Identity Idols and the #christianrapper

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Identity Idols and the #christianrapper

The following post is taken in full with permission from Mos Murph. We decided to re-post it here as it is a great defense of the Christian Worldview of the arts that is shared by the writers of Gospel Spam.

What is going on in the Christian Hip Hop scene? There have always been debates going on in the movement. Early on when rappers like DA T.R.U.T.H were reaching great successes the debate had been, how far can a Christian go? How far should a Christian go? The question was never focused simply on popularity, but on what angle these rappers should go to reach such heights. Do it by making more palatable music for the masses? Or to get your music into every church to rake in as many Christians as possible to put the music on the charts, with the hopes that the rap market would take notice and be forced by popular demand to give plays to songs with explicit Christian messages? Even though these thoughts were explored, no real mainstream success of Christian Hip Hop hit non-Christian outlets. Now, it was never about numbers, as it shouldn’t be for any Christians doing any public work. Whether it’s music, work or church. Though the thought that thousands of non-Christians would somehow come to listen to music made by Christians is an evangelistic dream that arguably any Christian would take a bullet to see happen.

Well, that was then and this is now. Now there are thousands of people who wouldn’t likely align themselves with Christianity that listen, or at least know about some Christians making rap music. On basically every rap outlet,Lecrae or Andy Mineo of Reach Records have made their rounds. But how did they do it? Did they compromise the truth of Christianity to make people like them? As Lecrae is the founder of the 116 Unashamed Movement, did they become ashamed of the gospel to reach mainstream success? That is what some have alleged but by what standard do they utilize to make such a judgment?

Reach Records has met unceasing criticism over their approach and philosophy to music ever since Lecrae employed DJ Don Cannon to host the Church Clothes Mixtape, a free album that reached 250,000 downloads through a non-Christian outlet in less than a month. The controversy was because DJ Don Cannon is not a Christian and he hosts many albums that are antithetical to Christian ethics. This raised the debate of whether it is appropriate for a Christian to collaborate with a non-Christian to make music. From here the debate over the purpose and intent of music from Christians came out with full force. Christian rap had always been contained in a box of primarily making music for Christians, with the occasional song written to unbelievers. Like all rap music, the rap that Christians made reflected what they are going through in their lives. So naturally it would be music about God’s work in their lives and the lives of those around them.Typically written as either a complete praise song, a doctrinal song loaded with Christian language like salvation, sanctification, and sin that the biblically illiterate likely would have to pull out a Bible dictionary to understand. So this music would be primarily by Christians and for Christians, meaning it likely wouldn’t travel outside of the circle of theologically conservative Christian churches. With this trend in the movement, this became the standard for Christian rap that rappers clung to and hold others to. Then comes Lecrae, Andy Mineo and Reach Records, rethinking the wheel. And when they did, they provoked the scorn of many other rappers and fans who believe that if you don’t do rap according to their standard content and intent, you’re compromising.

By this time there are all sorts of awards that catered to music made by Christians. So much so, that Lecrae, a rapper, won a Grammy for Best Gospel Album in 2013. Music by Christians were all lumped into one category. By now, the category is inescapable. I can’t even write this without saying Christian hip hop or Christian rap. It is really an odd thing that has deep significance in the Christian subculture. So much so that I’m willing to call it an idol at worst and an unnecessary tradition of men at best. There aren’t categories like Atheist rap, Muslim rap or Hedonist rap there is just rap and Christian rap. Yet when a Christian tries to shed themselves of the Christian rapper title, they get treated by some Christians as practically denying Christ and being ashamed of Him. Entire rap songs have been dedicated to chastising rappers for peeling the title off of their work. These songs allege that these rappers are weak, compromising and ashamed of Jesus.

It is because of this kind of behavior that I allege the label has become an idol for some. I am certainly not against people keeping the title if they want to. I even refer to the label when speaking specifically about the realm of rappers who profess Christ because it’s really always been referred to as CHH within our own musical culture. My concern comes from rappers and fans clinging to the title with a death grip to the point of becoming very nasty towards those who don’t care to use the title. I can’t help but be reminded of the beginnings in the church when Christians started to rap. They were seen as aliens and treated as such. They were seen as compromising by utilizing a style of music that has classically been vulgar. It’s been some years now and this same attitude is now seemingly ingrained in some Christians towards those not falling in line with their standards for what a Christian in the music industry must be. The blind spot that they all seem to have in common is that they have lifted the title Christian rapper up so high that they can’t see any other way of doing things. The title gets defended so vehemently that very prideful posturing comes with it as if such a title is what makes a Christian in the music industry stand or fall. It’s even been argued that when the title gets shed that the person will likely become unholy in their conduct.

The questions that need to be asked now are the same ones that were asked in the days of the Reformation. Primarily, Is this biblical?. Yet when that question is asked to those who have dug their heels in to defend the label of Christian rapper they find no precedence for such a label in the Bible. There is no scriptural argument that can be made for a Christian to have to tag the title of Christian before whatever work they do. So this odd standard is exclusive to the American music industry and it has been built by Christians because it grew from the CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) scene which was almost entirely worship songs. Now, the scene is wrapped up and there is needless division, pride, and scorn over something that isn’t even mandated in the Bible as something Christians must do.

Perhaps it is another glaring sign of immaturity in the still relatively young movement. Either way it is devastating to the movement as a whole and to the young, easily influenced people who make up its fan base. While one person may take the words of their favorite rapper with discernment and produce a balanced opinion, another will take it and turn it into something much more hurtful. Much like when Martin Luther first rebelled against the Roman Catholicism of his day. At first he’s leading the movement with great success, then he leaves for a little while and comes back to find that the people who were once his followers had turned into murderers and pillagers persecuting every Roman Catholic in their sight.

Even in our disagreement, as Christians, we have a massive responsibility to speak with humility and love. Not haughtiness, hubris and bravado. This can happen on both sides of the Christian rapper or Rapper who is a Christian debate. Let’s make measured comments with open arms rather than using harsh comments with closed fists behind them. Our movement is stronger than ever and the enemy will use whatever he can to stop it. Let’s not help him.