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HeatCasters Exclusive Editorial: Do We Need A Christian Hip Hop Label?
In this exclusive HeatCasters editorial we ask the question; do we need a Christian Hip Hop label? What do you think? Read Imade’s thoughts as she dives deep into this hot topic.
Do We Need A Christian Hip Hop Label?
Whenever I use the words, “Christian Hip Hop”, I get a twang of guilt. In some ways, Christian Hip Hop has become a fanny pack term. It’s a phrase that is pragmatic and comfortable, but awkwardly outdated. Before I explain that, let me tell the tale of Christian Hip Hop’s sanctified older brother.
The rise and ruin of “Holy Hip Hop” is captured in Mark J’s 2003 National Anthem and R-Swift’s 2007 Dear Holy Hip-Hop. Though these songs were addressed to the same “person”, National Anthem and Dear Holy Hip-Hop couldn’t have been more distant from each other. While Mark J had the triumphant courage of an emcee disengaging from the ills of society, R-Swift had the disappointing resignation of an artist barely recognizing the genre he loves.
It is this genre that seems frayed at the edges. The beauty of Christian Hip Hop diminishes in the extreme states of religious tradition and rap inspired hedonism. It’s evident that a Christ-centered balance outweighs the label that encases it.
With this understanding, more artists are taking an exodus to the mainstream Promised Land. Though pioneers like the Grits, Tunnel Rats, and LA Symphony proved that this phenomenon is nothing new, a seismic shift has occurred. Christian Hip Hop was once confined to online stores like The Bus Shop, but now, High Society greets me on Spotify and Lecrae regularly tops iTunes charts. As the wall between Christian and secular erodes, a new question emerges. Do we need a Christian Hip Hop label? I explore three possible answers.
1. No one calls Lupe Fiasco’s music Muslim rap, why should they call my music Christian Rap?
This is a sentiment that’s hard to avoid if you listen to underground Christian emcees. The turmoil of living between two worlds has the semblance of a musical purgatory. Imagine having your spirituality questioned while the “faith” people claim do not exist gets rejected by non-Christian listeners. It would make sense for an emcee to shun a label that causes unnecessary alienation.
Though this argument is steeped in practicality, it overlooks a harsh truth. Not defining music as Christian Rap doesn’t mean someone else will do the same. The tragic beauty of music is that it has no ultimate owner outside of God. Music is a prism that reflects many different colors depending on the angle in which it’s viewed. Once an artist sets their music free, it interacts with a multiplicity of perspectives, backgrounds, and beliefs. And for emcees of the Christian faith, placing Jesus at the center of their music presents a Lordship issue to their listeners. It’s a confrontation that Muslim rappers don’t have to face.
2. If you don’t label it Christian Rap, aren’t you ashamed of your faith? I don’t hear the gospel!
This ticking time bomb has exploded almost every Christian Hip Hop comment section. Though it’s easy to disregard this argument as some crazy, judgmental ideology, there is a point to this. If being a Christian means reflecting Christ, a listener should hear a differentiating element. And though there are many theologians out there, not everyone has the time or desire to decode abstract symbols. If the Christian faith is buried too deeply, it may not be found.
This perspective has the veneer of righteousness, but there is a startling flaw. A person’s spirituality is not solely defined by their music. An artist not labeling their music Christian Rap doesn’t mean they no longer confess Jesus as their Lord and Savior. In over-examining the music, we can be overlooking the fruit of an emcee’s lifestyle. Social media has made the world smaller, but not small enough for casual listeners to know an artist’s daily walk with Christ.
3. There’s nothing wrong with the Christian Hip Hop label, but my identity doesn’t come from it
As a long time Christian Hip Hop fan, I have been on every side of this argument. But I’ve settled on a more moderate viewpoint. Whether it’s music from Shad or Dee-1, Wize or theBreax, or Shai Linne or Trip Lee, the platform is secondary to the purpose. It’s more important to fulfill God’s calling than to define it by human means. Christian Hip Hop is a term subject to changing beliefs and cultures, but God will always remain. Let’s get our identity from Him.
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