I love hip hop music. No other genre moves me quite the way a pounding beat over a deep bassline, accentuated by flawless harmony can stir my soul. You give me that type of audio assault turned up to the maximum, coupled with master-crafted lyrics praising my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; WOO! Ennis is a happy Christian! It seems like every pair of headphones and speakers I get my hands on eventually explodes. I have a tendency to blow speakers because I need to FEEL my music.
Back in March, Lecrae came to town as one of several acts on the Winter Jam tour. I caught his performance at the Joe (that the Joe Louis Arena for you non-Detroiters). Boy, the acoustics in that place were so primed, my ears rang for two days straight, after the concert! The brother brings the total package to a concert appearance: high energy, deafening sounds, crowd interaction but most importantly, he brings the gospel.
Before 2008, I had no idea Christian hip hop had crossed the barrier separating the desert of corny-boring song from the oasis of relevant, dope music. I had heard a number of attempts at Christian hip hop, but they all seemed forced at best. You either had some well-meaning pastor trying his best to rap over a beat that was probably created by his out of touch sound engineer, or you got a hard-core rapper fresh into the Christian walk, trying to bring his old style of rap into the faith. Both were usually total train wrecks of an attempt to bring the gospel of Jesus into a genre that clearly was not ready to hear what the Lord has to offer. And then, one day, I saw this kid from Atlanta step on stage for a Dove Awards performance. What I saw and heard would change my perception of Christian Hip Hop forever.
Everyone knows who Jay-Z is, unless you grew up on Mars. Everyone knows about Eminem. Right now, we have three generations of hip hop heads who understand exactly who Tupac Amaru Shakur was. But how many people out there know of Canton Jones? How many folks can testify to the truth flowing through the lyrics of KJ-52? How many people know that Da T.R.U.T.H. has such a wide pallid of musical taste for the Lord, that he can spit holy fire over a trap beat or a contemporary christian instrumental? Don’t even get me started on the lyrical skills of Andy Mineo! In all honesty, this white boy from N.Y. will run circles around any rapper out there currently, while educating his adversary on the gospel of Jesus!
Sadly, a lot of awesome christian hip hop music will never reach its potential audience because the world doesn’t view this music as relevant. If you aren’t a Lecrae or Andy, capable of generating millions of dollars in profit, your music just isn’t sellable. That’s no diss to those brothers who are currently crossing the mainstream barrier. Now that they are there, they have an opportunity to bring Jesus to an otherwise unsuspecting culture.
Lecrae is carrying the banner of christian soldiers the world over right now. While many of us have followed him for years, he’s now in a position to introduce Jesus to folks who would normally have no idea of his identity, or the message he speaks of through his music. In a sense, it’s unfair to him to have that much pressure placed on his shoulders. There are so many christian hip hop artists out there in the world just as talented and passionate that will never be heard because the world doesn’t want to hear them…yet.
My hope is that the day will come when christian hip hop finds a home among mainstream radio stations. Here in Detroit, gospel has its own station in Praise 102.7. Contemporary christian music has several stations in WMUZ 103.5 and Smile FM (89.1). Yet, none of these stations dedicates an hour to strictly christian hip hop music. I’ll tell you why that’s a tragedy.
Detroit was once the home of Motown. We live and breathe music in this city. Today’s generation of kids are growing up still listening to the tired lyrics, sorry hooks and violence infused beats that my generation transformed hip hop into. What’s worse is, the stuff is played around the clock everywhere! Once upon a time, it only had an hour slot on some station, in the wee hours of the morning. Now, you can hear, “Slap that b#$@! wit’ a back hand, homie,” at 7o’clock in the morning, while driving the kids to school!
Wouldn’t it be grand to have a radio station, in Detroit, dedicated to playing hip hop music with lyrics glorifying the Lord Jesus; real hip hop music. How awesome would it be to hear your son or daughter singing, “I got my pride on low; my faith on high; gave my sin over to God; Lord, let the nonsense die”. How cool would it be to have your kid hear “Romans 1:16” called out in a song, and then have them come to ask you, parent, what Romans 1:16 actually means? In God’s economy, it only takes one person for Him to catch the whole family. How marvelous would it be, to see young men walking around with their belts cinched around their waists actually holding their pants in place?! They’ve learned, through the music, what it means to act like men of God.
This could actually happen! Music affects people in so many different ways. You give the hip hop culture of today, a dose of kingdom music, the type of music they can relate to, and watch what it does for the community. Sure it may take time, but anything worth having is worth fighting for. I want to see this become a reality. I don’t where or how to get it started. Maybe writing this article is the catalyst. I can tell you, it not only works for me but also for my 8 year-old son. I love to hear him recite rhymes glorifying the Lord, while he’s playing. I love to hear him singing hooks glorifying Jesus. I love the fact that my son will never grow up singing, “F%$@ the po-lice, comin’ straight from the underground; a young n^&%$ got it bad, ’cause I’m brown,”. I want everyone’s kids to experience kingdom music.
When I put my own music up for sale through Tunecore, I had to give my tracks a label name in order to complete the process. I quickly coined the name, “Urban Praise Music” because that’s exactly what it is. Society loves labels. If I could run a radio program featuring nothing but christian hip hop music, “Urban Praise Music” would be my mantra: music for the urban community, praising and glorifying the Lord Jesus. We’ve gotta get at the kids on a level they can understand, y’all. That’s what I’d like to see. I think we could all use a little Jesus in our beat.