to put a ring on it so that they can live together forever in holy matrimony. The clergy were opposed to this but over time they can see his love will not be killed because it is stronger than death. Why does that sound like a story in the bible? (Shout out to Hosea and Ezekiel lol read Ezekiel 16 and Hosea 1) They can also see that just as rap music is now mainstream and corporate and has this generation moving to it's beat AND is profitable, then maybe it is wise to back these christians that rap. (Or maybe that's just my wishful thinking)

It sounds sweet but I still feel terms like holy hip hop are corny though. I'm fully aware that the back and forth debates won't end because these are the things that must happen for an identity of a movement or artform to be found especially like the one I've been talking about. Debates happen because different opinions exist and in this case one opinion won't rule every other one as far as art and music is concerned because the interpretation of art is subjective. Even more debates are bound to happen especially in these times where some artists who are Christians are growing and evolving and redefining who they are and how they present themselves. Maybe that's what makes it all exciting and interesting. Maybe.

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Anonymous said...

I have always thought that the the reason why many break away from traditional religions is to find their spiritual individuality. But also the concept of spiritual individuality has always been the selling point even though once everything goes to church, then it becomes a different story altogether in many cases. Because these churches are headed by people who have their own set of beliefs and ways of doing things and would rather push those beliefs onto their church members.

*scratches head*, i thought Christians were to reach out to everyone to spread the word and love, by any means?? ( i mean any reasonable means possible).

Holy hip hop term sounds too demanding as well. You have to be crispy clean spiritually and in your everyday life to come out with holy hip hop. Even Jesus had his moments of weakness you know.

Plumbline said...

My thoughts exactly! Rakim, among others, pushed the doctrines of the 5% Nation of Islam, and that did not stop his music from changing the way everybody rapped. They call him God Mc, Rakim Allah..etc..even the ones pushing 'occult symbols' in their videos still enjoy global patronage. At the end of the day, the 'Holy Hip-hopper' who is just a man with feet of clay stumbles and the 'World' nails him for 'pretending to be different', The 'Craige Lewises' tell church folks 'I told you so', Fans who see their 'hero' fallen lick their wounds, and the Artist gets suspended from his label, gets broke and frustrated....and the vicious circle my honest opinion, if a Christian wants to do Hiphop, let him go Mainstream, take his CDs from the restrictions of Christian Bookstores, and deploy the freedom of speech inherent in Hiphop to push his faith...

I am intrigued at this line from Eminem in 'It's OK' from his first album (Infinite)

But in the mist of this insanity, I found my Christianity/Through God and there's a wish he granted me/He showed me how to cope with the stress/And hope for the best, instead of mope and depressed."

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