Social Justice in Christian Rap and Improving the Genre (Elevation Conference)
At the 2019 Elevation Conference, Derek Minor, Chad Horton, and Spechouse formed a panel on the state of Christian Rap. With Justin Sarachik hosting, the panel navigated through topics such as what the genre needs to grow and problems that are currently in front of the genre. Read the first article about the panel here.
While the panel focused mainly on the genre, the state of Christian Rap artists entered the conversation quite a bit. The genre would look different if artists didn’t invest their time and resources into the culture and each other. Therefore, investigating the evolution of artists and their impact on the genre is important to dissect the state of CHH.
The Birth of Social Justice in Christian Rap
The peak of modern Christian Rap was during the Unashamed Movement lead by Lecrae. Everyone wants an anthem to their life, and Lecrae provided one for Christians everywhere. Even the Evangelical church got behind the movement. However, the dynamic changed once Treyvon Martin and others died.
“Black people were getting killed on camera, so then we have the rub of the most popular [Christian Rap] artist saying, ‘there’s a problem and we’re going to rap about these issues,” and they’re social justice issues,” Horton explained. “Really, they should be addressed by the church with music that supports it. So the white reformed churches, that were really supporting this movement that we had and supporting the music that was heavily Christian and unashamed, stops supporting it because they have an issue with Christians speaking about social justice.”
Now, social justice is the prevalent message of Christian Rap. The generations after Lecrae incorporated the topic into their own music. Horton does not think the Unashamed Movement will disappear forever, however.
“We see things come back around, and we are already seeing this shift because the people who were copying the people at the top are now coming in, and they don’t even know who the people are at the top,” Horton described. “So they are not trying to copy them. They are probably trying to copy what’s at the top of the mainstream really. So aside from that, a lot are unashamed in their content and approach that are coming into this.”
Horton continued, “The other great thing is that artists are only around for so long. So the people are at the top are only going to be there for so long. The new generation is already coming in and showing and proving they are unashamed of the gospel and they are putting that in their lyrics.”
It’s also the responsibility of the next generation to push Christian Rap to new levels. Derek Minor said artists need to stay true to their own vision and build the genre from within.
“As far as Christian Hip-Hop is concerned, if we are going back to the beginning of what Chad said, is [that CHH] has never been dependent on the industry in a sense. We have to go back to that because what happened is we sold it.”
Improving the Genre
When Lecrae became the artist everyone looked up to, people associated his success with Winter Jam and connections with Christian Contemporary Music. So Christian Rap artists are trying to follow that same path. That thought process has ultimately hurt the economy of the genre. Minor said CHH will prosper if artists keep spending on people inside the culture.
“So if you look at the best economies – white economies, Asian economies – the dollar circulates 20 times before it leaves those communities,” Minor described. “I was watching Trigger Warning with Killer Mike. He said the black dollar stays in the room 24 hours before it goes to a different economy, which is the reason why a lot of our black economies struggle. So let’s take that same logic and talk about Christian Rap. Everyone is trying to go get a CCM person, booking agent, as opposed to saying, ‘let’s take our dollar and let it circulate in the community twenty times before it leaves.’ If you do that then now you don’t need [CCM].”
An example of this is gospel music. Spechouse said they have created their own industry by keeping their dollars inside their culture. Because of that, the culture now has the attention and respect of many mainstream people, including the former Jerry Heller [Instrumental in the success of NWA].
“[Reporters] had an interview with [Heller] after the movie The Heat,” Spechouse said. “They asked, ‘what is the next big music?’ They thought he was going to say EDM [or] rock music. ‘Gospel. Gospel will be around because it’s the clean version of gangsta rap and it’ll be around forever.’ It’s its own self-supporting industry. Like what [Minor] said when we stop trying to say, ‘well as soon as we can hook up with TobyMac, we’ll be on.’ It’s like ‘naw.’ Let’s support each other.”