I have generally adopted the Seinfeld approach to Christian music. When Elaine borrows her boyfriend’s car she finds that all the presets on his radio are for Christian rock stations. Christian music is characterised as positive in tone but awkward and disconnected from real musicianship.
There are plenty of examples to support this perspective but listening to Christian rappers Lecrae, Trip Lee and Shai Linne has changed my mind. These artists:
1. Have genuine artistic credibility. Their beats and bass lines are strong. Their rhymes are intricate and playful. Their videos are engaging. This is real musicianship reflected in genuine and general popularity. Lecrae has topped the regular Billboard charts, and many of his videos have more than 2 million views.
2. Offer a helpful critique of secular culture. There are secular rappers with interesting cultural perspectives and/or who excel at facilitating a party vibe (e.g. Grandmaster Flash, Jurassic 5) but the genre is dominated by a celebration of narcissism, hedonism, violence and misogyny. Solid Christian hip hop artists reveal the emptiness and nastiness of this by overtly challenging it (e.g. ‘Hip Hop’ by Trip Lee) but also by offering an alternative that celebrates Christ-centred love and hope. Artists such as Lecrae extend this critique by highlighting the superficiality, greed and ruthlessness of American culture more generally (e.g. ‘Confe$$Ions’, ‘Power Trip’, ‘Welcome to America’).
3. Offer a helpful critique of Christian culture. Christian rappers are also willing to look inward at the Christian community and point out areas of weakness. In ‘Fal$e Teacher$’, Shai Linne names and rebukes the ‘selfism’ of high profile Christian pyramid schemes based around promises of prosperity in the name of Christ. He laments the export of this theology to Africa and bravely names those who profit from the promotion of this distortion of the Christian gospel.
4. Explore complex and difficult theological themes. In essence, hip hop is simply words being rapped over a beat. The lyrical focus of hip hop means that big ideas can be thoughtfully described and explored. In ‘Election’, Shai Linne and Willie Will consider the doctrine of predestination. They consider the essence of the doctrine, the Scriptural basis for it and respond to various arguments against it. This is hip hop that engages and challenges the mind.
5. Model radical missional practice. Engaging, faithful Christian rappers embody Christ’s call to be in the world but not of it (John 17). Having been saved by Christ from the darkness of sin, these artists have not removed themselves from the culture or ignored their abilities but rather devoted themselves to using these gifts to glorify God and call others into the Kingdom.
Today I met a Dalek,
So full of fiery hate,
Tried to shoot me down,
While screaming “Exterminate!”.
What a frightful creature,
A shrunken little blob,
A horrid metal monster,
Driven onward by the mob.
I struck him down in anger,
Unleashed my inner beast,
And all the while my friends cheered on,
Until his life had ceased.
Suddenly I realised,
I had found it rather fun,
And shuddered at the thought,
Of the Dalek I’d become.