Christian Hip Hop: Inspired or Copying?
The journey of exploring a Christian bookstore for the latest rock, hip-hop or pop album always includes a visitation of the infamous comparison chart. The chart’s primary objective is to compare mainstream and Christian artistic styles to conclude whether they can be placed in the same category. The music industry as a whole likes to categorize artists to appeal to a particular fanbase.
In the last decade the most duplicated trend in Christian hip hop has been lyrical theology. Aspiring emcees formulate their lyrics in the vein of established Christian Hip Hop artists like Cross Movement, Shai Line and Trip Lee. One failed observation on the part of the aspiring emcee is that the mainstream community listens to the music before the lyrics, while our community listens to the lyrics before the music. Mainstream watches for the music or the presentation and then hears the lyrical content. Inspiration can be defined as, “being breathed upon; resulting in a burst of creativity”. Copying can be defined as, “duplicating information, work or object while not using the same process that originally created it”. Have you ever played music for a person that’s not familiar with Christian hip hop and their reaction is “the rapper sounds like______”? When Allen Iverson performs a cross over on an opponent you never hear, “His cross-over is like_____? Why is that?
Genesis 39 provides a story of Joseph, a man who was handsome, intelligent and one who mastered his craft. He was then declared governor and given an influential role throughout the land. When thinking of mastering a craft, an individual needs to be creative. Utilizing (God-given) creativity will dispel illegitimacy and ultimately garner influence. Its sad to admit, but many Christian rappers copy styles from mainstream rappers and do not even admit their “influence”! Within Christian hip hop, creativity is often pushed to the side. As long as familiar words are mentioned such as, “rep Christ” “cash or Christ” “die to self” “disciple” “don’t use secular beats,” an artist typically gets a pass. The classic phrase “It’s not industry but ministry,” is often quoted by artists, labels, djs and fans. Ministry should be the focus for any Christian artist, undoubtedly. But should the integrity of the music, sound, style and image be compromised for the status quo lyrical content?
The identity crisis in this industry supports those that are “familiar” while creative or “different” artist are isolated into a corner. Not only are artist creating familiar images but producers are making beats that strongly resemble secular music. Artists often will say “create me a beat similar to T.I.’s Live Your Life” and then wonder why, or pretend to wonder why people are saying it sounds like T.I.
In mainstream hip hop copying a style is often criticized. The idea is to push artist to create original material. In this industry we celebrate artist who sound like their favorite mainstream counterpart as long as familiar words are in the lyrics. This conformity creates comfort ability which opposes creativity. People generally see music before they hear it. Copy and pasting can present a shadow in music instead of light. The distinction is Jesus and with the message of Christ comes an authentic presentation of the gospel. If the words are biblically correct but the medium is a carbon copy of what’s popular its difficult to hear what’s presented. If Joseph was a man of God who perfected his craft, shouldn’t Christian hip hop artists as well? Christian hip hoppers can be agents of change by presenting content in a creative form.
Do you believe there is copy and pasting in Christian Hip Hop? Post your comments below.