|HOLY HIP HOP|
|Arts and Culture|
|Thursday, 03 May 2012 14:26|
HOLY HIP HOP
Speaking the language of life in a deadly culture
by J. Leimer
The musical genre of hip hop has long been associated with gangsters, drugs and violence, as well as being seasoned with lust and greed. According to Hip-Hop Network, the genre was “… born in the crime-ridden neighborhoods of the South Bronx.”1 It began with skilful youth using their imagination to tell stories. The stories grew into “ashes to riches” monologues describing the trials and struggles of life and how the rappers overcame them. From its humble beginnings, hip hop has developed into a culture that thrives on selfish ambition.
Hip hop is hardly a genre endorsed by Christians. Its immorality has offended the ears of most churchgoers, who have then denounced all music that resembles hip hop. The problem with this response, however, is that Christians are not supposed to be about condemnation, but redemption. We have been called and commissioned to redeem what is rightfully God’s in all areas of life, including musical genres. Hip hop is no exception. Artists like Lecrae, Tedashii, Trip Lee, and many more have committed their lives to conveying the gospel through musical creativity, personal testimony, and heart-wrenching lyrics.
From its conception, hip hop has had two distinguishing features: talking in rhyme to the rhythm of a beat, and a culture or way of life. For over two decades, Christians have been making use of this musical genre to preach the gospel using these two key features. Recently, this Christianized genre of hip hop has begun crossing barriers into the secular hip-hop culture. An example of this is an artist called KJ-52 whose song titled “Dear Slim” is an attempt to reach out to the secular hip-hop artist Eminem (a.k.a. Slim Shady) and share the gospel message with him. The primary purpose of these Christian artists is to redeem hip hop and create what is now known as “holy hip hop.”
Holy hip hop has become a new tool to preach the gospel to those inside a culture characterized by sin and corruption. I am from Calgary, and every year there is an event called Throwdown. It is always the highlight of my summer because I get to see some of my favourite Christian rappers and the creativity they use in sharing the gospel. From graffiti artists to DJs, from breakdancing to rapping, God is given the glory and Jesus Christ is proclaimed. They renounce the old lifestyle of drugs and violence, and promote a new life relinquished to Christ. The holy hip-hop movement is a valuable evangelistic tool that can be used to penetrate even the most corrupted urban centres of sin.
The influence of holy hip hop has spread worldwide, reaching people who have been involved in the hip-hop culture. The reason for its widespread popularity is not because it relates to so many people, even though it does. It is not because the artists are talented in their craft, even though they are. It is because the lyrics proclaim the same message that has been preached for the past two thousand years—the message of Jesus Christ.
At the heart of this movement is an earnest desire to see people changed by the gospel message. Reach Records, one of the leading holy hip hop record companies, say on their website: “We aim to serve through art, to bring healing and show others a different way to view their world.”2 As one who listens to holy hip hop, I have personally found that most of the music does exactly that. When people change the way they view their world, they change their actions; and when they change their actions, they change their hearts.
The problem is, many Christians do not see the distinction between holy hip hop and the lifestyle within hip-hop culture. Although the lyrics in holy hip hop music may be acceptable, the association with hip-hop culture is seen as incompatible with Christian standards. The distinction that needs to be made is that holy hip hop is not participating in the secular hip-hop culture; it is creating a new hip-hop culture found in Christ.
Unfortunately, some artists out there have compromised the message of the gospel with hip-hop culture, retaining the selfish ambitions of their old lifestyle. In any mode of preaching the gospel, the primary concern is never to compromise the message for the sake of relating to the hearer. The power of God in the gospel will penetrate even the hardest of hearts.
Holy hip hop is more than just music; it is a way of life. And that way of life is being completely surrendered to Jesus. The goal is that hip hop would no longer promote drugs, violence and greed, but that it would promote Jesus Christ. As Christians, we need not condemn this movement, but support it and pray that lives would be touched by its influence. Our mission as Christians is to fight for and redeem what is rightfully God’s. Music—specifically hip hop—is no exception.
Jesse Leimer studies Biblical Theology at Summit Pacific College in Abbotsford, BC. He is originally from Calgary, AB, where he attends Church in the Hills.
2 “The Music of a Movement,” Reach Records, 2011,
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