“I am society’s child. This is how they made me, and now I’m saying what’s on my mind, and they don’t want that. This is what you made me America … no matter what y’all think about me. I’m still your child, you know what I’m saying?” – Tupac Shakur
In the earliest days of Reach Records, it seemed that they were unapologetically standing on the side of Christian music that had to be preachy and overtly religious or it was deemed not “Christian” enough. I’ve never heard anyone from Reach Records say this, but the tone of their music and general conversation was that if your music wasn’t Christian “on the surface,” then you just might be ashamed of the Gospel.
As they’ve matured in their understanding of what being unashamed of the Gospel looks like, they’ve done endorsement deals with Stacy Adams, collaborations with renowned secular artists such as B.O.B., Saigon and Jon Bellion, and they’ve become regular guests at Shade45 on Sirius XM and other secular media outlets.
Many of the Christians I know who have a problem with this new direction think nothing of tuning in weekly to watch Scandal, Empire or Game of Thrones. The same people who complain that there’s not enough “Jesus” in the music that has been coming out of the 116 camp don’t see any contradiction when they watch television programming with nudity, profanity, blasphemy and no “Jesus” at all. Some accusations are just unfair, so I don’t take every accusation leveled against Reach Records seriously.
The biggest critique I have of Reach Records has nothing to do with with how subtle or overt their religious messages are as artists. My critique is that they have not been accountable to the confusion that their new direction has caused in the Christian hip-hop community. At the time of this writing, Wikipedia states that Reach Records is an “independent record label specializing in Christian hip-hop,” though their recently changed bio on there website makes no obvious mention of their faith in Christ. Several months ago during an interview on Shade45 with Statik Selektah, Andy Mineo said that Reach Records was not, in fact, a Christian label, though, the people involved are Christians.
This is confusing. It’s very healthy when noted figures in the community weigh in on CHH current events to give wisdom, guidance and perspective. The fans and supporters of Christian hip-hop love to get inside the minds of the artists and leaders they listen to. They take spiritual and cultural cues from their favorite rappers. Some of the younger fans heed the words of Christian rappers more than their pastors and parents. Many of them feel like they have been “discipled” and, in some cases, led to the the Lord through the music and ministry of Reach Records.
Christian hip hop is eating its own. Paul warned the Galatian church not to bite and devour each other lest they be consumed by one another. There’s a common approach to discussions online among Christians who disagree. It’s merciless and ravenous. We fire off insults intended to wound and berate one another and use the Bible to justify any and everything we feel like saying or typing in the moment. We say some of the most biting, scathing remarks to one another, concluding the exchange with a “Hey, let’s just agree to disagree. God bless.”
Christian Internet mudslinging aside, there needs to be room to challenge one another in love and wisdom. In 2010 when Bizzle debuted with “Explaining to Do” (the now infamous “Jay Z diss”), many in the Christian hip-hop community took up stones to throw, while others turned a blind eye to the stoning. Many of those stones had Lecrae’s name on them. Bizzle was chided for not being more like Lecrae. Even those who agreed with Bizzle were sometimes reluctant to speak up for fear of the social media Pharisee mob.
In the years following, Lecrae, Andy and several other prominent Christian rappers have gone on record and disagreed with how Bizzle has addressed certain topics in his music — public disagreement is not necessarily disrespect. It’s interesting to see the same community take up stones with Bizzle’s name on them to throw at Lecrae, chiding him for not being as “unashamed” as Bizzle. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Every Christian artist (or artist who is a Christian), has a responsibility to steward the platform of influence they’ve been given by God. Everyone will have to give an account to God for how they use what has been entrusted to them.
In some sense, Lecrae and Reach Records have orphaned their children. They told Christian hip hop what to be; they set the standard for how business should be conducted in the house, but rather than sending their offspring out of the house and into the world, they bounced up out of the crib themselves. It’s like the father of the house saying he’s outgrown his children. Many of the people I sometimes laugh at and dismiss as 116 internet trolls are actually disciples of Lecrae and Reach Records. They have fathered many of these Christian hip-hop children in the Gospel, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that many of Reach’s sons in the Lord are like “Hey dad where are you going?!”
Reach Records has attempted to ignore these cries, or at the minimum — addressed them lightly — and it’s clearly not a conversation they enjoy having in the media. Their supporters, including myself, have told naysayers to grow the heck up and stop whining like babies. But that might be the reason they’re crying in the first place — they are Reach’s babies, so Reach should be accountable to the atmosphere they’ve created.
Lecrae helped build CHH and then rapped “I ain’t tryna build CHH,” so as a community, many are still trying to wrap their mind around how that whole switcharoo works.
Lecrae and Andy have had no issue acknowledging the areas where the church has fallen short — from true social justice to the way the church has dealt with homosexuality, to Christian hip hop being corny at one time. They may be as consecrated and set apart to the Lord as they’ve ever been, but the “Christian rapper” vs. “rapper who’s Christian” conversation isn’t going away, and they don’t get to decide when we as a community are done talking about it. I think we’d all do well to remember the words of Malcolm X who said, “Don’t be in a hurry to condemn because he doesn’t do what you do or think as you think, or as fast. There was a time when you didn’t know what you know today.”
There’s not one person reading this who that quote doesn’t apply to.
Lecrae says, “Artistically, I’m burdened to share the gospel, but I’m not going to slap a message on art.” Amen brother Lecrae, and we as a community are still trying to figure out how we feel about that.
Photo by Philip Rood