There’s a room full of people ready to hear what you have to say, but you know most of their hearts are callous to the things of God. You know your opponent will break down everything you believe and do everything to discredit your lifestyle. As you go over your lines and points, you say a prayer to God. You feel calm, take a deep breath and enter into the room. Where are you, at a debate perhaps? Preaching a sermon? Street evangelism? None of the above, you are entering a rap battle as a Christian battle rapper.
A few years ago, the scene above would have been far and few in between, but now in 2015 this scene isn’t so rare. Christians are some hilariously interesting creatures. We spend our time in the same bubbles and circles, whether out of fear or complacency that’s up for debate. We steer away from competition, and anything that isn’t clear cut Gospel centric we cite it as off-limits. That is, until one brave soul does something so out of the box, and we look at them like “We can do that?!” After that first person does it, a few more brave souls do the same, and suddenly the flood gates begin to open as we all rush into a recently off limit arena. This seems to be a consistent theme with Christians and culture and of course battle rap is no different.
Even though cats have been involved in the battle rap culture since the days of the Tunnel Ratz, for this new generation this is relatively new. I was unaware of it until I first saw Th3 Saga battle, and what an experience it was! Th3 Saga burst on the scene and has given others the courage to battle in their own respective leagues. Th3 Saga played a role in inspiring Street Hymns to battle, who put his friend Ki’Shon Furlow on in the DFW (Dallas Fort Worth) Battle League. There are other Christian battle rappers such as Bridge B., Loso (fka Los), and A. Ward to name a few. New ground has been broken and more territory for the Kingdom of Heaven has been acquired, sounds like a good thing right? That’s not necessarily true, I don’t believe we need a whole bunch of Christian battle rappers and I have four reasons explaining why.
Because you are a Christian and love rap. Honestly we live in a time where it seems like everybody has the same dream: to be a rapper or some sort of entertainer. The same is true for Christians, now more than ever. To be honest anybody can rap, but that doesn’t mean everybody should rap. The game is oversaturated in Christian Hip Hop and I really hope that doesn’t spill over into the battle rap arena. At one point I thought that we needed as many Christian Rappers as the world has rappers. Only problem with that is there are a whole lot of rappers! (Just visit some of the more popular mixtape websites). “We don’t need more rappers we need more solid Christians” a sentiment paraphrased by Beleaf on a song called “Move Over” from the Breax Over 3 mixtape. Just because you love Jesus and rap doesn’t mean you should rap, and most definitely doesn’t mean you should be a Christian Battle Rapper.
Because you think you can. I may need to clarify this one a little further because it may be confusing. If you watch some of our Brothers in Christ battle, you will see them dusting these cats with no problem, especially in their first couple of bouts. I don’t know if the leagues didn’t expect much out of them, and so set them up with lower level opponents, but don’t be deceived. After watching Street Hymns battle Sparrow in his DFW Battle League debut, I was like “yo I could have dusted Sparrow if I had battled him!” The same went for Ki’Shon Furlow versus Lio. I don’t know if our brothers are so skilled they make it look easy or if their opponents are so lazy and predictable, but they can gas up the casual observer if they let it. I know people that rap because they saw Lil Wayne or someone else do it and literally were like “I can do that too!” I submit that your motivation must go a tad bit deeper than that or you will not last in the battle rap world. What if that was Street Hymns’ motivation for joining his local league? He would have been in for a rude awakening when he participated in his first battle away from Texas. In his local league the peoples’ ears were softened to his Bible bars and nerd references, but in Atlanta it was a completely different experience. He had to fight to be heard, his bars weren’t always received well, and the crowd pretty much cheered whatever his opponent said. Street knew why he was there and was able to do what he came to do and hold his composure. It’s one thing to think you can do something, but an entirely different thing to be built for something and feel God tugging toward something unfamiliar.
If you are terrible at battle rapping. This one is extremely important, because I dare say we all know someone who is terrible at music but won’t put it down because it’s “ministry.” In the past few years Christian rappers have been chart topping on Billboard and various other spots which has opened doors for us. Let’s be real, businesses aren’t really vibing with the Gospel like that, so why are we gaining more territory? We are making music that can’t and won’t be denied. It is hard to justify not carrying our music when we are outselling mainstream artists. This speaks to the hand of God over us but also the skill level. In a recent interview, Andy Mineo spoke about how he met 50 Cent. He was at This Is 50 office to do an interview, and 50 walked by. Andy gave him a head no and they continued to go their separate ways. Some one stopped 50 and was like “Did you know that guy had the number 1 album on ITunes?” 50 did an about face and went and talked to Andy, and 50 invited him into his office to talk. That’s mind blowing! For the most part, our brothers and sisters have stepped their bars up and it is showing. That carries over to battle rapping, an art form that relies heavily on creativity, performance, and crowd interaction. Just because you can rap doesn’t mean you will be a good battle rapper. If you are terrible sit down and support the ones who are good at it, because we have come too far to go backwards due to terrible representation. One wack Christian battle rapper makes them all look wack and I feel like they don’t take our God serious either. The reason that some of the more popular Christian battle rappers have the influence they have is because they are skilled and if their opponents respect nothing else they respect the skill and talent our brothers have displayed. Propaganda once said “I got an answer for the culture, roast an emcee sick and he’ll listen up quick to every word you spit.” In 2015 we see that the big homie Prop wasn’t lying.
If you are not familiar with the culture or history of battle rap. Perhaps this is one of the biggest reasons not to be a Christian battle rapper. If there is one thing that this particular culture demonizes and despises it’s being inauthentic (even though most of them spit about guns they don’t own and crimes they have never committed). One thing about us Christians for certain is that sometimes we are bold for all the wrong reasons. We figure that we can come into an area currently unoccupied by Christians and because we are waving the banner of Christ, they are supposed to just let us in. I feel like from the outside looking in that would have to look like supreme arrogance on our part. Who is you? How you gon come in here, know nothing about us and try to preach to us!? Those would be questions I would be trying to ask someone if they came at me or my culture the way we come at folks. I said all that to say we must know what we are talking about when attempting to speak into other cultures. The Apostle Paul did this when he was in Athens discussing “the unknown God” with those gathered around. He was up on the philosophies and schools of thought and was able to be efficient in that particular arena. I feel like Th3 Saga did this the best when he battled against battle rapper Prep in a one off just before the Rookies versus Vets event. I suggest you YouTube the battle and brace yourself for Th3 Saga’s third round, because it is nothing short of amazing. He started off by saying that bringing this particular battle back to the essence of Smack was wild, and then went into a verbal history lesson of where some of the most prominent battles in New York happened. He ended by saying “My mother never needed a belt cuz I was raised off Smack like an abused child!” and the crowd in the store he was battling in went crazy. Th3 Saga proved that not only could he rap but he knew the history, appreciated it, and spoke on the influence that it had on his life personally. If you listen as the crowd begins to die down you’ll hear someone say “I respect it.” People may not believe what you believe, but if you come at them in a way that shows you truly understand where they are coming from that means something. You may not get an instant conversion but the person may walk away thinking “dude is real” which goes a long way in this particular culture. That’s why being familiar with the culture and history of battle rap is an absolute must if you want to participate in it.
In the light of new ground being broken by some brave souls, I just hope that it causes us to reflect on the fact that Christ needs to be exalted everywhere. If it’s not a sin and we have the option to impact lives for Christ, then I feel like we have no choice but to go forward. However, not everybody is built to go into certain places, especially the ones where the spotlight is on them. Not everyone can stand up to the scrutiny that comes from other believers when they are doing something that people thought of as off-limits. You have to have tough skin, be able to keep your composure in the face of utter disrespect, and you need to be creative yet relatable. I’m sure I’m missing some things but I believe you get the point. If you know someone who is considering battle rapping as a Christian, I suggest you give them the above mentioned reasons why they should reconsider. In this time people are beginning to give Christian artists spots on their platforms, nothing less than excellence and the Spirit of God will help us push the agenda of Christ into areas that were once bathed in darkness. These areas are primed for the light to burst in, so to quote Seantana “let’s go!”