Me, I'm an old head. Not as old as the oldest old heads, but I'm definitely a vet. I remember when Christian rappers (or rappers who are Christian) like Japhia Life, who had never strayed from their down-to-earth, non-religious approach to their artistry were interrogated and scoffed at (more like stoned and crucified) for not being more like Cross Movement — the forerunner to the success of Reach Records. I always argued and debated with Cross Movement fans that they were not the be-all and end-all of what it meant to be a Christian who rapped.
This debate is not new. It’s at least 10 years old and will probably continue into the future.
But something is different about the conversation this time around.
There have always been different types of Christian rappers. There's the seminary student rapper, the turnt up (formerly crunk) rapper, the secular conscious backpack rapper and so on. Me, I'm the gangster Christian rapper type. Mean faces, hand signs and threatening bravado, all in Jesus' name. I always saw both sides of this argument about methodology as extreme, as did most of my peers, but we got used to it, and it wasn't even a big deal anymore.
One day, there was a disruption in the force. Suddenly, the Christianese rappers who were heavy on the religious language began to tone it down and unofficially distance themselves from the house of Christian hip hop that they had helped build.
This was unheard of. Until recently, the churchy rappers stayed churchy, and the subtle rappers stayed subtle. And that was that.
Some believers were upset and disappointed. They became angry, branded them as sell-outs and vowed never to support them again. But for some of us, we said, "It's about time those guys stop talkin' all that extra deep youth group stuff all the time."
Which brings me to another point — Cross Movement (including Da' T.R.U.T.H.) and Reach Records were often accused of being too preachy and not relatable to the average hip-hop fan, or the dudes in the street hustling, or the girls turnt up at the club every weekend. Some of us used to say 116 made "youth group music" because much of their music was filled with overt religious language and didn't seem to speak to certain segments of the population at large. That was a critique they knew well.
I'm a rapper who doesn't rap much, so I needed music to share with unbelievers who were cut from the same cloth I was. I sure as heck wasn't passin' off Lecrae's "Jesus Muzik" to my man who I used to sell crack with.
As a Christian from the street, it just didn't seem like music for the hoi polloi. It was gospel rap but sounded more like Paul’s letters than the four Gospels. I know that’s a blanketed way of thinking, but it’s how I thought back then, and it wasn’t without merit.
Now I know better. There’s only one Bible, and it’s for everyone — believer and unbeliever alike. Though God uses the earthly credibility of the messenger, the power is in the gospel, not the messenger or the method.
Which is why I’m not really bothered by Reach’s change of direction.
Perhaps the spot they occupy in our Christian hip-hop culture will soon belong to someone else and both approaches will continue to work together for the good and create a needed and healthy balance. I actually see Reach’s change in direction as somewhat prophetic.
Cross Movement Records, which introduced us to Lecrae and RR, was built on the the foundation of 1 Chronicles 12:32, referencing the sons of Issachar who “understood the times and knew what to do.” Is it not possible that the same Spirit of discernment is guiding Reach Records and leading them in a direction many of us do not fully understand? And that they are discerning the times concerning the vision God has given them?
I’d say so. I’d say that’s very likely.
A lot of Christians want Lecrae and Andy Mineo to be more Christian in five minutes on TV than they are all week. Personally, I have no issue with how often any artist does or doesn’t say “Jesus.” I believe that is a bad way to measure whether or not a work is commissioned by God.
In Exodus 31, God filled the Israelites with His Spirit for construction work. The sacredness of a work has nothing to do with how outwardly religious the work seems. All work is to be done to the Glory of God, and God is to be acknowledged in all our ways, and He promises us that in doing so, HE will direct our paths.
So, if God directed you to the job you’re working at now, you have no less of a responsibility to steward the position God has called you to occupy in this season of your life than Reach Records does. They will fall short, as we all do. Jesus said that men will give an account for every idle word they speak. James says “If anyone doesn’t stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man.”
Scrutiny lends itself to fault finding, so remember to be mindful of your own life and conduct first and foremost.
In Part 2, we'll explore some of the more negative ways that these changes have impacted the Christian hip-hop community.