19
Dec 2007
Written by Sketch the Journalist

 
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Photo by Rafael Alvez

“I still haven’t found / what I’m looking for…” 

U2’s Bono nailed the sentiment. In over 20 years of listening to holy hip hop (First purchase: 1986 / Stephen Wiley’s “Bible Break” single – on tape!), I have yet to run across The Perfect Christian Rap Album.

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Photo by Sara Amroussi
 

“I still haven’t found / what I’m looking for…” 

U2’s Bono nailed the sentiment. In over 20 years of listening to holy hip hop (First purchase: 1986 / Stephen Wiley’s “Bible Break” single – on tape!), I have yet to run across The Perfect Christian Rap Album

No, that’s not the title of the latest mixtape from an ego-driven new convert you’ve never heard of, but rather the ideal, epitome of what a gospel rap project should be.

Is it even attainable? Could such a thing even exit? Or is it a modern day fairy tale – a unicorn or leprechaun for the urban cross bearers?

To answer that, we would first have to define it.

After much thought and over two decades of listenership (I told y’all I’ve been down for a minute!) I can at least propose what I believe to be the recipe for TPCRA.

Read, respond, and debate. Let the flame wars begin!

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Message 

The first ingredient is obviously the Message. Given that this music’s primary purpose is ministry, it’s got to have significant content. The lyrics and concepts need to reflect, represent, and interpret the ancient Scriptures we call the Living Word.

This doesn’t mean the songs have to literally follow the plot line of the Bible, mention Jesus every other line, or contain awkward rhyming dictionary attempts to find a match for Habakkuk or Zephaniah.

But, listeners should be able to discern an obvious difference between this album’s content and that of say… 50 Cent, Talib Kweli, or Dem Fanchize Boyz.

Mastery

In order to even get close to the title of The Perfect Christian Rap Album you also have to have talent. Master your craft. This means hot beats, tight lyrics, powerful production, and overall quality. It needs to be the total package.

It doesn’t matter what flavor of hip hop you’re repping – East Coast, underground, Southern Fried, gangsta, or all of the above. Just do it well. The familiar refrain in HHH is that if we’re representing our Savior, our Christ, our Lord – it needs to be done in excellence.

Don’t let poor quality be the reason your message doesn’t reach those who need to hear it most.

Marketability

Finally, you have to have a marketable product. If nobody wants what you are selling then your message music isn’t going anywhere.

Believe me, I’ve heard all the excuses.

  • “They just don’t get my art.”

  • “I’m so far ahead of the game they just ain’t caught up to me yet.”

  • “My style is all my own.”

  • “I won’t sell out.”


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Photo by Fabrizio Lonzini
But let’s be real – if you aren’t drawing crowds or listeners then you’re not drawing their hearts to encounter the Christ.

To have The Perfect Christian Rap Album you need to have catchy, easy to remember hooks. You need to have content that is convicting but not overly preachy. You have to use beats and concepts that the appeal to your audience. That’s who you are doing this for isn’t it? The listeners?

If you want to keep it a worship offering between you and God and both of you are happy with the end result that’s cool. Just don’t be discouraged if and when you try to expand your audience and get your music into hands other than the ones attached to your own two arms.

That might mean you have to make a song for the soccer moms (who hold the pocket books) or for the junior high youth group. You might have to make a hip pop track that will get you better radio airplay or break down that complex, metaphor in your chorus to something a little more palatable. If you truly have a higher purpose, these sort of compromises shouldn’t matter.

The Verdict

So, is it possible for all three of these elements to actually come together in one project? Perhaps. The closest we’ve had so far have probably been in releases from artists like The Cross Movement or KJ-52.

The Perfect Christian Rap Album may be currently sitting on a bookstore shelf, on a DJ’s turntable, or in your creative little brain. Then again, we may never see the mythical PCRA.

But at least it’s a goal we can strive for.


 

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