Christian Hip-Hop Responds to Mainstream Music’s New Gospel (Part 2)
In the beginning of the month, we posted an article that sought to cover the growing trend of mainstream music doing “gospel music.” Some of the examples listed are Chance the Rapper, Kanye West, Alicia Keys, DMX, and a few others. This time around, we asked a set of questions to a mixed bag of artists within Christian hip-hop to gauge their thoughts on the topic. This is part two of our responses. Read part one here.
Rapzilla: The media is heralding Chance the Rapper and Kanye West as making great “gospel” music. Yet Christian artists that do the same, are often left out of the conversation. Why do you think it’s ok for non-Christians to dabble in the gospel, but Christians get flack?
TRUTH: Jesus made clear with no uncertain terms that the world would love it’s own and that they would prefer darkness rather than light. Therefore, the reason why Kanye West, Chance the Rapper, and even Kendrick Lamar (although a little different) are being championed as artists making quality gospel music, and we are not, is because they are very much of this world. Because they are of this world, they represent a gospel that is of this world and a Jesus that is lax, willing to compromise if necessary and synchronistic in nature. They represent a Jesus that will bend the rules and doesn’t require or demand that we abandon all to follow Him. Why do people embrace their “Christian Art” over ours? It’s simply because the brand of Christianity that they represent is right in keeping with the ways of this world. It is a cultural Christianity that allows people to do ‘both and’. It doesn’t call people away from anything and there’s no moral accountability. Conversely, the reason why we get flack is because we still represent a very offensive gospel. Although we’ve become more strategic and are learning to master the art of missional engagement, the essence of the gospel is still the smell of death to many. Regardless of how much attention and popularity we gain, the cross will never cease to polarize. And as long as the cross is at the heart of the conversation, we will remain outcasts. We should rejoice however because it only means that we are doing something right.
Rapzilla: What do you think of this quote? “[Chance the Rapper’s] Coloring Book, on the other hand, feels like the first great hip-hop album to successfully channel the centuries-old musical traditions of the black church without anything like pretension or irony. This in itself feels like something of a miracle. I say this with the utmost love but hip-hop is a profane music and always has been; its energies aren’t celestial, but fully flesh-and-blood.”
TRUTH: He might be right about the sound that Chance has been able to capture. I don’t know. However, what I hear is somebody whose looking for more out of music. He seems to be sensing the lyrical emptiness and musical deadness of Hip-Hop and finding something about what Chance is doing to be refreshing. It’s encouraging to hear him echo what we’ve been saying for years now. Hip-Hop, although not inherently, is profane and the spirt of it narrowly limited to this life. I think it’s great that he can identify the problem. My prayer is that this revelation would compel him to look further.
Here’s the thing: artists like Lupe, J. Cole, Kendrick, Chance are the new “conscious rappers.” I love listening to J. Cole talk because he has so much insight and wisdom on some level. He like the others, do an amazing job identifying the problems. They speak from and to the human experience in very profound ways. However, they do not and can not offer solutions. This is why what we’re doing is so necessary. We offer the solution. They create thirst but can’t provide water. In part because they haven’t drunk themselves, even if they are Christians. So, It’s great to hear people properly diagnose the problem, Gods desire, however, is that those revelations would compel them to grope for him.
Rapzilla: Why do you think Christian artists who dabble in “non-Christian” music get blasted for their “lack of faith” or “treason” against Christianity?
TRUTH: Well, I think it’s all in how you look at it. The reason why I have personally steered clear of those types of collaborations is because I’ve always viewed most mainstream artists as players on the opposing team. For me, the issue is not the fact they are non-Christians. It’s the fact that their message and brand, more often than not are contrary to mine. Think about how collabs are perceived by the viewer. When we see Nicki and Drake, Jay and Kanye or Young Thug and whoever, do a collaboration together, we assume camaraderie We assume that they agree fundamentally. However, you would be shocked to find a member of the KKK working along side a member of the NAACP. We would be taken a back if we saw a Pro Life and Pro Choice organizations working together for any given cause. Why? Because they serve diametrically opposed agendas. When we think collaboration, we presume unity. There can be no real unity if what we both stand for is fundamentally different. The problem is that when there is only the veneer of unity, we lose. I never said we couldn’t be friends, nor am I saying that We can’t share the same platform.
I’m simply saying that we can’t be collaborators because we represent fundamentally opposing ideals. It sends mixed signals. I am not saying we shouldn’t share the mainstream platforms, a sign to mainstream labels, spend time in the studio with mainstream artists etc. That is exactly where I believe we need to be and there are select people that God has graced to be there. It is good for us to be in close proximity to fellow artists, executives ,etc. However, I do not believe that it is necessary to WORK with them in order to WIN them. Jesus fellowshipped with publicans and sinners for sure, but that was the extent of their relationship. He never worked with them, yet he was still very much engaging them. There is a difference.
Rapzilla: Do non-Christian artists make better Christian art than the Christians do? Explain.
TRUTH: Historically, Yes. As of late, I would say that what we’re doing in Christian music is beginning to at least be comparable to the mainstream. I think we still struggle but are getting better. The reason why I believe that non-Christians have been more successful at making better music is because they have a musical identity and we don’t. They set the trend and we follow. We struggle to create because it’s easier to imitate. When we make albums, we go to the producer and say give me something like Drake or give me something like Future. We don’t take the time to sit down and think and create beautiful music. We’re not challenging ourselves to be unique, instead, we ride the wave of what’s hot at the moment. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t draw inspiration from non-Christian music, but we have to be intentional about drawing the line between inspiration and emulation. I think that if we took our ears off the radio for a little while or at least broadened our musical pallets, we’d actually have the potential to become the leaders in creativity. Don’t get me wrong, in the past especially I was guilty of this, but I fight very hard not to fall into that trap.