In the beginning there was music, and then there was rap music, followed by Christians doing rap music. Somewhere along the line the title “Christian Rapper” was made and all was seemingly right with the world; until some Christians were doing rap and just wanted to be known as rappers they just happened to be Christian. This happened in the 90s and if we fast forward twenty or so years, the discussion slash debate is still going on. Christian Hip Hop is arguably doing better than it’s ever been and the poster boy for the genre, two time Grammy award winning Lecrae Moore, decided to go into a different direction and shed the “Christian Rapper” title. This seemingly came out of nowhere (even though he has spoken on this subject and the new direction of his music in several videos) and took the genre of CHH by surprise. All of Reach Records are on board with the new direction and slowly but surely we are seeing more artists shed the title of “Christian rapper.”
So what happens now? It feels like every week someone is having the discussion of “Christian Rapper versus Rapper who is a Christian” or someone says something that sparks the conversation up again. Last week, a story broke where Andy Mineo was on a panel at an event titled “Christians in the Arts” and in clarifying past comments he made on “Christian rap being corny,” he mentioned the Christian label hurts more than it helps. Now a lot of CHH media outlets have weighed in on this and I just want to throw my two cents in the ring, if I can.
Let’s get one thing out of the way, taking the “Christian rapper” label off in no way makes you ashamed of Jesus and the Gospel. The word “Christian” in and of itself was first used as an insult and then turned into a badge of honor by a group of people (kind of like another word of controversy but that’s a topic for another post) so whether you use that term or not doesn’t make you a legit follower of Jesus. If I’m honest, I wish cats would stop identifying themselves and their lifestyles as “Christian” if their lives off the mic don’t line up with the core values of Jesus. Does the label “Christian” before whatever types of art you do hinder more than it helps? Short answer: Absolutely it does.
This issue of labels hasn’t just applied to hip hop but it’s applied to rock music as well. I want to tell a story or two that I will never forget. Back in 2002, in high school, there was this atheist gothic student in my class. He came in to class humming a song that I knew from the band Relient K, and I was shocked! I asked him, as if it was my duty to bust his bubble “you know they are a Christian band right?” His face fell and he was like “oh they’re Christian? I can’t listen to them anymore.” He went from genuinely enjoying their music to wanting nothing to do with their music, that’s 100 to 0 real quick. That reaction I described is what a lot of artists who are Christians want to avoid. I can’t tell you how many people have laughed and waved me away when I told them what I was listening to and asked if they were interested.
Does the label matter? It depends on who you are trying to reach and what you are trying to accomplish. Everyone is entitled to do what their convictions tell them and if Jesus is being Glorified, it doesn’t really matter. Just don’t act like rocking a man made title makes you more or less ashamed of the Gospel, cuz if we are going by that, there are a lot of people doing it wrong. Good Fruit Co. markets themselves to their fans over in Korea as “Positive” hip hop but we know they are constantly talking about Jesus. For those who were in an uproar over Reach Records changing their website (Even though Crae was riding camel back on the other side of the world to spread the Gospel) they must not have looked at King’s Dream Entertainment’s website. The label home to the powerhouse known as the Dream Junkies markets their music as positive hip hop as they have been doing since the company’s conception, but as soon as you listen, you know they are Christian. As an artist, I don’t label myself. I let the people do that. My feeling is, call it what you want just don’t call it wack. To be honest “the world” doesn’t care about the label they just want it to be good. If the people we are trying to reach don’t care what we label our music, why do we care so much?