Recently I wondered, “How did I make it to age 15 practically oblivious of the cultural mandate to think of my female friends as objects?” Upon further meditation, I also recalled having a strangely solid confidence in heaven and hell’s existence and a clear understanding that I was in the world, but not of its ways.
Light reflection traced this assurance back to Sunday school and Bible club lessons, parental influence, and–yes–Hip-Hop.
Around my 12th year, I recall hearing a unique new sound playing from a music enthusiast’s car speakers as I sat by the windowsill. The music was rhythmic and attractive. Although my parents did a great job of shielding me from secular music, I absorbed this sound like a 16th century citizen would a lightbulb–curiously and excitedly.
Within the course of a few months, I heard another song while waiting in my front lobby for a ride. My interest piqued, I stepped farther outside, positioning myself as close to the car as I could. Unbeknownst to me at the time, the song was titled “Breathe” by Fabolous, and the song I heard months before was “High” by Styles P. Fabolous rapped about how people can’t breathe when they watch him enter a room, while Styles P rhymed about, well, getting high.
Not the best role models you say? Wait, I know this sounds bad so far, but stay with me!
Soon I had the opportunity to attend a Christian basketball camp in upstate New York, which back then was named “Hoop Heaven.” During one of the evening chapels, a rapper/evangelist called Mark J (J for his last name, Johnson) was invited to perform music before giving his message. One song described heaven creatively as “the place to rise to perfection,” “with no fights, no strife, no flirting, no gun busting, no cursing,” where Christ “scalps tickets at your heart’s door.” This was compelling music to our young, influential ears, especially when Mark J used crowd participation to get us involved. Needless to say, my friend and I copped the album and asked my parents to listen to it the entire ride home.
That was the first of several Hip-Hop performances I attended. Next year at the same camp, “Refuge” from Manhattan Grace Tabernacle came with several selections, including one with the chorus: “Be strong in the Lord and his mighty power / put on the full armor of God to withstand this hour / although I walk through the valley of the death / help me to keep my head up Lord so I won’t stress. Yes!” I didn’t post that from a lyrics website; those words are still engraved in my mind after listening to the CD several times eight years ago.
It wasn’t long before Nicky Cruz’s discipleship rap group Truce came to my church’s youth meetings. Then Cross Movement’s Da Truth, Then Storytellers (The video below is an excerpt of the night Storytellers came to the church). Soon enough, our youth group had its own rap ensembles.
Each new Christian artist I encountered used hot beats and sound lyrical flow to impart biblical truth and fundamental wisdom into my heart, whether I was immediately aware or not. If we’re honest, secular music does the same, although it less often gives truth and much less often edifies, as a writer from The Good Women Project observed in her own life (don’t ask me why I’ve read women blogs!). Who can really argue with that? Even society at large admits albiet hesitantly that objectification of women, living for self, and promoting illegal activity is a detriment to listeners.
Holy Hip-Hop flips the script. Artists have and still assert biblical principles in their verses, delivering truth through a powerful art form. Grits and Sarah Kelly chant, “We’re gon’ raise our kids, reach our goals, we’re gon’ walk hand and hand till the end of the road” in a song that speaks of love and lifetime monogamy. Tedashii and Flame delivered a pertinent anthem about making war against the flesh, which you can watch below. Trip Lee and Pro teach about having covenant eyes and console listeners that money, sex, and power aren’t evil, but that the Giver is to be worshipped, not the gifts. Listeners have left testimonies on these videos as comments about how they’ve been challenged to live for more. Not everyone in the world can say that about the music they listen to.
Before Hip-Hop, there was and still is spoken word, where people utter meaningful lyrics (that usually rhyme) to a specific tempo, mostly so others can follow along. This art did not originate in the 20th century when a group of musicians decided to try mixing certain elements together to create a hot new sound; no, rhyme has been used since biblical times, as people who can read the Bible in its original language are well aware. The art is portrayed with different instruments and technology as time progresses, but it’s up to the people behind the instruments–not the instruments themselves–to exalt God with or corrupt the genre they are gifted in.
We raise children with specific movies, television shows, clubs and programs, hobbies, et cetera, correct? Well as for the genre of music my kids will grow up bopping their heads and memorizing the lyrics to, alongside others I choose Christian Hip-Hop. As soon as they comprehend English, those soul-penetrating, life bringing lyrics will seep into their minds to counter the culture’s negative that tries to do the same…
…like the stuff playing out my window as I typed this sentence.
And if they recognize one day how it affected them the same way it affected me, I’m sure they’ll thank me for it.