Marrying the Church to the Streets -- The Gospel Rap Blues
YO! Youth Outlook Multimedia , Entertainment Feature, Swan Grae Posted: Mar 28, 2007
Editor's Note: Hip Hop is so versatile, it can be mixed, blended, and sampled with almost any other music. But there is one genre it fails to make a prosperous and harmonious relationship with, Gospel. Swan Grae is an editor at YO! Youth Outlook Multimedia.
OAKLAND, CA. -- There are just some things that are never meant to be mixed. Take water and oil, or wine and milk -- the results can be horrible. Hip Hop has become such a versatile genre; it can be mixed, blended, and sampled with almost any other music. Rock Hop, Classical Hop, even Bali Hop, Hip Hop gets around. But there is one genre it fails to make a prosperous and harmonious relationship with, Gospel.
There have been attempts; the most successful of them being Kanye West's hit single,"Jesus Walks."
VIDEO: Jesus Walks
The song propelled Kayne into stardom. However, that was just one song and Kayne is in no way a real Gospel Rapper. The most likely candidate to formally introduce Gospel Hop to the world would have been Mase, (rapper turned preacher, back to rapper signed to G-Unit of all labels.) Why wouldn’t Mase want to take his higher calling and marry it with his obvious love for hip hop and help save the souls of thousands of disillusioned youth? In an interview on a popular New York radio station, back when he was a preacher, Mase said, “Rap is evil.”
As controversial as hip hop can get it's no wonder why the church would not accept music felt to be inappropriate. R&B and Blues came from the church and so did hip hop in a way, like a bastard grandchild of Gospel and Spirituals. Hip Hop is unruly, glorifying sin in every possible way. Drug Dealers and gangsters have become the role models of rap music. Nothing is more talked about in lyrics than life hitting the block, flying birds down south and macking the panties off some hoe. There is nothing new about rappers catching cases, such as Max B, C Murder, and Layzie Bone, among others. Rappers have turned into professors of slanging drugs, guns and street life, so how can God fit into that?
Rapper, Junius, 24, owns LivingUnCut Productions based in Oakland, Ca. Junius doesn’t feel that Gospel Rap can survive and flourish in the market as it is now. He feels that for it to survive it would have to be accepted by the streets.
“I have been rapping since I was 14 years old, about living the street life, robbing, selling dope and stealing cars,” says Junius. “I was just rapping about my experience. Then I was listening to Too Short, Richy Rich, NWA, and Snoop Dogg. All of them were talking about drugs and street living, so I could relate to their music.
"It’s gotten to a point where now if you’re a rapper you automatically have a license to be a crack dealer. Your image goes hand and hand with your music in the industry now and nothing is considered more dangerous or gangster than being a drug dealer in this society. Even if you know nothing about street life you have to seem like you do, that is why some of these rappers go to jail for something stupid to build street creditability. Being a drug dealer doesn’t make you a gangster and selling records doesn’t make you a good musician either. For a rapper in any genre to be successful their lives have to reflect the message they deliver in their music."
Junius believes he has the formula for Gospel Rap to cross over. "For Gospel Rap to make it in the street it would have to talk to us in a way that isn’t preachy, or condemning. We know how we living is wrong and we get that from society all the time, we don’t need the music we listen to that helps us cope with the positions we are dealt to judge us too. I don’t think that the church would accept a rapper in the Gospel industry either. I feel that the church and the older generation are out of tune with today’s struggle. The younger generation is fighting a totally different battle and it isn’t Martin Luther King’s or Malcolm X's. What we are fighting can’t always be defined as clearly as racism or segregation. I feel that the church blames it’s young people for being in a bad situation when so many of them have died to give us the rights to be as equal as any white man. They can’t understand why we aren’t all doctors, or professors, and own big houses out in the suburbs. Besides, Gospel rap only pertains to people who believe in the Christian god, and excludes people like me who are Muslim, regulating it to a small niche market.
"But what if Hip Hop is what is needed to bridge the streets with the church again?" concludes Junius.
I ask Junius's question to the founder of Jahrock'n Productions, Chris Belmont, a.k.a Rock, of Brooklyn New York. “I grew up in the church,” he patiently begins. “I’m 26 years old so I also grew up with hip hop. I loved the music, but not what it personified -- it seems like Rap nowadays is a documentation of street life with no solutions to a better way of living. I saw how hip hop could be used for good and that is how I got started into producing music for gospel rappers and popular Christian groups like the Missionary Men. The biggest challenge I faced was the church itself. To make it in the hip hop and gospel industry especially in the gospel, you need your families support. If they feel, as many Christians do, that rap is evil, it will be much harder to succeed." Chris believes,"The church needs hip hop, among other things, because hip hop is the language of the youth. When I first started my company, there wasn’t any place for it really. Radios wouldn’t play us, our shows would be empty, the streets said our message was whack. We weren’t accepted by the streets or the church.”
But why? I asked Chris, puzzled. Why would you continue to invest in something that is doomed to fail?
“One day, Chris explains, “I was sitting in my car praying about these challenges. I played the latest song I had been working on in the studio loudly and after a moment some people came up to the car. They asked who was rapping over the speakers, said it sounded crazy and gave me much respect. They liked my song and it didn’t convince them to go to church the next day but I planted a seed and, for a while, opened their minds. A hot song is a hot song whether you’re talking about drug dealing, love or God. As we started making more and more hits the streets started listening which in turn made the church reach out to us and book us at youth events. Clubs began getting interested in us and Jahrock'n Productions started to climb up. If there is no place for your art form you have to make a space for it and nobody will just accept anything especially as controversial as Gospel Rap.”
Later I logged on to GetGospel.com and then to their myspace page. I listen to their tracks and I liked the way they delivered their message. The backdrop of banging beats and hard lyrics could fit in along with the Too Shorts and Byrd Gangs. When they rhymed there was no hint of a preachy over tone, but honest experience from a person who believes in God but is forced to live a street life. Trying to overcome is not corny or whack and each carefully written word reflects a seriousness that one would reserve for a Tupac verse.
Whether Gospel Rap has a future it depends upon the acceptance of the Streets and the Church, the two most opposing genres. The Gospel Rapper, if he is to blow up, has to bring this new genre to the attention of major record labels; the artist must bring gospel and the streets together in a way that talks to the youth.
Jesus was young when he started preaching and who knows, if he decides to come back, he might come back as a rapper. Gospel Rap might be an oxymoron but it just might be what is needed to lift up the many trapped and troubled youth from under the bling bling spell. Gospel rap could be the thing that will bring hope to the streets and bring my generation closer to the church and away from the shoot-'em-up nation hip hop has become.
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