While many Christian artists would agree that the music they make has an ultimate end goal of sharing the gospel, there is an endless amount of views on how the money earned from the music should be used. While some within the industry might see their work as more of a ministry, others regard it strictly as a business for profit, as well as endless combinations of the two views sprawled about in between.
Rapzilla.com interviewed several Christian hip hop artists to gain their perspective on the issue in order that fans might gain a better understanding of this controversy.
“My career is definitely a ministry. But there are aspects that have to be ran as a business. I work a full-time job, so to take time off work, time from my family and travel, there has to be financial backing,” said RMG recording artist B. Cooper. “Flights aren't free. Hotels aren't free. Food isn't free. My mortgage also isn't free. That being said, I believe it's a healthy mix. Most people that bring me out or book me are parts of ministry themselves. The money that goes to me is typically money given to the ministry to minister and reach the people. It's all a cycle.”
Much like B. Cooper, most artists within Christian hip-hop work full-time or at least part-time jobs to maintain a more stable financial situation. When it comes to issues such as supporting a family, there typically isn’t much of an argument. It’s what goes beyond that where the controversy lies.
“[Most artists] have definitely not nailed that balance [between ministry and business],” said Tucson, Arizona based artist Joey Jewish. “When I was first starting off in this industry, I thought everybody else’s mind was just like me...You notice very quickly that, I think probably like any other industry, it’s very diluted. There’s a few real good men, then there are those who are far out and in it for the gain, and they are basically using Jesus as a hustle.”
According to Joey, this sort of abuse of the Church’s generosity took on multiple different forms ranging from small to severe.
“Whether it was going to a church and walking out the back door and you see some dudes hitting a sneak of coke or something, that we're just about to get on stage, to people who had managers and I could see them like ‘Hey, we're not doing anything my artist gets this much,’” Joey said.
Although these sort of actions are not universal within Christian hip-hop, it is clear that there are some artists who have been abusing the generosity of the Church for quite some time.
“With some [artists], I would say yes, and with others, I would say no,” said Tony Wray of Lamp Mode Recordings duo Hazakim. “When financial gain coincides with a decrease in Gospel content, I’m too smart to actually believe it’s a ‘coincidence.’ We have a lot of savvy rappers in [Christian hip-hop] 2016. We seem to have mastered the art of putting just enough God talk in our music to keep our Christian fans pacified while being nearly indistinguishable enough to not be persecuted by the world.”
Most would admit the tight fisted nature of some artists is certainly not an industry wide epidemic, and in the opinion of 2015 Rapzilla Freshman Lawren, those who are commonly criticized for being corrupt are simply just making the best decision for themselves and their families.
“I’m not using [Christian hip-hop] or my music as a means of financial income. It’s not my main source of income,” Lawren said. “But, there are people who are blessed enough to have the opportunity for this to be their main source of income. So, those people can be looked at as making business decisions, but at the same time, they are supporting their first ministry which is their household.”
With this being said, most major artists probably focus on the business aspect of music more than most fans are aware of, something which B. Cooper feels should be more than understandable.
“Truth be told, I don't believe many people reading this would go to their job and work 50 plus hours a week and be happy if they were never given a paycheck,” said B. Cooper. “Trust me, I do not do music/ministry for money. That being said, everything costs, especially time.”
Many prominent artists have come to realize this in their own careers as well. indie tribe. artist Mogli the Iceberg, emphasizes that ministry should be a part of any self-proclaiming Christian’s vocation, and that artists shouldn't necessarily be held to any sort of special standard financially.
“If you're a Christian, we are all called to ministry,” said Mogli. “That should shine through in your profession, whatever it [may be]. At the same time, whatever your profession or career is, you should be doing that to the best of your ability.”
Rapzilla co-owner and Syntax Creative head of marketing, Chad Horton, agrees with this perspective, given his vast experience in the music business. “You know, it’s funny that people have a problem with Christian artists making money,” Horton said. “If you ran a business, you would need and want to make money. Ministry is what we are called to do in all of our actions. Just because rappers have a platform to share art and the gospel doesn’t mean that making money is wrong. It is wrong if you aren’t seeking Christ but are just using him and his people to benefit financially.”
With the rise of multiple Christian hip-hop record labels over the past couple of years, much attention from the music business industry has been directed towards the sub-genre as of recently. Collision Records CEO Adam Thomason feels that the framework of his label is definitely based on ministry, but also understands that good business is a necessary aspect of effective ministry.
“I started [Collision] knowing that I was going into a general market sector, so you are doing business...From a philosophical standpoint, if you are selling something to someone, then there is an element of business,” said Thomason. “I think people are skinning the wrong part of the cat. They’re focused on ‘Is it ministry or is it business?’ versus ‘What does God require of us to get the message out?’ Because, if you are a bad businessman, I don’t care if you say it is ministry. If you are a bad businessman you’re going to go broke. And then you are not going to be able to continue your ministry.”
However, this can often produce unforeseen effects as pointed out by Track or Die artist, Reconcile. Due to the tough financial times that all of Christian hip-hop is experiencing, many artists are starting to focus on demographics that produce the biggest profit, but often aren’t as much in need of the gospel message.
“Here’s what [these tough financial times] force people to do – you’ve got to make firm decisions about how you are going to make money,” said Reconcile. “Traditionally, people say that people in the industry don’t have money. Minorities don’t buy records...particularly, what you’ll see is a big wave of Christian rappers with EDM music. You’ll see a lot of Christian rappers make music that they know a church will book them to play.”
With that being said, many artists still choose to adopt a more traditional approach to their career as an artist, solely focusing on spreading the Word through their music and trusting that God will provide.
“It’s simpler than we make it,” Tony Wray of Hazakim said. “Scripture gives us a clear word, ‘Seek first the Kingdom of God and everything else will be added.’ If your music and approach is strictly Kingdom minded, everything else may not equate millions of dollars, but it means that your needs will be met according to His will. This gives me confidence that He will meet my needs.”
It will always be difficult to know where to draw the line when it comes to this issue, and different artists have different approaches that have been thought through and prayerfully considered. Comment sections may always be filled with various arguments regarding this topic, but hopefully as a result of this article, one can come to a better understanding as to why artists do what they do.