Propaganda SXSW

‘This is Hip-Hop’s Home’: Propaganda, CHH, & the State of Rap

The Home of Hip Hop

In a previous article of mine titled “Unashamed Blackness,” I claimed that Christian hip hop is Black. Well, apparently not everyone agrees. In an interview with Propaganda, I inquired if he thought hip hop, in general, was uniquely Black. He immediately responded without hesitation, “No. I don’t think hip hop is a Black genre, not anymore…. It’s just hip hop.”

According to Propaganda, hip hop is something universal, something that is open to all. Like a house with many guests, hip hop is a haven for all creative types regardless of skin, style, or sound. As he states, “This is hip hop’s house. I’m not gonna act like I own the place. I’m a guest too. I live here now.”

Early Life of Propaganda

Propaganda became a resident at the home of hip hop early in life. He recalls that “I fell in love with hip hop at rather a very young age.” From the east side of south-central Los Angeles, Propaganda witnessed the rich hip hop culture of southern California. “I was a battle rap, freestyle, you know, backpacker.” Hip hop was the rhythm of his life. He “chased hip hop everywhere it was.” It was the blood rushing through his veins: “cut me open; I bled hip hop.”

Early Foundations of Hip Hop

While hip hop is a universal genre—a universal home with diverse residents—its early foundation has its own unique origin story. It is situated in the Black and Puerto Rican Bronx culture of the 1970s. According to Propaganda, “it is Black music.” He further articulates that “hip hop sits in the same tradition as blues, jazz, and r&b.” Like these diverse musical expressions, Propaganda claims that “hip hop came out of the Black experience.”

He further explains that “hip hop was birthed out of the same cultural milieu that gave us jazz.” According to Propaganda, “Jazz had a lot to do with segregation and redlining and not being allowed in certain places, and not being taught formally how to play instruments, and creating juke joints, and finding our story and our art in a place that we didn’t have access to these other things.” He further reveals that “we made breakbeats because we had records.” These natural limitations were exceeded through unique creativity.

According to Propaganda, “you make do with what you have, and we make beauty with what we have.” Hip hop always finds a voice.

CHH and the Home of Hip Hop

When asked about the legacy of Christian hip hop within the larger home of hip hop culture, Propaganda provided insightful reflections. “Religion has been a part of hip hop the whole time.” Expressions of faith are weaved within the lyrics of many hip hop songs, even if they aren’t explicitly labeled Christian or religious, and Propaganda finds this labeling somewhat disingenuous. He shares that “I didn’t have that ‘hip hop needs Jesus’ thing.” From Propaganda’s perspective, “hip hop is a gift from God.” It doesn’t need baptizing.

To some degree, the Christianization of hip hop is a product of industry rather than art. Propaganda strongly separates these distinctions. As he points out, Contemporary Christian Music contained all the music levers to support early hip hop artists who claimed the name of Christ. CCM “had the money. They had the youth groups. They had the money and the budgets to bring us out.” Those positions of power were motivated largely by “the institution of whiteness.” As Propaganda shares, “we don’t have the infrastructure to say that this is a uniquely hip hop thing.” Christian hip hop is no longer just hip hop.

Is CHH White?

The labeling of Christian rap or Christian hip hop was never a necessary concern for Propaganda. To him, it’s just hip hop. But the white evangelical infrastructure shaped and formed the imaginings of this Christian hip hop scene. Propaganda’s positions aside, I have to wonder if Christian hip hop is a racialized labeling, a construction of whiteness that baptized and whitewashed Black culture. Perhaps hip hop alone is too ghetto, too explicit, too Black? Christian hip hop by contrast, with all its undertones, with all its associations with evangelicalism, with all its nods to certain theological prescriptions, with all its affiliations with white Christian culture, conferences, and figures is now perhaps “safe” enough? I wonder, is CHH Black ghetto rap baptized into white suburbia?

My comments aside, Propaganda admits, “if you’re doing Christian hip hop, you’re doing something birthed out of the Black experience in a white space, which is not wrong. There’s no judgment on that. It just is what it is.”

Word to the Next Generation

Propaganda

Propaganda is no doubt an important voice within CHH, and he offers some encouragement to the next generation of artists.

“Just be true to yourself, make some dope songs, and go where you are appreciated.” He further shares that “if you can get 300 people in a room across the country, you’re fine. Spit your bars, make your music, you don’t owe us anything. You don’t owe me anything.”

A Universal Appeal

Propaganda is a permanent resident in the house of hip hop, but he has no desire to restrict its walls or its reach. It is a house for many. It includes many voices, stories, sounds, symbols, and rhythms. People can try to box it in, put labels on certain rooms and give access to certain artists. But as Propaganda contends, “there are no gatekeepers.” Or at least there should be no gatekeepers.

In many ways, Propaganda’s commitments are similar to the voice of an early hip hop legend, DJ Kool Herc. In his introduction to Jeff Chang’s Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip Hop Generation, DJ Kool Herc writes that “to me, hip hop says, ‘Come as you are.’ We are a family…. It’s about you and me, connecting one to one. That’s why it has universal appeal. It has given young people a way to understand their world, whether they are from the suburbs or the city or wherever” (xi).

Is hip hop Black? According to Propaganda, no. It was birthed from the Black experience, it includes Black culture, but it also is diverse. Propaganda reminds everyone that “this is hip hop’s house,” and everyone is merely a guest. So perhaps it is too far to claim that CHH is Black. But now I have to wonder, is CHH actually white?








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Written by Isaiah Thompson

Isaiah Colton Thompson is a scholar, rapper, and activist. He holds a B.A. in Religious Studies and History and is pursuing his M.A. at California State University, Fullerton, where he is a member of the Mellon Mays Fellowship, the Ronald E. McNair Scholars Program, and the Sally Casanova Pre-Doctoral Program. His research interests include hip hop, the German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Black Theology, and racism within the church.

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