John Crist on Success of ‘Check Your Heart’ & Defending Christian Rap Culture to Old School Believers
One of the hottest things in Christian entertainment is a “wise guy” by the name of John Crist. However, don’t pigeonhole him as just a “Christian comedian,” this guy can make anyone laugh…and he does…all the time. He’s shared the stage with legends like Dave Chappelle, Jeff Foxworthy, and Larry the Cable Guy. He also laid a verse down with nobigdyl., DJ Mykael V, and 1K Phew on his huge track “Check Your Heart,” along with a music video.
Speaking of “Check Your Heart,” the song made waves in the CHH and CCM community. The song was funny. Yes, the song was well done, and yes, the song charted and was on Christian radio. However, there lies a bit of controversy and Crist knows all about it.
Radio stations such as K-LOVE and other mainstream Christian stations rarely if ever indulge in Christian rap music. Often times if there is a crossover hit, it’s because the rapper had to sing, dumb down a verse, or collaborate with a worship or pop group. One example would be Derek Minor’s “Change the World” featuring Hollyn. Another example would be “Until the Day I Die” by TobyMac featuring NF.
This radio format is something nobigdyl. talked about in an interview and Mykael V contributed to a conversation at Elevation Conference about it. Crist had a lot to say about it too.
“It’s outdated in a lot of ways,” he said about the CCM radio format. “We’ve [He and road DJ Mykael V] had discussions about this for hours.”
He continued, “We have a preshow playlist. My crowd is usually a younger K-Love type crowd and mostly white people. My crowd is the people we’re talking about.”
He said for his playlist, he has Mykael mix in a lot of 80s tracks and classic rock. They have songs from Whitney Houston, and then he’ll play a track from nobigdyl. or GAWVI. Once the hip-hop comes on, “people complain and say they heard cussing.”
“This is lowkey very racist,” said Crist. “All those 80s songs, the content is way worse. ‘Pour some sugar on me’, ‘I want to feel the heat on me’, no one has ever complained and those are sexual references’. But when you hear a beat that makes people think of the street or anticulture, even though it’s Christian and the lyrics are more uplifting, there’s no other way around that than it’s racist or you’re speaking out of ignorance and fear.”
The comedian explained that in the beginning, hip-hop at its core used to be a little rebellious and anti-establishment. So even if these people ‘don’t listen closely’, that’s what they hear. While a song like Whitney’s and Def Leopard just sounds familiar to them. For Christian radio, John Crist was a familiar safe face and not a symbol of “dangerous” hip-hop.
“Lifeway and Family Christian Bookstores are going out of business because they refuse to change with culture,” he said. “Also, Casting Crowns had a song featuring a John Reuben rap and K-LOVE refused to play it. They just played the instrumental because of their fanbase. They knew complaints were going to come. If that’s going to be the way you run your business, you’re going to go out of business.”
Crist knows that it’s hard to appease everyone, but at the same time feels some Christians have to pick and choose their battles on what upsets them. One example of this was DJ Mykael V telling John how much he loves being on the road and being a witness to people. While that was encouraging, Mykael was discouraged by some of Crist’s fans coming at him on Twitter for his fashion choices.
“He was wearing a basketball jersey or Jordans and for someone from the south in an old Baptist church, that’s a problem,” shared Crist. He said, ‘I feel bad, these are your fans and I don’t want to cause problems’. I replied, ‘Mykael, I’ll defend you to death, also these people need to be offended in that way’. If someone says I’m going to leave because there’s an edited version of Drake’s ‘God’s Plan’ playing, then we’re good. Let’s part ways, I’m not mad, you’re not mad, this show just isn’t for you.”
He continued, “I’m passionate about these issues myself. In addition, some of the Christian hip-hop artists have done a disservice to the CCM and CHH community when they say, ‘I’m right and you’re wrong’. It creates a divide between us when people just say, ‘This is our way’. I see where my fans are coming from, but I want to bring them with us. For every one fan who had a problem, there were 5,000 who were okay. Only a small percentage of people get offended in order to get the culture forward.”
With all that being said, “Check Your Heart” was very successful, and Crist described the whole process as feeling like “a kid in a candy store.”
The song came about with the connection of Mykael. Crist saw him DJing in Nashville at a showcase that also had nobigdyl. performing. Crist and his manager had a “eureka” moment when they saw how much energy Mykael had, and wanted to bottle that up for his comedy tours.
That was step one. Step two was capitalizing on his viral phrase “Check Your Heart” that gets incorporated throughout his comedy sets.
“When I was a kid and in youth group, we would rap. DC Talk were our idols, and we enjoyed composing music and making basic stuff on keyboards. It was the very very beginning stages,” he shared. “Then I thought, I’d like to make a single from this ‘Check Your Heart’, and tossed it around with a few people and it didn’t really resonate. I brought it up to Mykael, and I started getting into his music and told him, ‘We should make a single, do you think they will do it’?”
After a few calls were made, they hit a bit of a crossroad. Mykael told Crist that dyl. and 1K are fans, but they are a little worried about how the song would be received. It couldn’t be hokey or corny.
“If we do this, we have to do it well and produce it well. The last thing I wanted to do is disrespect the genre of hip-hop. I grew up on it. I’m not a rapper, I’m not trying to get into it. Some amateur does a viral video and is now a ‘comedian’ it kind of rubs me the wrong way. I’ve been doing this for 10 years, I get it.”
“We’ll do it, only if we do it well,” was the consensus.
Crist admitted that he was completely oblivious on how to make a rap song. His response was just ‘it sounds good’. The real work started once Mykael sent over 4 or 5 beats to go through in their group chat.
Once it was decided, someone texted, “We need to find time to get in a studio.”
“I don’t even know what this means,” thought John.
Capitol Records had studios in Nashville, so they picked one out to record. He revealed that just going to the studio, hanging out, having food was out of the comfort zone for him.
“I need to know where the script is, who’s producing. It’s very organized,” he said of just being loose in the studio. “I submitted to their creative process.”
After spending some time at the first studio, dyl. said, “I don’t like the vibe of this studio.”
“I don’t even know what that means,” the comic said. “’Usually I create in another studio but it wasn’t available’. So we switched studios and then we played the beat and they went together in their heads. I know how to write a rap, dyl. wrote his, and 1K Phew and dyl. l got the chorus together. 5 or 6 hours later we left with a song. I was like, ‘Guys, we’re making a song’! and they’re like, ‘We know, we do this every day’.”
They tweaked a line here and there and started testing it at live shows. The response was overwhelming and radio stations started playing it too. Also, according to Spotify, the song was most discovered on Rapzilla’s playlist.
After that, they recorded the “Check Your Heart” video which is funny in itself. The out of the comfort zone feeling Crist described in recording the track is turned into a malaise of himself almost wandering aimlessly through half the music video. The ending sees him left hanging by his cohorts. It’s a brilliant way for Crist to poke fun at himself and drive home the point that “I might not belong here” but I’m here stepping out of the box.
Watch John Crist Below:
That’s what makes the John Crist brand of comedy so good. He’s a risk-taker in a Christian sphere that oftentimes takes itself too seriously. He isn’t afraid to poke the bull, so to speak, and for the most part, gets those laughs because people realize how ridiculous everything is.
If you’re not laughing at yourself, then maybe, “Check Your Heart.”