UK Christian Hip Hop: Then and Now
Nowadays, it’s hard to imagine life without iPods and CD’s talk less of a day spent without Facebook and Twitter and other social mediums, the basic tools many artists in this day and age use to aid in their pursuit of conveying the message within their music. Such means were non-existent back in the 90’s, the era that UK Christian Hip Hop burst onto the scene. With founding fathers such as Paul Servier (better known as DJ Royal Priest), Gifted, Blessed Man and a group named MOD and End Dayz, who later went on to release the UK’s first Christian Hip Hop Album.
Christian Hip Hop artists were a rare find, many of them believing they were the only ones sharing the Gospel through the medium of rap music. Unlike Gospel Link Live (GL Live – the UK’s premier Urban Gospel event today), back then the church simply provided the people with choir shows. Christian Hip Hop was seen as ‘just for the youth’. The church was not receptive to this style of music, with many discrediting this genre of ministry and pastors preaching against it, believing that the Gospel could not be shared through Hip Hop. Many of the artists felt as though this style of music would reach those of their own kind from a similar background, but also the availability of this genre of music was limited. So they decided to record mixtapes, back when it was better known as ‘Rhyming over Dubs’. Through being invited to other churches and church events they were able to hand out these tapes and also go on to discover that there were other Christians spreading their message through rap as well.
1997 saw great unity amongst the UK artists. A significant monthly event called ‘Worship & Warriors’ hosted by Paul Servier took place and became an instrumental turning point in the UK Christian Hip Hop scene. The goal of this event was simple; to bring all the ministers together to pray, worship and fellowship. These events continued for a further 3 years varying between the North & South of London.
Through various events and shows many doors opened up for the artists, such as GreenJade being offered their own ‘float’ in 1998 at the UK’s well known Notting Hill Carnival, being the first Urban Gospel music ministry in the Carnival. This had great influence. 1999 saw many new acts emerge from different parts of the UK such as Ebony Soldiers from Luton.
Some of the UK’s most well known Christian Hip Hop artist were birthed out of the most influential collective of our day. Started up by Jahaziel, his vision was to see rappers coming together and doing something collectively. A meeting was called, and shortly after ZionNoiz was formed. ZionNoiz, comprising a number of groups and individuals with diverse talents such as Jahaziel, GreenJade, Royal Priesthood, Dwayne Tryumf and many more came together in 2001. Meeting up on a regular basis, ZionNoiz collected beats and worked on the album ‘Many Sounds, One Noiz’ which was released in 2004.
The success of their first single ‘The Anthem: And What’ open doors as far as Christian Hip Hop being taken seriously in the UK mainstream. With the video appearing on one of the most popular UK urban music channels at the time, Channel U, 2005 saw the song appear on the Channel U album compilation and ZionNoiz perform at the UMA’s (Urban Music Awards), sharing the same stage as Jay-Z. This was a huge milestone for UK Christian Hip Hop.
Shortly after the album was released, the members of ZionNoiz decided to take an individual focus from the collective and hone in on their own separate paths. With Dwayne Tryumf going on to release 2 albums and feature on Lecrae’s lead single ‘Don’t Waste Your Life’, which was voted the #1 Christian Rap song of 2009.
With ZionNoiz having gone their separate ways UK Christian Hip Hop took a dip, but barriers were still being broken with GreenJade (watch “Gunz Down” here) being the first Hip Hop act to perform at the annual Greenbelt Festival. Nevertheless, the silence was noticeable until mid-2006 when PreacherBoy Entertainment was launched. Starting out as a record label founded by Charisse Beaumont and Robert Oyediwura, they signed their first artist; Jahaziel. Introducing a new model in promotion and marketing in the UK, many emerging artists and groups such as G-Force followed that model and found success, making full use of the now popular social networking site MySpace.com which allowed artists to go straight to their audience, allowing music to be accessible to all with just a click of a button.
Having Christian Hip Hop so accessible to the public and technology so affordable, this resulted in industry insiders’ waking up to what was going on, causing the first award show in Europe to celebrate urban music (The prestigious MOBO awards) to re-open their Gospel section in 2006. G-Force were the first UK Christian Hip Hop act to win the award in 2007, setting a trend of Christian Hip Hop acts winning the award for the past 5 years, most recently won by Triple O in 2011. This shows that recognition for the underground is steadily growing and has the potential to cross over to the mainstream.
With known favourites such as Guvna B who recently released an album named ‘Next Ting 140’ which was a compilation of the finest UK Christian Hip Hop/Grime MC’s today such as Tru2DaName, Forever Christ, Jay Dolph, Presha J, etc. This reached #2 in the iTunes Christian & Gospel chart and #18 in the Amazon Hip Hop & Rap charts.
This year saw boundaries being broken with S.O and Jahaziel being signed to LampMode Recordings and Xist Music respectively, showing that the U.S. is quickly beginning to take notice of what the UK has to offer.
There are now a growing number of artists, collectives, and labels emerging from the UK, many of which do not experience the same obstacles and restrictions that our pioneers once faced. Being able to record music from their own bedrooms, the amount of material released by UK Christian Hip Hop artists is at its peak. Having collectively released 15 projects this year, Christian Hip Hop, Rap and Grime have become the forerunners of Gospel music as a whole here in the UK.