“Your favorite “Christian” hip-hop artist isn’t a Christian.” Have you ever heard that? What about this one: “Your favorite “holy” hip-hop artist doesn’t really rep the gospel.” Or how about this one: “Your favorite Christian emcee is okay but they talk about the gospel way too much.” And why would anyone feel like this or say something so divisive? Because of their favorite “Christian” hip-hop artist. Their favorite crew or emcee does this “Christian” hip-hop thing the right way and yours is in sin. Now, of course their favorite hip-hop artist didn’t say that their fan should feel this way about yours, but their favorite guy is right, so by default - yours is wrong.
Its a silly train of thought, but let’s face it - we’ve all seen it in our scene. We divide over camps, crews and cliques and their ideologies and if yours doesn’t line up with mine then yours is wrong. And we ALL know that among Christians, wrong = sin. So if your favorite emcee isn’t repping like Reach Records then they really aren’t repping. Or if they don’t rep like Frontlynaz then they are doing it wrong. Or if they aren’t reaching the people like the Humble Beast camp then they aren’t really doing it. Websites, message boards and Twitter arguments are the petri dishes that feed this fungus of an ideology creating the divisions we see in our “holy hip-hop” circles. Meanwhile, as people are arguing over who is really repping Christ (or being a Christian at all by some people’s judgements) the artists themselves are celebrating the contributions of the people their fans are condemning!
So, instead of making seemingly unfounded statements, I decided to ask emcees from different camps what they see going on in our scene in regards to what their contribution is to the scene and the kingdom and what they felt about some of their contemporaries who take a different approach to ultimately reach people for Christ.
Off the top, the first thing we have to deal with in our hip-hop denominations that we’ve created - the issue most arguments are over is not the message - its the method we get up in arms about. Dove award nominee and Billboard chart topper, Lecrae says musically, he approaches it all as a missionary and seeks to further the gospel and edify the body by presenting a biblical perspective on different situations and scenarios. Proph 1 of the the Stellar Award nominated crew, Frontlynaz says instead of trying to just hit people with straight with doctrine, his goal is to present what a life impacted by the gospel looks like in his music. Meanwhile, guys like Ruslan of theBreax, a crew noted by hip hop outlets like Rapzilla, Okayplayer and All Hip-Hop to name a few, says his aim is to make music based on the “practicality of the day to day. Some art tries to capture what isn’t; fantasy, what used to be, or how they want it to be. We talk about how it is.”
And these different methods are intended to reach different people. While Proph 1 and Lecrae admit that the core of their audience (75% or greater) are people that are Christian or people impacted by Christian culture, Propaganda, of Tunnel Rats fame and member of the Humble Beast crew (fresh off of opening for the legendary hip-hop group Public Enemy when the interview was conducted) and Ruslan say their audience is split mostly 50/50 of Christians and non-Christians alike.
And of course, all of them have to deal with the varying forms of criticism. Lecrae says he gets flak for his disagreements with the “prosperity gospel.” Also, noticing a change in his tone (he admits that early on he was very legalistic), now he gets flak for not being as “black & white” as he used to be. Proph 1 says he’s heard criticisms that range from not having enough gospel in his music, to being told he wasn’t a Christian at all. Meanwhile, while playing to mixed crowds, Propaganda and Ruslan say they’ve been accused of not being preachy enough. The Christians don’t like they fact that they play along with “secular” artists and “the world doesn’t always like the fact that we’re Christian,” says the San Diego based Ruslan. But Propaganda says “Jesus was criticized for his associations too. But while we’re in a van for 9 hours with an emcee who’s not a Christian and they’ve seen me live it in front of them, and not going to the strip clubs with them, and not chasing the girls after the show, I’ve earned the right to be heard and they’ll listen to what I have to say now. I’m trying to be light in a dark place.”
So all of them take fire for their approach, but is there fruit? Across the board, the answer is a resounding yes. Every last one of the methods used all point to seeing people come to faith in Jesus. Some see it happen in church settings and others see it happen in clubs or backstage at college events. While, I’m sure most people familiar with Lecrae knows his approach has seen people come into the kingdom, however the people who take the harshest criticisms have also seen the same kind of fruit. P1 says he gets excited when he hears stories of missionaries taking Frontlynaz music to foreign lands and the messages connect with young people there. Ruslan enjoys connecting the message of Christ to people “in non-religious ways & led people to know Him.”
Ironically, instead of doing what much of the people in our scene do (criticize and ostracize) these emcees are actually challenged by the people who do things differently than them. Lecrae says that he’s been challenged to see the others as people using different methods to get the same results. “Some are Proverbs, some are Romans.” Propaganda says he’s been challenged to “really think through my actions and genuinely search the scriptures” to make sure he lines up with what’s written.
And yet, while many fans want other artists to be like their favorite emcee, their favorite emcees all had the same encouragement for people who do it differently than them - “Do you!” Ruslan, Lecrae, Proph 1 and Propaganda all had the same response when asked “What encouragement would you give someone who does it differently than you?” They all responded that artists should approach music in the way they feel God has called and gifted them to do it. “If you feel God has led you to do it this way and it doesn’t violate scripture, then by all means, do it.” says the Jersey bred emcee Proph 1.
So what am I getting at? Its clear as seen in the words of the artists we enjoy and the fruits of their labor in the Lord, that while many fans want to assimilate all artists into the Borg machine of their favorite emcee and make them all the same, we need them all. We need the various approaches to music in order to reach people and grow people. We need the people who’s music appeals to the church crowd and the people who appeal to the cyphers and college campuses. If you listen closely you’ll see the message is the same, its the approach that varies.
I’ll leave you with the words of Paul the Apostle as he addressed the Corinthian church and their desire to develop their own denominations based on style and philosophy:
“For when one says, I follow Paul, and another, I follow Apollos, are you not being merely human? What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God's fellow workers. You are God's field, God's building.” 1 Corinthians 3:4-9 (ESV)