On the heels of a controversial summer in the world of Christian hip-hop, J. Monty issued a very poignant PSA on December 2nd of this year. In Kendrick Lamar ‘Control’ fashion, the 2015 Rapzilla Freshman dropped “Bad Roommates”—a song exhorting artists in the Christian hip-hop genre to get their focus back to repping Christ. J. Monty, now signed to Sony, is not a stranger to success in Christian hip-hop, and he has been tweeting about his frustrations with the direction of Christian hip-hop for a while now. “Bad Roommates” seems to be a culmination of his thoughts, concerns, and frustrations in regard to the conversations that have been going on for the past 6–10 years. This song follows in the footsteps of other notable tracks like: “Dear Holy Hip-Hop” by R-Swift ft. Stephen the Levite and Shai Linne, “Hey Mr. Gravity” by Evangel, and “Random Thoughts 3” by Shai Linne.
A Call For Change
Though not an exhaustive list, here are a few takeaways I gathered from “Bad Roommates.” Hopefully, these thoughts will help continue some very necessary conversations and cause all Christian hip-hop artists to take a self-assessment to see where they stand in light of the weighty task we have of making the gospel known to a dying world.
If you’re not Christian hip-hop, stop making money from CHH outlets and fans. J. Monty says:
"It's cool if we gotta be separate this season, but don't come looking for bread when you need it/ Or a sandwich with the lettuce and cheese in it/”
His desire is clear: if artists are distancing themselves from Christian hip-hop, they need to leave our outlets, conferences, concerts, and money (bread, lettuce, and cheese wordplay) behind as well. If they’re not trying to build up CHH, then they need to find new fans, new venues, new outlets, and new ways to make their money. When it comes down to it, if artists are making music for the world at the expense of Christian fans, these artists should find their money from those secular fans as well.
If you ARE in CHH, count the cost of being a Christian in hip-hop. Here J. Monty says:
"No more telling me that I can't put the cross in/ y'all can't stay in this house if you don’t count the cost, friend/ we give God 100 percent, you gotta be all in/can't be Larry Bird with the green and give the boss ten (Boston)/they say if I do that, I might (Celtic) sell tickets at my shows/that sound like the devil fishing for my soul/”
Here J. Monty is echoing the sentiments of Jesus in Luke 14:25–33. In this brief message, Jesus calls anyone who would follow Him to count the cost and determine whether they are willing to face the trials and difficulties of discipleship and faith in this world. Very pointedly, Jesus says, “...anyone of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” J. Monty is telling artists that there is a significant amount of cost that comes with being a follower of Christ, especially in the world of hip-hop, “...If you can't afford this real of a mortgage bill then get out.” That’s an extremely bold statement.
Stop desiring the money and fame that comes with hip-hop success. In a display of superb lyricism, J. Monty calls Christian hip-hop artists to guard their hearts and repent if they’re chasing money:
"Can't serve God and money, that's the algorithm/ but the way y’all serve the bill, you could dance your way into the White House with that Al Gore rhythm/ rewind it back for the triple entendre/
There are numerous passages in scripture on the dangers of loving, chasing, and serving money. Specifically, J. Monty quotes Matthew 6:24, and reminds listeners that it is impossible to faithfully serve both Christ and money. Artists will either despise Christ and love money or love Christ and despise the money. Either Jesus will win or artists will bow to the “god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4) and the temptations he offers (see Matthew 4:7–10). It definitely seems that some artists and labels have made changes to branding, lyrical content, and artistic style for the purpose of having their pockets a little heavier.
Moving Forward in Christian hip-hop
Regardless of which direction other artists will go, J. Monty has made it clear that he’s here to stay. He boldly stated:
“never seen you on the street, you a Benny Hinn Honda/ I was redeemed on the street, swimming in lava/ free me from the need of your limited honor/”
He is referring back to his testimony when he talks about being redeemed on the street. He’s reminding us that his intention was never to be a famous hip-hop artist, but rather to be a humble servant who spreads the gospel of Jesus Christ to lost souls. The Grammys, accolades, and honors that come with being successful in the eyes of the world are vanity, and J. Monty makes that point clear to listeners in the closing lines of “Bad Roommates” when he says, “while yall breathe on the beat for a tenth of a dollar, I’ll be on bended knee at the feet of my Father.”
As this song spreads, there will be a flurry of opinions flying via social media. Many CHH fans have dismissed and accused Shai Linne of being divisive and trying to revive his CHH career as he journeyed back into the world of full-time music. They ridiculed and dismissed Evangel as that little guy trying to garner fame from a “diss” track. Though I completely disagree with any of those prior assessments, things are different in this case. J. Monty appears to be at the top of his game. If a 26-year-old, explicit Christian hip-hop artist can be signed to a label as prominent as Sony, what does it mean for the future of CHH? Can artists really be Christ-centered and maintain that level of success without caving to the pressures of the world, flesh, and Satan? Won’t keeping Christ in the music turn unbelievers away rather than reaching them? Time will only tell. I am thrilled to see the impact of what J. Monty has added to the conversation.