Christian Rap

Someone asked my opinion on Christian Rap, so I decided to try it out...

Introduction

Photocredit: FreeImages.com/serkan turaƧ
Not too long ago, I got a text asking if I listen to Christian Rap. It was an interesting question because rap has always been that genre floating on the periphery for me. What do I mean by that? I mean, if you check my iTunes you'll find a ton of Missy Elliot, some Eve, a little bit of Drake, and a pinch of Eminem, but in the grand scheme of things, I'd say rap only accounts for about 5-10% of my library. In undergrad, since I was in a historically Black sorority, I knew way more songs than I owned. Rap was the music I heard at the parties, at the step shows, the neophyte presentations, etc. I knew the words, might love the beat, but it's just always been a genre that I was never really "at home" with. Perhaps it's the lyrics or maybe the vibe I get from the music, but I don't find myself yearning to listen to rap. Most of the time, I simply listened to it because it's on. So when my friend asked if I listened to Christian Rap, I wondered if hearing Godly messages instead of vulgarity would change my nonchalant view of rap.
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The Arguments For & Against Christian Rap

There's a definite debate between believers concerning appropriate worship music. Can we take worldly music such as rap or rock, to create Godly music that praises the Most High? On the one hand, the Bible does say that people danced and sang to praise the Lord and while specific genres such as rap or rock may not have existed during Biblical times, God never specifies a "good" type of music or a "bad" type of music. Conversely, those who oppose rap in worship music site the point that we are to be set apart from the world. I fully understand both arguments. Once, in undergrad, I attended a mega church. When I entered the sanctuary, there was music blaring, it was dark, there were strobe lights, people were dancing in the aisles, and I honestly couldn't tell if I was still at the party I'd attended the night before or if I'd managed to make it to church. That's quite an unsettling feeling. Of course, as pro-Christian rap enthusiasts state, God doesn't say that one type of music is better than another. Old time-y gospel is still a fusion of genres, sometimes soul or jazz or country... Why should rap be any different?

There are 3 parts to a song: the lyrics, the melody, and the music itself. In a gospel song, the lyrics should be about God; we know that He would approve of that. The question people are posing deals more with melody (or lack thereof) and music. In rap there's more of a cadence than a melody, but we're going to call the rhythm of the flow the melody. In any melody, there's a tone that helps set the vibe of the music. Some melodies are upbeat and joyous, some are sad, while others are angry. There are lots of possibilities and combinations that can occur to set this tone. Naturally songs that are praising God are expected to be either upbeat or joyous, perhaps solemn, but definitely not angry. How does angry music praise God? This same principle applies to the background music. It says something to you and makes you feel a certain way. An appropriate gospel song makes you praise God.

Lecrae

Lecrae is probably the biggest name in Christian rap, so I decided to check him out. The first song I found was called "Welcome to America." While it isn't vulgar, it isn't gospel either. I don't think God or Jesus was even mentioned, and if they were they definitely weren't the focus of the song. In the suggested videos bar on YouTube, I saw another of his songs called "Church Clothes," so I clicked to listen to that one.
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Church Clothes

It was interesting that if you separated parts of the song, it seemed almost anti-God. It's definitely anti-Church, which I had no problem with since he was speaking truth. Though, I found it hard to parse out his actual message. The lyrics to the song can be found here but I want to point out some interesting things:
That's backwards and I lack words for these for these actors called pastors
All these folks is hypocrites,
And thats why I ain't at church
Truthfully I'm just doin' me,
And I don't wanna face no scrutiny
As long as the church keep wildin' out, I can justify all my foolish deeds
Lecrae - "Church Clothes"
The first 3 lines, while they may irk church goers and pastors, are pretty much spot on. However, we aren't supposed to be "doin' [us]," we're not here to live for ourselves; we're here to live for God... Then he says he doesn't want to face scrutiny; well, what does he think judgment day is? I'm not saying people have a right to judge each other in the sense of saying someone is good/bad or inferring that they will or won't make it to heaven, but there are several passages about confronting our fellow believers when they are in sin. It's not about hypocrisy, its about holding each other accountable. It's often hard to see our own fault, this is why it's easy to look like a hypocrite. A fellowship of true believers, however, discuss these issues amongst each other and accept where each person is right or wrong. For instance person A may be an alcoholic and person B may be promiscuous, but what should happen is that when A confronts B about their behavior, B acknowledges their wrong as well as confronts A about their alcoholism. A and B would then work together to encourage each other to stay away from temptation from their former vices. That is how we are supposed to hold each other accountable, because no one is perfect. What is not supposed to happen is B calls A a hypocrite and then infers that B can do whatever they want because A is in the wrong too. That's like saying one person ran the red light so I'm going to run the red light too—that's a bad idea and it's still illegal. But that's exactly what Lacrae says in the next line! He's saying he wants to live how he wants to live without anyone pointing out if he's in sin. I'm sorry Lecrae, but if you're sinning, you're sinning whether I point it out to you or not, God is watching you. I'd personally rather have a fellow believer pull me to the side and politely tell me I'm in error so I can fix myself before He comes back or my time is up...
Yeah I know what's right from wrong, But that there ain't gon' sell a song
I'd rather sell my soul than save itLecrae - "Church Clothes"
Again, Lecrae points out something that's true, but he doesn't say "they" would rather sell their soul, he says he would. So, if Lil' Wayne took note of his skills, he'd sign to Young Money and start rapping about sex, money, and drugs? That's what it sounds like to me...
It better not be no real god,
Real hope, that heals hearts
It shows me that I ain't livin up
To all these things he put me here forLecrae - "Church Clothes"
Is this supposed to be a form of reverse pyschology? A gospel song praises God, but Lecrae is saying the opposite. I'm gonna give him the benefit of the doubt and say the intent was to remind people that there is a God and He heals hearts and knows we aren't living up to His standards. However, you are not about to get me to sing, rap, sign, or mime a line that implies I hope God doesn't exist. If this is the epitome of Christian rap, I'm not impressed.

[UPDATE: One of my friends, who listens to Lecrae on occasion, believes the song is from the point of view of sinners or non-believers. That may be so; I've never met Lecrae so I can't really ask him to verify. However, there still isn't anything that confirms this in the song, which errs on the side of confusion. Nowhere in the song does Lecrae indicate he's speaking from someone else's point of view... It's a rap song, there easily could have been a short intro attached the song where he set up the idea that he was talking to a person struggling with faith and that's what the person said back to him. A hook that shows change was also an option. None of that happens, so we're left to put our own interpretation to it. Lecrae could say it meant whatever he wanted and we would have to just trust him.

Many of the articles I read concerning Lecrae argue not about his content, but about the company he keeps. Supporters then argue that "Jesus hung with the worst of them" to suggest Christians can keep company with the unGodly, despite 2 Corinthians 6:14 telling us to be careful about our relationships. There is a major difference in what Jesus did and what people are trying to equate with His example. Yes, a prostitute came to Jesus for help and He helped her. Yes, Paul was a horrible person before Jesus appeared to Him and converted him. However, we must take note that Jesus did not go to a brothel just to hang out in the hopes of converting the prostitutes. We never see Jesus minimize His message or change who He is—a task that I imagine is much easier for the Son of God than His fully human followers—while He is interacting with them. Furthermore, in every case, Jesus demands they change. He tells the prostitute to "go and sin no more." He tells Paul to become a minister to the Gentiles. All of the worldly practices and sins these people committed had to be left behind. In other words, while Lecrae may have rapped a verse with Kendrick Lamar, Jesus never shared the stage with Pharisees. Why? Because while He wanted all people to be saved, He didn't want to confuse those who would be saved or were already saved with mixed messages.]
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Other Songs

Since so many of my Christian friends like him, I wanted to give him another chance. He has a lot of songs, so I thought maybe I'm just picking all the bad ones... I found a "top 10" list of his songs, though I'm not sure who picked the so called top 10 songs. The list (found here) included the aforementioned "Church Clothes" but did not include "Welcome to America." The first song, "Nuthin'" has the beat from a popular rap song from a while back. I couldn't remember the name of the song, I just knew it took me back to middle school dances and gossip—it definitely didn't have me thinking about God. In fact I spent more time after hearing the song trying to recall why I knew that beat so well but couldn't recall the original lyrics. My mind wasn't satisfied until I found the original song... I did a google search to see where he lifted the beat from, because I knew it was a popular beat—it had to be if I recognized it. The song in question is called "I Got 5 on It" by Luniz; it's about drugs and came out in 1995 (which explains why I couldn't remember the lyrics, I was only 7 when it came out).[1] Upon searching for this information I also found that Lecrae rejects the "Christian" rap label and considered himself "as much a Hip Hop artist as Jay-Z." Is he implying that Christian rap is less than secular rap? Is he saying he's a secular rapper? Is he claiming the religion of hip hop?[2] To me it sounds like he's distancing himself from God and lumping himself in with the secular. That definitely isn't being set apart from the world.

On top of that, the song really doesn't say anything about God! Just like your average rap song that may have a reference to God randomly thrown in (Lecrae mentions Judas and the last supper), this song is nothing but a critique of mainstream rap. Lecrae wasn't lying when he said he wasn't a Christian rapper.

Many have claimed to be led to God by Lecrae, the testimonials are written under his status as #1 Christian rapper, but just because you say you're a Christian doesn't mean you believe the Bible or that you follow the Jesus of the Bible. Hitler claimed to be a Christian, too. I don't know these people personally, so I can't say they didn't pick up a Bible and find the real Jesus, maybe they did. For their sake, I hope they did. What I can say is that his music didn't do anything to inspire me toward God or a Godly life style. All it did was steer me toward that lukewarm spot between Godly and worldly.
15Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. 16Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? 17Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. 18A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. 19Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. 20Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. 21Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. 22Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? 23And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.Matthew 7:15-23 KJV

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Other Rappers and Conclusions

As I said in the beginning, I think it is possible for there to be Godly rap music or Gospel rap or Christian rap, whatever you'd like to call it. My unpopular opinion is that Lecrae is not it. I am not so quick to lump all Christian rappers in this box, because I see this problem across all type of genres that claim to be Christian or Gospel. Sometimes it's just inspirational. I saw an article on an artist called Supaman; his music seemed as though it might be interesting though I have not had a chance to fully check him out. The Top Tens lists 10 Christian Rappers ranked by votes from the general public, perhaps some of them are more promising. I think it's important to actually listen to what is being said. We can't just hear the word "Jesus" and label something Godly. Just like we shouldn't idolize secular celebrities, we shouldn't idolize Gospel artist either (God already told us not to have idols). We see Gospel artists, like Katy Perry, turn their backs on God for money all the time. Many of these artists have one foot in the world and one foot in the church. I don't know where their hearts are or how much of the word they've studied, but I know at some point we all have to choose God or the world, you can't have both.

So, the short answer is "no," I don't listen to Christian rap. I think it's possible that out there somewhere, there's a Christian rap song I may like. Over the past few weeks, I've been cleaning out my iTunes library, and while almost every rap song I own has been removed for vulgarity, lust, or other unGodly lyrics, I don't miss them. What I mean is, I don't feel a hole were secular rap was that compels me to replace it with Christian rap. Thus, I'm not really looking for Christian rap artists, but if I find an artist I like, sure, I'll add it to my collection.
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References

  1. Parker, Jamila. The Faith-Based Community Applauded Lecrae’s Lawsuit Against Katy Perry. Then, He Did This. EEW Magazine Christian Rap Fix. July 2014
  2. Smith, Ryan. Bun B’s College Course Makes One Rapper Ask: Is Hip-Hop a Religion?. Complex. June 2013

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Author Image Author Image I love reading the Word of God. With prayer God's Word reveals so much: from comfort to temperance, from perspective to affirmation. Digging into the depths of the Word, cross-referencing history, language and time differences, is a passion of mine. In March of 2015 I decided to go back through the Bible doing an in depth study on each section I read. Eventually I decided to share my journal of notes as I partake in this journey. I hope you are blessed by God and inspired to pursue a deeper relationship with Him. I love reading and learning about God, nature, and science. I am interested in how it all connects. The Creator's fingerprints are all over his creation. We can learn so much about Him and how we came to be by exploring the world around us. Join me as I explore the world and draw closer to the One who created it all.
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