Christian Hip Hop is imploding. Its stars, lured by secular money, are leaving. New singers are ditching hard-fought standards (like no cuss words) and marginalizing salvation. It’s become disunited and sexist.
From what you read or watch online, you get the feeling Christian rap has a bad rap and its fans are now singing the blues. But is it true that Christian Hip Hop is descending to a deplorable demise?
A survey of CHH conducted by God Reports suggests that, contrary to controversy, Christian Hip Hop has never been more robust or vibrant. It’s reaching growing audiences and diversifying its message. It’s getting played all over the place, from the gym to WWE.
“Andy Mineo and Lecrae and some of these guys coming in rap are as good as the top rappers in the game,” says Sway Calloway, the host of the secular shows “Sway in the Morning” on SiriusXM Shade45 and MTV’s TRLAM. “It gives me chills when I can hear someone rap as good as them and put God in it.”
Part of the “problems” of CHH can be chalked up to growing pains. And another part is simply click bait; platforms fabricate or inflate controversy to swell their views and, by extension, their bottom line.
Any discussion of the current state of Christian rap starts with its de facto father, Lecrae. A fusillade has been unleashed on him for being too political, for signing with a secular label, and for working with artists who punctuate their work with profanity.
“Partnering with secular artists is very, very dangerous. You don’t see that worked out in scripture,” Wil Addison said in 2015 on Trackstarz. “Lecrae’s grown on the back of the church, and it seems like at one point he jumped off… You’re abandoning what you built your platform on.”
Wil Addison is not alone in his concern for Lecrae’s direction. Dismay is expressed over his collaboration with Ty Dolla Sign; is Lecrae muddying his message by working with a secular artist who raps X-rated filth?
Lecrae Devaughn Moore is no stranger to muck. He was sexually, emotionally and physically abused as a youngster. He learned to seal up the pain and pretend it wasn’t there, he said recently at Yale University.
Without a father in the house, Lecrae looked to male role models in the community and took up drug trafficking as a teenager. His grandmother was a churchgoer, but Lecrae wasn’t interested — at first.
In college he responded to the gospel and was piqued by evangelistic rappers. At a time when nobody thought Christian rap would sell, he co-founded Reach Records in 2004 and started releasing albums. He won Grammies and topped Billboard charts.
When he was at his peak, he signed with Capitol Records, which has been making incursions into the increasingly profitable Christian hip hop market, snapping up the surest bets (also NF, Social Club Misfits). How could he own a Christian label and become an artist on a secular one (albeit their Christian department)?
It seems Lecrae was turning into a missionary. He saw the chance to work with secular artists and rap at more venues as simple evangelistic math.
If the Capitol signing wasn’t controversy enough, Lecrae — who’s always been vocal for African American rights — joined the Black Lives Matter movement. There were a string of innocent blacks gunned down by police, and the long-suppressed feelings of rage and powerlessness from the childhood abuse reared its ugly head.
Lecrae found himself marching on the streets in protests — and in the cross hairs of a political reaction against ambushing cops and a tide that swept Trump into the presidency. Broad swaths of fans and Christian leaders threatened to bolt. Lecrae couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t support the cause of the oppressed and judge the sins of the oppressors.
At an October concert in Los Angeles, Lecrae admitted that the last two years have brought disillusionment and depression. He even contemplated turning his back on Christianity altogether, he said. But a wise old Christian asked him to consider if God — not his fans — had ever abandoned him. Days of meditating that question brought the man of God back to God.
At the October concert, Lecrae’s language and performance undermined the accusation that he’s ditching his faith. Lecrae spoke of struggle and confusion. But his words were a testimony in front of the church.
Lecrae’s failings are emblematic of the growing pains of the wider spectrum of CHH artists. There are hundreds of rappers who associate to some degree with Christianity. No survey could cover all of them, but among those examined in in this census, the conclusions award CHH a clean bill of health: souls are being won, disciples are being made and the cause of the Gospel is advancing. The good things outweigh the bad:
Influence on secular artists
One of the biggest proofs of the strength of CHH is its impact on secular rap. This is ironic because people keep worrying that CHH stars are going to be influenced by worldly stars if they cross over into the secular market. But they don’t see that CHH is exerting its own gravity that pulls on mainstream mike-kickers.
Today, Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West and Chance the Rapper — all top rappers — have mentioned God in a positive way in their music. Snoop Dogg, saying he’s returning to his Christian upbringing, just produced a double gospel album.
In “Jesus Walks,” Kanye says:
They say you can rap about anything except for Jesus
That means guns, sex, lies, videotape
But if I talk about God my record won’t get played, huh?
Meanwhile, new artists like John Gives are returning to their parents’ faith and becoming a testimony through their music. Malice renamed himself No Malice and began spitting the Christian message. He saw the light: his previous music was leading listeners down the wrong path and he wanted to rectify it.
This is what is missed with the Lecrae-Ty Dolla Sign collaboration. While Christians bemoan the “loss” of their star, they’re missing the positive — the potential of gaining for Heaven a worldly singer.
Once upon a time, secular rap artists and fans rolled their eyes at CHH, which they loathed like an embarrassing kid brother. But now such collaborations prove that secular artists have moved light years beyond the eye roll. They are more than giving the nod to CHH; it is now “game respects game.”
Saving souls in the streets
Getting celebrities saved is cause for enthusiasm. But we need to remember that God is no respecter of persons. The unheralded are just as important to Him as the BET idol. And here too CHH has a positive balance sheet.
Aaron Cole reported on Twitter that his music touched the son of a drug dealer. Shai Linne started a church in Philadelphia to create an ethos in which street sinners could relate.
One way for CHH to reach sinners is when its music gets featured in non-Christian venues. When CHH gets used in movies or played at the gym, the exposure has the potential to draw in unsaved, new fans much like a church picnic can draw sinners to church where they can hear the message of salvation.
On this front, it’s worthwhile to mention that Derek Minor was featured on Black Ink Crew, and Social Club Misfits got their music used on WWE. When the NBA Warriors wanted a new anthem for their basketball team, they tapped outspoken Christian rapper Bizzle for the job.
Even a Louisville strip club played Lecrae. When asked about it, he responded with the sarcasm that is becoming his go-to response to the controversy that hounds him as CCH’s #1 man: “I’m a real rapper now. Everything I’ve done earlier pales in comparison. I’ve made it,” he told Rapzilla in 2015. On a serious note he added that he supports ministry to the women trapped in the sex industry, and the power of the Gospel in his message needs to get where sinners are. Read the rest of Christian Hip Hop in controversy.