By Thomas Hester II (@thomasahester2)
They say you could 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? – Kanye West
Mr. West was apart of the hottest rap collective Rocafella in 2004
His first single is Jesus Walks
Kanye has a history of infusing Christian ideologies in his rhymes.
This record was extremely popular and was briefly nominated for a Stellar Award, a gospel award ceremony.
In Diamonds From Sierra Leone he explains his experience going to church
My father been said I need Jesus
So he took me to church and let the water wash over my Caesar
The pastor said we need leaders
Right then my body got still like a paraplegic
On the Jesus Walks remix he got rapper turned reverend Mason Betha, better known as Platinum selling Bad Boy artist Ma$e who infamously left the industry after finding God.
This same year Ma$e released Welcome Back after a 5 year absence. His first album Harlem World sold 4 million and because of his abrupt departure his follow up, Double Up didn’t garner the same attention but his third release failed to find the same audience as before only going Gold.
In the era of streaming selling 500K records is an amazing accomplishment but in the post pop era of selling 1 million in a day and former rival Jay Z praising Nielsen Soundscan it showed his fans didn’t flock to the reverend as they did Children of the Corn Murda Ma$e or even Pretty Party Boy Ma$e. The fans he did garner was divided again after he resurrected his Murda Ma$e persona with G Unit records. His explanation was one of an evangelistic purposes but the momentum was stopped because he couldn’t leave Bad Boy.
The partnership with G Unit and the return to his Murda Ma$e person confused fans who didn’t know what his motivations were after putting out the positive rap album Welcome Back
Hip Hop has always been intertwined with religion but historically those who have successfully integrated their beliefs while still getting embraced have been Muslim
Now there is Jay Electronica rocking his Moon and the Stars 5%er pendant
In the early 2000s there was Mos Def, Beanie Sigel, Freeway, Lupe
In the 90s Busta Rhymes, Lord Jamar, Grand Puba of Brand Nubian talked about “civilizing an 85er”, which was in reference to an evangelistic tactic of the Nation of Islam/Gods and Earths sect the 5%
Jay Electronica and Jay Z at the Brooklyn Hip Hop Festival in 2014. Controversy was made when Jay Z performed surrounded by the Fruit of Islam and gave Jay Electronica jewelry that included a pendant with Nation of Islam imagery If someone offered me what Brother Jay Electronica was offered by Brother Jay Z, I too would accept it with the biggest smile on my face, for I too, as all of us in The Nation of Islam, are The Five Percent: Poor Righteous Teachers who are called to teach the 85 Percent, and free them from the chains of slavery and subservience as tools of the 10 Percent. – Louis Farrakhan
One of the appeals of rap groups like Public Enemy or Wu Tang was there were jewels praising Farrakhan as a messenger and rhymes about various sciences or the math unlike Christianity which has been plagued with the lie that it’s the “White man’s religion”
So there was a divisiveness among consumers where a Nasir Jones could be praised for the cleverness of his line about going to hell for “snuffing Jesus” but KJ-52 was bashed on VH1 for praying for Eminem in his song Dear Slim
In 2005 he was added on VH1 40 Least Hip Hop Moments. Comedians and panel pundits complained that praying wasn’t hip hop and that it might be a gimmick to gain exposure.
Everybody knows Dear Slim is really just a diss
I prayed for the guy it’s so obvious that’s not hip hop, I guess
I should rap about shooting and killing, looting and stealing being a villain, maybe drug dealing that way I could probably sell like 10 million. Who cares of doing something for the children, right? – KJ-52
There have been moments where certain artists were embraced in one way or another.
Run DMC’s last album was a comeback of sorts and though the braggadocios Run was now a reverend and the powerful DMC was a minister they were still respected in the game by their peers. In Down With The King there are cameos from Kris Kross, MC Serch, Eazy E, Onyx, Naughty By Nature’s Treach as Pete Rock & CL Smooth trade lyrics with Run DMC.
Only G-O-D can be a king to me and if the G-O-D be in me then a King I be – DMC
After The Notorious B.I.G’s death in 1997 for the 2nd album Forever Puff Daddy brought in producer Mario ‘Yellowman’ Winans from the legendary Winans’ family to produce Best Friend. He praises Christ and confessed Jesus is his “best friend”. There’s also an appearance by Hezekiah Walker from the gospel scene who had become a spiritual mentor during this time. There were plans to do a full gospel album called Thank You but it never came to fruition.
Christian rap group G.R.I.T.S has had their single ‘Ooh Ahh’ used on MTV Cribs.
In the post L.A. Riots Gospel Gangstaz got recognition as being former Bloods and Crips coming together positively.
T-Bone released 3 independent gangster rap albums and did collaborations with KRS One
KRS One’s Spiritual Minded title was a reference to Boogie Down Production’s 1987 release Criminal Minded
Kirk Franklin has continued his relationships with mainstream artists. Before touching the SNL stage with Kanye West he was with Salt of Salt & Pepa. His remix with Pharrell is reminiscent of Revolution with Darkchild.
The first official single of Kanye West’s was Ultralight Beams.
Heard at his adidas fashion show and seen on the SNL stage there are rousing choruses and a vocal sample of a child praising the Lord.
Chance The Rapper becomes a mainstay after his memorable verse and Kirk Franklin finishes off this performance with a prayer.
The Life of Pablo in general has a thread of Christian themes from the Virgin Mary to a whole track of a women’s testimony on Lowlights.
But if The Life of Pablo was the original Coloring Book was the remix
While there were references in Kanye’s work there was no doubt what Chance The Rapper’s intentions were.
This was a gospel album from a Christian man unabashedly praising Jesus.
From How Great and Blessings to Finish Line and Drown there is lines like “Now everybody can say it out loud, my favorite rapper’s a Christian rapper”.
This is the first era in rap’s history where this isn’t an established act or legend switching over. Not only that but there is no longer a loud chorus of ridicule following their efforts.
Arguably the hottest artists of the year are professing a Christians like rap king Kendrick Lamar (GKMC, TBAB).
Kendrick Lamar in his work has spoken on his love of God. In Dying of Thirst there is in the narrative of Good Kid Mad City where he accepts Christ from his own mother played by Maya Angelou
There has been a shift.
In the era of Method Man and The Firm, legendary group and Grammy nominated Cross Movement was dismissed by the mainstream as lame and who are only trying to criticize.
Lecrae had to battle that stigma as well but after becoming a multi Grammy winner and Anomaly went God independently he signed with Columbia.
His Reach Records’ artist Andy Mineo has a friendship with Sway and has been featured on RapFix and Sway’s Universe.
Battle rap is seeing an explosion of talent from God fearing emcees like Saga and Street Hymns. The one who is making the most waves in the scene is arguably the Rookie of the Year LOSO.
Battling very much relies on gun imagery as much as it does similes and metaphors.
So when LOSO shows the lies and exposes the hypocrisy in the sport Mr. “Imaginary Gun Bars” gets pushback. He handily defeated the “P.G Killer” DNA and fought of avowed 5%er Xcel.
If battle rap will have the same reckoning as mainstream hip hop only time will tell but the power lies in the consumers hands because as Jay Z said “Men Lie. Women Lie. Numbers Don’t”