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How moving to the hood changed a suburban white guy’s view of hip hop

Chance The Rapper is “fake,” according to a teenage boy who I attempted to talk to about hip hop this month.

I moved from suburban Western PA to West Garfield Park, Chicago in September for an urban missionary internship under Legacy Christian Fellowship elder Brian Dye. Part of the internship involves youth mentorship, so I started too many hip-hop conversations to count with kids over the past two months. And nearly all of their favorite artists were not Chance, Kanye West or Kendrick Lamar, but rather drill rappers.

The Context

West Garfield Park is different than the suburbs.

Twelve months ago, I didn’t know what it meant for a corner to be “hot.” Today, I walk a specific route to the bus stop to avoid hot corners. My first week here, I was told to leave the neighborhood by two people: a man I passed on the sidewalk who thought I was a cop (because I’m white) … and an old lady at a church.

As I wrote this, I heard gunshots from my bedroom.

This is the environment that thousands of children grow up in throughout urban America — often without a father or male role model. I wondered if Chance’s rise in mainstream music would be a positive influence on Chicago’s youth, and it probably has for some, but not the teens I know.

They can’t relate to him. They relate to drill rappers Lud Foe, G Herbo and Lil Durk — because their music communicates these teens’ world. It’s why the same boy who told me Chance was “fake” said Lud Foe raps about “real life.”

The Influence

I’m not Fox News. I don’t blame every ill in the hood on hip hop.

Which came first? The violence or the hip hop?

Obviously the violence. But music paints a portrait of an artist’s life. So if an artist’s life is heavily influenced by violence, drugs and a low view of women — and no one has shown this artist another way of life — then it’s easy to see how their music could encourage those ills.

I know a 12-year-old who has Lud Foe’s most popular song, “Cuttin Up”, memorized. Here’s its hook.

She said she like my swag, I be cuttin’ up /
He can’t hang with us cause he ain’t cut enough /
You don’t want war with us, you ain’t tough enough /
I just bought a fifth of Henny and I drunk it up /
You say you want some smoke, n—- puff it up /
We fall in KOD and then we f— it up /
We criminals, this s— can get corrupt with us /
You do subliminals, we ride with them illegals tucked

Just like hip hop isn’t the root of the hood’s problems, it isn’t the solution either. Gospel-centered churches that introduce hope to the hopeless are.

But because music is so influential, it can be an instrumental part of that solution.

The Problem

I was a fan of Thi’sl, Reconcile and Corey Paul’s music before I moved to West Garfield Park, but I’m more thankful than ever for artists like them now.

Only a small fraction of Christian hip-hop artists make music that appeals to the Chicago teens I’ve met — lyrically and sonically. The thought that a beat could be a hindrance to the Gospel sounded heretical to me two months ago. In streets where Kendrick and J. Cole’s lyrics don’t get respect, though, I now doubt any Christian emcee could leave an impression without a trap instrumental.

Of course, the “Christian” title has also been a hindrance in even convincing people to listen. So what’s the fix?

I don’t think it’s more artists making music for the hood if that’s not their burden. Instead, I’d challenge Christians to give more support to the Sevin’s, PyRexx’s and Tony Tillman’s who exist.

And if artists do want to reach the hood who aren’t, I’m reminded of what Andy Mineo told Rapzilla last year about being a missionary to hip-hop culture.

“If you want to be a missionary to any culture,” he said, “you have to be in it and study it and know it.”

So feel free to move to the Chi with me.

David Daniels
David Daniels
David Daniels is a columnist at Rapzilla.com and the managing editor of LegacyDisciple.org. He has been published at Desiring God, The Gospel Coalition, Christianity Today, CCM Magazine, Bleacher Report, The Washington Times and HipHopDX.


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