Hip-Hop Led Worship Teams Inject New Life into Old Territory
One of the most integral parts of a church service aside from the sermon is the praise and worship. There are people who go to church to get their fill of God’s presence by worshipping with hands up, eyes closed and an all-out surrender to God. There are also people who wish to experience that liberation but just can’t get into the music for a variety of reasons. Slowly, this is beginning to change.
Perhaps one of the biggest gripes people have, more specifically the younger generations, is worship music has grown stale. Every week it is the same often times corporate worship songs being played the same way over and over in every church. There is no musical life in the set, and there is seemingly nothing to adapt to the body of the church.
Every musical form has evolved with its listeners over the decades except “standard church worship.” To face the facts head on, worship music has become a genre. It’s essentially become the top poster child for Christian music as groups and artists such as Hillsong, Chris Tomlin, Kari Jobe, and so on have become mainstream faces and artists who chart on Billboard lists.
With this growing popularity in the soundscape of media, worship music started to change. Groups are incorporating EDM, rock elements, pop arrangements, and even folk. Artists such as Gungor, Crowder, Kings Kaleidoscope, Pacific Gold, and Young & Free have started to change the landscape of the genre. However, one genre blend remains untapped – hip-hop.
Often looked at like the little brother of Christian music, hip-hop is stepping into the forefront of what defines Christian music. Part of that is due to the popularity of Reach Records, but the other part of that is hip-hop itself. Hip-Hop conveys the voice of the current generation in many forms. Millennials are fueled by hip-hop culture. At one time it was frowned upon in the church. Now, for the most part, it is welcomed with open arms.
Christian hip-hop has dabbled in worship in the past. There was 2001’s Sinner’s Prayer by Hip-Hop Praise, Shai Linne’s Lyrical Theology Pt. 2: Doxology, and Ill Harmonics’ Modern Heart Exhibit to name a few. Along the way, there have been releases that hit a song or two. Gospel music also teeters the line between worship, hymns, and urban music.
However, never has a worship team let hip-hop be the forefront of their group, or a rapper is the worship team leader, until now.
Rapzilla spoke to three people involved in this new movement, Sam Hart (Well Music), Troy McComas (The Overcomers), and Ben Murti (Fearless BND).
Sam Hart has strong ties to Christian hip-hop as he was a member of Sackcloth Fashion and has been featured with countless other emcees over the years. He is currently overseeing Well Music which is an offshoot of The Well church.
Hart says Well Music began to transform out of the necessity to engage with their congregation.
“Worship is taking up half of the time during services and it’s got this power to get past the frontal lobe into the soul and into the heart and yet we aren’t wielding that weapon in a way that actually matches what we do with sermons,” he said.
They were doing the standard worship songs every week and while that was good, it was lacking that dynamic ability to reach. Hart said after doing years of underground hip-hop and touring, there was still a weird disconnect between that and church.
“For some reason, worship has a sound and it doesn’t make any sense to me,” Hart admitted. “We’ve created this whole other culture about worship that is reading into scripture in a way that it doesn’t intend to be.”
Well Music decided it wanted to make a change and challenge people on what worship really is. Playing the same worship music over and over was “killing the creativity even though it was tight and safe.”
“We put people together in groups of four, five, six and just allowed them to be bands. Come up with their own name, and come up with their own arrangements of the song,” he revealed. “We realized quickly that we needed to have a uniform library, one group of songs that we do at our church, but the bands can do them, however, they want as long as you don’t change the melody or the lyrics.”
He continued, “We wanted high scripture songs, wanted hymns, and then topical songs – gospel-rich, Jesus-centered.”
There are currently 10 bands that rotate between the campuses of the church. All of these bands have been equipped with 10 weeks of worship development classes, a 12-week process in getting a group off the ground, and guidance from a producer until they find their sound.
The bands have to go through 10 weeks of worship development classes. 12 weeks where people are grouped into bands. A producer helps shape the groups until they get the ball rolling.
The bands range from bluegrass, folk, pop, and rap. The rap band is called The Overcomers.
Hart’s wife is the singer and Troy McComas is the rapper.
“How can you write a rap verse for the church that pulls people out of singing and engages their mind for 16 bars in a way that you are writing on behalf of them? You are writing for the masses in a way that is arousing their affections for God at the same time. We realized this is new territory for a rapper to lead worship,” he explained.
Uncharted territory is a good way to explain it, especially since Christianity was unknown to McComas until he gave his life to Christ.
“I didn’t grow up in the church. I grew up in a rough neighborhood,” McComas said. “Hip-hop was an expression, a voice, something that resonated with me.”
He didn’t know what church music was, and to him, any blend of worship with hip-hop wasn’t a logical connection he would ever make.
The emcee says that in certain circles, worship was in this box, and it was its own genre. Much like Hart, he didn’t understand because hip-hop always had this special place for him that was “poetic and musical.”
“Taking that and worship elements, it creates an experience that liberates us from that defining notion of what worship is,” said the rapper. “It’s interesting to see what those stereotypes of what worship is, broken down.”
Often times the music flows like a call and response. They sing out to God and then the raps offer a reflection. The rap verse brings in the commentary for the worship and helps engage the mind of the listener.
McComas admitted that he was a bit hesitant at how this would work at first, but so far has no regrets. The Overcomers have been received well and it’s “working.”
The next person Rapzilla spoke to was Ben Murti, creative pastor, manager, and guitarist, of Fearless BND.
Fearless BND isn’t a rap worship band like The Overcomers, but they intentionally do create certain songs to fit rap into. Their sound is more along the lines of EDM and dance/pop, but they have two rappers as part of the team.
“A normal singing bridge just doesn’t do it anymore,” said Murti.
The artist said that in his experience, young people are listening to rap and not worship music. This is why they are very intentional with the music they make.
“The high school student might not respond to ‘jump jump clap your hands’ but they might to a rap hook,” Murti admitted. “It pulls people in.”
In the past, Fearless BND has reached out to some of the most prominent rappers in Christian hip-hop but have not been able to set something up.
However, the two rhymers they have in the group, Taylor Braxton and Josh O’Haire, are on point. They even have their own side project under Fearless Artists called Light Kills Dark . Their debut three-song project is Pioneer EP.
Light Kills Dark is more of a standard hip-hop group, but their music has a worship-like quality to it because of the choruses.
Murti said so far they have not received any negative feedback yet, and listeners are really into the music.
The mission of Fearless Music and Murti’s church is to be a “dream factory for believers,” so there is bound to be more important relevant music coming from there.
As the popularity of these worship teams grows, hopefully, the idea that hip-hop can be a viable way to worship does too. It is not a matter of one needing the other or one being better than the other; it’s a matter of blending the two to create something new, fresh, and completely edifying in a unique way. Those who just can’t enter into a heart of worship might vibe with it in a new culturally relevant package. Let’s see where it goes.