Examining marriage’s hip-hop presence with Stephen the Levite’s album ‘Can I Be Honest?’
On Valentine’s Day, there may be no more relevant Christian hip-hop album than Stephen the Levite’s Can I Be Honest?
Can I Be Honest? isn’t all about love, but about half of the tracks are about marriage, which is not a recipe for chart-topping in this subgenre — given that approximately a third of its audience is 18-to-24-year-old males. In fact, Stephen the Levite’s wife and manager Trisha Bell told Rapzilla that Can I Be Honest? sold less the first week than his previous album, The Last Missionary, did.
This won’t discourage the Lamp Mode Recordings artist to address the topic again on his next project, though. He believed Can I Be Honest? would fill a need when he wrote the album, and that continues to be is his motivation — not record sales.
“I don’t hear a lot of songs about marriage, dealing with baggage from exes when you get married, dealing with your own wife’s past of molestation or rape, or sex being something celebrated and not just something that you don’t do until you’re married,” Stephen the Levite said. “I think these are real issues that are important that need to be dealt with and addressed in a way that I think God would be pleased with.”
Marriage is an uncommon topic in broader hip hop. Stephen the Levite and B.J. Thompson, co-founder of Build a Better Us, agree that the genre’s masculine culture has much to do with this.
“There is a perception of what a hip-hop artist is,” Thompson said. “A lot of it is macho. It’s conquering. It’s an absence of treating women with a certain level of dignity, and so I think if you begin to introduce the idea of marriage and some sense of faithfulness in marriage, it kind of throws off that mainstream message.”
“Nobody wants to be LL Cool J,” Stephen the Levite said. “Rappers have said, ‘I’m like the old LL because I’m hard as hell.’ LL was dope at first, and then he started making all these love songs, and [people] were like, ‘Alright, 99 percent of your fans wear high heels.’ I don’t think people want to be that dude.”
This mindset may exist but is at least less prevalent in Christian hip hop, as Can I Be Honest? is not the only album that tackled marriage in 2014. Relationship was woven in the concept of Christon Gray’s School of Roses, and The Recording Academy even nominated Lecrae’s marriage anthem “All I Need Is You” for a 2015 Grammy Award. However, neither effort is nearly as graphic as some songs on Can I Be Honest?
“Honeymoon,” track No. 9, is all about sex.
This is grown folk conversation /
It’s appropriate, most my supporters ain’t kids /
Contrary to popular speculation /
I don’t do this for youth groups and this isn’t their language /
Now back to what I was sayin’ /
A marriage is sealed through consummation /
When that man and woman get naked /
There’s no reason for shame, they share a moment that’s sacred /
And it’s deeper than penetration /
A new bed old baggage don’t have a place in /
Many levels of liberation sit in juxtaposition to pics of incarceration
Track No. 8, “Baggage” is even bolder. Stephen the Levite starts the first verse by rapping, “Between masturbation and past relations / I was cheating before we even began dating.” In the second verse, he raps about the grief caused by his wife Trisha being raped in college and the temptations that stem from it.
Trisha had just begun to receive counseling about the rape around the same time that her husband wrote the album. The impact of this on them inspired him to rap about it. While Trisha was hesitant due to the subject matter, she was already trying to figure out how to share her story to encourage other women, so Can I Be Honest? became just that.
“Our main goal was to let people know that this happens in marriage, that there are Christian women who have been raped or molested and they get married to wonderful men,” Trisha said. “And the Lord can really redeem that person, even in the midst of marriage. Yeah, you might struggle and wrestle through it while you’re in marriage, but it’s OK.
“The Lord is going to honor your marriage. He honors the fact that you’re redeemed and you’re new. You don’t have to feel ashamed. You don’t have to feel worthless or like you’re not worthy of marriage. I just really wanted my story shared so other women didn’t have to feel like they were alone. That’s the thing I wrestle with: ‘Am I the only person that’s going through this who’s a believer? Is there anybody else?’”
There were others. And they were impacted by the transparency of Can I Be Honest? Trisha also said the encouraging feedback they received from listeners helped heal the wounds that they had struggled through.
The manner in which Stephen the Levite addressed marriage as a whole on the album made an impact as well.
I have been so blessed by Stephen the Levite's album, "Can I be Honest?" as it gives a biblical view of marriage and sex! @dawhiSTLeblower
— timothy brindle (@timothybrindle) December 19, 2014
If you a young Chirstain man & about to get married i urge you to get Stephen The Levite's The Last Missionary & his Can I Be Honest albums.
— Thabo Moloi (@touchda8thwnda) December 9, 2014