How Church That Bred S.O., Jahaziel and Dwayne Tryumf Became Heartbeat of UK CHH
At face value, Calvary Chapel South London looks like a hip-hop church.
Two of the pastors that it’s led by, Efrem Buckle and Robert Prendergast, are known in the United Kingdom Christian hip-hop world as e.Minor and Tha Pilgrim of the pioneering rap group Ministri of Defence (M.O.D). Members and former attendees of the church include S.O., Jahaziel, Dwayne Tryumf and many other artists.
However, CC South London is so much more than a hip-hop-friendly congregation.
Buckle and Prendergast were rappers before they were pastors and Christians before they were rappers. But as Christians with a passion for a rapidly sprouting hip-hop culture that the London church lacked a connection to, they decided to bridge the gap in 1994 as M.O.D. The church failed support their effort.
“We were getting stoned,” Buckle told Wade-O Radio’s David Daniels. “Christians were saying, ‘You can’t do that. It’s not of God.'”
He and Prendergast didn’t start to rap for acceptance, though. So the lack of support failed to deter them.
“Our goal, to be quite frank, was always from the outset simply using music as a tool to get people’s attention sufficiently in order to give them the gospel,” said Buckle.
M.O.D didn’t tour churches or youth groups. It instead performed in schools and prisons. And Sean Benson admitted that he would be dead or in prison if it had been the other way around.
M.O.D ministered at a 14-year-old Benson’s school during a time in which he began to weigh church life against gang life. He grew up impoverished and fatherless in Peckham, London—a neighborhood in Southwark, a borough with the fifth-highest crime rate in the city according to its Metropolitan Police. Benson’s greatest influence—his environment—pointed him toward a life of crime, but M.O.D outweighed this influence.
“Seeing men from a demographic that I could relate to representing something much more important and significant than the gang life that I was seeing around me had a massive impact,” Benson told Wade-O Radio.
M.O.D invited students up for an open mic after its performance at the school. Only Benson came forward. There, the Christian hip-hop artist now known as Threeface rapped in front of M.O.D for the first time.
The duo’s evangelism flourished, but M.O.D never sought to just convert non-Christians—even though they were 90% of its audience according to Buckle. M.O.D knew that it also had to assist in the maturation process of the newborn Christians impacted by its ministry.
To accomplish that, Buckle and Prendergast first started a Friday night Bible study. Their mere presence in the UK Christian hip-hop scene also left an impact.
Jahaziel—who released his second studio album Heads Up on Nov. 19—connected with them at numerous concerts and Worship and Warriors, monthly meetings held for the few UK Christian rappers who existed to fellowship. He even went as far as to say that M.O.D “pastored the scene.”
“They were brothers that always used to encourage me and you never questioned their motives,” Jahaziel told DJ Wade-O. “It was always clear that this was about Christ and him being made known.”
The gradual progression of M.O.D’s ministry, which included being signed to Cross Movement Records, eventually led to the creation of Calvary Chapel South London.
Jahaziel stopped church shopping and joined as soon as he heard the news. Several other artists—including Tryumf, S.O., Threeface, New Direction Crew and E Tizz—had already joined, or did so soon after. CC South London ultimately became the heartbeat of UK Christian hip hop, but for reasons other than hip hop.
“While all those guys were coming there, it was never like a hip-hop church,” said Jahaziel. “It just seemed like a real genuine church, a church that was void of all the extra stuff that gets in the way. The teaching was really sound. The fellowship was really cool. And for some people, it was the first time you’ve ever been to a church and seen a pastor preach with a fitted cap on.”
S.O.—who landed at CC South London through Jahaziel (before the former signed with Lamp Mode Recordings and the latter with Xist Music, S.O. was Jahaziel’s hype man)—echoed his claim about the church’s rapper-laden congregation.
“We didn’t go there because we were artists or because the pastors were M.O.D,” S.O. told Daniels. “I didn’t even know what M.O.D was. I came into Christian hip hop really late. Primarily, we went there because we wanted to be Bible people.”
For S.O., Jahaziel, Threeface and G.P.—producer for New Direction Crew—CC South London did more than simply offer a stronger, Biblically-sound alternative.
S.O. had never heard of expositional preaching. Jahaziel couldn’t find a church unhandcuffed by Pharisaical tradition. Threeface had no accountability. Neither did G.P., who claimed that he wouldn’t even call his pre-Calvary Chapel self a Christian, despite him creating “Christian” music.
CC South London filled a void.
“If I look at my churches I had gone to prior to [CC South London], a lot of the time it wasn’t about the scriptures,” G.P. told Wade-O Radio. “A lot of the time it was a bit of culture, mixed in with some hocus pocus, mixed in with a bit of feel-good and mixed in with [teaching] that made no sense, but you didn’t question the leaders.”
While the story of Calvary Chapel is Christ-centered, hip hop’s role in molding the church body remained major. Artists didn’t join because of hip hop, but the organic relationships that they built in the UK Christian hip-hop scene made them to gravitate toward joining.
And to go full circle, Buckle and Prendergast taught their congregation the very thing that they as M.O.D. pledged to do nearly two decades ago—use hip hop has a tool to spread the gospel. According to G.P., they did so by emphasizing servant hood to the artists.
“We could rap all day, but then there’s a time when we need to put the mic down,” said G.P. “What are you reading, at the end of the day? What are you studying? How are you serving people? How are you serving the body? How’s your walk? What’s going on behind closed doors? Are you accountable? Hip hop was the common ground that brought many together, but then it was the scripture that glued us together.”
The impact of Buckle and Predergrast through CC South London and M.O.D isn’t limited to south London.
Triple O, a Christian hip-hop artist from east London, admitted that south London artists like those from Calvary Chapel are typically more theologically-focused than UK artists in general. He also stressed the importance of M.O.D’s connection with Cross Movement, which Buckle and Predergrast met on its mission’s trip to the UK.
“Hearing M.O.D on Christology was a big deal for me and really encouraged me to write,” Triple O told Wade-O Radio.
CC South London isn’t the Christian hip-hop hub that it once was.
The church sent Jahaziel to Islington, London—a northern borough even more dangerous than Southwark—as an Eden Network team leader to share the gospel. Tryumf left too. S.O. remains, but he plans on moving to the United States next year.
CC South London may no longer be the heartbeat of UK Christian hip hop, but its impact on the scene and beyond lives on.