making the case for Christian rap

116Christian rappers lay it all on the line.

As someone who is passionate about words and respects those who use them well, I’ve always been drawn to rap. It’s rhythmic and clever and pushes words to their limits, multiplying meanings and arranging them like puzzles or codes. It’s like they have a life of their own, pulsing and twisting into a song people repeat over and over until it’s muscle memory. It’s powerful.

I’m a big fan of Christian rap. I liked rap already, but felt uncomfortable with the topics of disrespecting women and drug abuse. I could go more into the content of mainstream rap and hip hop, but it’s all been said before. But as much as I see Jay-Z, Kanye, and Kendrick’s talent, I fail to truly respect their work. The arrogance of man is dangerous, and it is no more apparent in the work and lifestyles of these men.

There’s a few misconceptions about this genre, from Christians and non-believers alike. I’d like to tackle those head on and make the case for the music. Trust me, it can speak on its own, but a lot of people don’t even take the time to listen.

If you think Christian rap is cheesy or its artists untalented, watch Street Hymns SLAY the other guy during a DFW Battle League round, using NO profanity or explicit content, just straight wordplay.

If sex, drugs, and money (“the real stuff”) is the content you’re looking for, it’s all covered by Christian rappers – just not glorified. Trip Lee and Andy Mineo tackle these topics head on, identifying their struggles as humans and their inability to handle the issues on their own. They point to their Savior who reformed their minds and souls and refocused their lives within a perverse industry. For example, Trip Lee tears apart a culture focused on money, sex, and power in his track “Heart Problem” from his 2012 album “The Good Life” and Lecrae analyzes the toxicity of fame in “Power Trip,” from “Gravity,” 2012.

The men of Reach Records in particular address lust, the distraction of money, and drugs, but also directly challenge race, no usage of the n-word necessary.

Lecrae punches hard with “Dirty Water” from his album “Anomaly,” released last year. The album title itself represents self-separation from the ugliness and depravity of the world, but Lecrae isn’t afraid to wrestle with the world as he sees it:

I just dug a well in West Africa

But how many of my friends is African, huh?

No habla español, just show me tu baño

Ain’t trynna get to know you, I’m too busy readin Daniel

Most segregated time of day is Sunday service

Now what you think that say about the God you worship?

First of all, I know it ain’t a song that’s gon change the world

There’s no way

It’s not a guilt trip, it’s a field trip that’s gon last more than one day

What you thought, huh?

Faith ain’t bout no soft stuff

I heard you just went overseas, now come back home and boss up

Listen up, guys: faith really ain’t about no soft stuff. The truth is hard-hitting and the standards God calls us to are just hard to live up too. It’s our job to deliver it, but to love along the way, because it hurts to fall and we know what it feels like. Let’s not forget our skinned knees too soon.

Reach Records is often self-referenced as the “116 Clique,” referencing Romans 1:16 which reads “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” (NASB)

These rappers are bold and fearless, making known the Gospel to which they are ambassadors in chains to the world. (see also Ephesians 6:19) This good news offers hope despite sickness and suffering. Trip Lee teamed up with Jimmy Needham for one of my all-time favorite songs, “Take Me There,” to directly address the mainstay of heaven through sickness and tragedy. Trip Lee himself suffers from consistent health problems, but nothing he knows he cannot overcome through God and His beautiful plan and promise of eternal victory.

As for jam-quality, the production is great and right on par with that of the rest of the rap and hip hop industry. Lecrae, in fact, purposely collaborates with talented music makers in the secular industry, notably for his 2012 mixtape Church Clothes, produced by Cannon.

Andy Mineo’s new single, “Lay Up,” is undoubtedly my favorite track right now and the way it sounds is as good as its lyrics.

As the only well-known white rapper in the Christian rap industry, he is cognizant of his differences, but challenges the idea that skin color should ever be a hindrance.

This line from “Lay Up” got me good:

“Colored folks still can’t swim/ But Mike Phelps couldn’t walk the water.”

Marv Albert, aka Wordsplayed, delivered this line, and I literally almost slammed the brakes on my car when I heard it. I was in awe. There is a truckload of meaning in that Corvette line.

Not only does he address the years of segregation that prevented black individuals from swimming, but he also hints at a general socioeconomic disadvantage that has permeated into culture since. And Michael Phelps, a white dude, may be (or was) the world’s best swimmer, but he is still nothing compared to Jesus Christ, who yes, walked on water, but also offers salvation and a new life to anyone who comes to Him, black or white, rich or poor. Michael Phelps’ gold medals are fools’ gold if he has no reward in Heaven.

YEAH, LET THAT SINK IN. That’s only one of a million times these wordsmiths have blown my mind.

Furthermore, Christian rap digs into the Gospel itself. I challenge Christian music listeners to find more Scripturally solid worship than that of Christian rap. The usual Sunday morning songs are more often than not rooted in Psalms. I’m as much of a fan of Hillsong and Jesus Culture as the next average white Christian girl, but I’ll be frank in saying that while listening to “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)” may give me the feels and more importantly, reminds me of the consistent comfort I find in my Lord and Savior, it just didn’t personally push me to explore the Bible. There are no “levels” in worship and any genuine worship is worthy to be presented to God, but I encourage people to see Christian rap as worthy worship as well.

These rappers are fluent in the Gospel. References to Scripture and even well-known theology rolls of their tongues and not only that, BUT THEY MAKE IT RHYME.

(Sidenote: I once had a non-Christian friend ask me why Christian songs generally didn’t rhyme. She was genuinely curious as to why it all sounded similar. I also had a Christian friend who said all Christian rock sounded like U2. They both have valid points.)

Because of Reach Records in particular, I have been inspired to know Scripture better. In particular, they’ve increased my interest in a deeper knowledge of the repercussions and application of the book of Romans.

These rappers could be theologians too. Despite where you stand in human interpretation of divine Word, smart people piecing ideas together is never a bad thing in of itself. John Piper is a favorite  and is a supporter of the genre and is even included in voiceovers such as “Make War” by Tedashii feat. Flame.

Beautiful Eulogy, a more electronic, indie hip hop trio from the Humble Beast label, includes powerful portions from sermons of Trinity Church of Portland pastor Art Azurdia in their tracks “The Strings That Tie Us” and “Blessed Are The Merciful,” on their 2012 album “Satellite Kite” and 2013 album “Instruments of Mercy.”

It should be noted that Trip Lee of Reach Records is a talented preacher in the pulpit and Propaganda of Beautiful Eulogy became known for his spoken word. You may have seen his G.O.S.P.E.L video. He has dreads. People usually remember him if I mention that.

He fearlessly tackles race issues, socioeconomic disparities and broken families with brutal honesty in tracks like “I Ain’t Got An Answer.” He also comments on the general imperfection of humanity and the lens Jesus gave to us to see the beauty in people in “Framed Stretch Marks.

Jackie Hill Perry is a personal hero of mine from Humble Beast as well. I’m drawn to her as a fellow female, but also her powerful story of fleeing from sexual immorality. As a former lesbian, Jackie is heartbreakingly honest about her old life, and more importantly, the hope and restoration Jesus Christ offered her as He changed her life and pulled her away from sin. Watch her lay it down in spoken word:

But what I love most about all these rappers is their humility. Propaganda commits an entire track to his life story. By his life story, I mean a verbal thank-you note to everyone who loved him: “Tell Me Yours.” The rappers present their sins openly, but it is not to boast or revel in the improvement of their lives. It is all to glorify God, and that is the heart of worship. Hit up the playlist below to hear my favorites, and please don’t hesitate to ask me questions about this genre. I’m super passionate about it and would love nothing more than to talk about it ALL THE TIME.

But don’t take my word for it. Listen for yourself.

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