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Opinion: How CHH can succeed where traditional Hip-Hop has failed

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The following is a guest post, written by Ralph “Lift” McCarty, a Wade-O Radio listener and supporter. McCarty’s bio and contact info can be found at the bottom of this post. If you’re interested in guest blogging, please contact our managing editor, Mikaela.

10 years ago it was a common place to hear Hip Hop (HH) aficionados debating whether Hip Hop was dead or not. It seemed as if HH was changing in a way that caused some fans and participants to have a certain level of discomfort and disconnect. They could no longer recognize what they identified as HH in what was currently being called HH. There was an awareness of a generation gap/cultural divide in the HH community and it appeared front and center in how people defined what HH was.

This was not a new occurrence but was finally being brought to the light. 10 years later, HH is still segmented and many of the people who felt HH was dead 10 years ago listen sparingly. Their needs/expectations are still not being met and not many are doing anything about it. I honestly feel that Christian Hip Hop (CHH) is uniquely suited to bridge this generation gap, and overcome the cultural divide in HH, while at the same time provide itself platform to reach a larger audience.

But aren’t Hip Hop and Christian Hip Hop the same thing?

As much as many people want to say that Christian Hip Hip (CHH) is just Hip Hop (HH), we all realize that it’s not. Although many inroads have been made into the mainstream culture over the last 5 years, many CHH artists and albums are still treated differently. Lecrae, with all of his success, is still regularly placed in the Gospel/Christian categories, whether it be at Target’s Music section or the Grammy’s. CHH and HH artists tend to work with each other on an exception status and don’t tour together. My opinion is that until the mainstream finds a way to consistently monetize CHH, it probably will continue to be treated differently.

That’s okay…

I don’t believe that being treated differently from mainstream HH is a bad thing. Mainstream HH is very focused on creating profits. To do this, the focus is always on having the newest, hottest fad in the market out on tour. The music is a product that is being targeted to a certain demographic of consumers (13-30 years old), that is forever changing. To maintain interest within this target group, labels are continually churning out the newest artist, hoping one catches on and strikes a cord with the current culture. While this strategy may be mildly successful at keeping the target demographic engaged, at a certain point, many of the listeners grow out of the demographic. At the same time, many of the artists who no longer tailor a message to that particular demographic disappear from the mainstream forum.

CHH in contrast, is very indie in structure. Not being reliant on mainstream consumers for its cues, it has the opportunity to carve a niche by continuing to support artists, while providing HH that reaches and is still relevant to listeners outside the 13 to 30 year old demographic. While it is true that within HH there are many online enclaves that support nonconforming artists, the HH industry as a whole does not.

Why would CHH do this?

Outside of being responsive to a cultural mandate, we need to look at HH in general. HH as a music/art form is 40+ years old. The people who were teenagers and college students when HH took off in the 1970’s and 1980’s are retired/retiring and grandparents. Many of them no longer listen to Hip Hop. Many second generation of HH listeners, who are 35-50 yrs old, are disengaged or beginning to transition to music that has content more relevant to their stage in life. Many of the current listeners of HH are third or fourth generation who fall within the targeted 13 -30 range.

At this point, some people like to argue that many of the older listeners stopped listening due to the change in the HH’s sound. To that, I would like to point to the fact that Roland produced the 808’s, the backbone in much of current HH, in 1980 and that many of the songs that are currently being sampled, are from the first and second generations of HH ‘s youth. Although there have been some small changes in HH’s sound, I would say that it has not been anything that makes current HH not accessible to first generation listeners, other than content tailored to a much younger audience.

It is my opinion that HH has shown itself to abandon older listeners and artists. This robs HH of the opportunity to have voices of experience speak to its listeners. It also flies in direct contrast to the themes of heritage and legacy that are very strong in most Christian communities. As CHH continues to grow and have more influence, it has been afforded an opportunity that mainstream HH, by strategy, has opted out of. If CHH chooses, it can take advantage of this opportunity to create a lasting cultural influence that maintains engagement across multiple age demographics.

How do we do it?

One suggestion is to artificial slant the marketplace to maintain a presence of legacy artists and their projects. I can’t help but notice how mainstream Country Music seem to do a good job of this. It seems to be a rite of passage of the current popular artists to occasionally feature or cover one of the popular artists that came before them, i.e. Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Reba McEntire, Garth Brooks. This practice introduces both artists into each others current demographic, as well as creates the avenue which allows artists from the past to still have a voice. One of the most important things it does is widen the attention span of the listener, giving them a consciousness of music that they might enjoy from a much wider group of artists.

The second suggestion is to lean on one of the building blocks of Christian communities and have current and past artists disciple upcoming artists. This helps to create a legacy by making a culture of unity that helps promote growth in both the CHH industry and the individual artist. It provides upcoming artists with experiences and resources beyond their own and a stable foundation to start from, while providing the legacy artists opportunities to invest in the future of Hip-Hop as an art form.

In closing, I think that CHH has the unique ability to connect with many of the people that traditional HH purposely has left behind. With the increase connectivity of the world being somewhat of a Roman Road, HH has the opportunity to access many people who might not otherwise have been listeners. There are many who have already developed a predisposition to certain forms of Hip-Hop music, but because those forms are not as fiscally profitable as others, they are not catered to. Seeing that Christianity’s goal is not only fiscal solvency but to reach and impact lives for Christ, let us use these already developed tastes to reach some people. I am not saying that we make people’s opinions and expectations our master but that we might as an industry, “serve all so that we might gain more.”

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Ralph "Lift" McCarty, born and raised in Detroit Mi, has words in his blood. After earning dual Bachelors in Economics and English, Lift walked away from his Masters of Education mid-thesis to follow the Lord. Lift is a writer, poet, rapper, musician, producer and more importantly, a husband of 1 and father of 3. You can follow him on Twitter @LiftvsGravity.

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