CHRISTIAN HIP HOP HISTORY – kNOw-Name
Did you know that, often times, God is up to much more than what we are aware of?
Early in the new millennium, Cross Movement was contacted by a popular artist to collaborate on an upcoming album. When the call came in, we were floored. Actually we weren’t floored because we were not there to get the call. We were on tour. But one of our co-laborers who worked in our ministry office took the call and “handled” it for us. He gave us a call and reported, “Hey, you’re not going to believe this but So & So called the office today asking if you guys wanted to be a part of his next album. I told him, ‘Nah, that’s not the kind of thing y’all would do.’”
I can remember the mixed emotions that we each experienced and then expressed. Tonic voiced his concern that, whether or not we would actually participate on the project, it was not a good idea for the decision and response to come from someone in our office and not from we ourselves. And so, we went about setting up a time to speak with the artist on our own behalf. We set it up and about a week later, the call came in. I think the entire squad, with the exception of Ambassador, was in the building that day. We gathered around the speaker phone and heard a powerful, jovial voice on the other end, “Yo! This is KRS.”
For those who don’t know, KRS is seen as one of the progenitors of ‘Conscious Rap.’ He was the 80’s, 90’s, and early new-millennium version of a Lupe Fiasco or Kendrick Lamar. Or, to put it more HHC (Hip Hopically Correct), Lupe and Kendrick are the 20-teen versions of KRS-One. We took the opportunity to apologize for the way in which his request was declined. He admitted that he felt some kind of way about it but that he understood. KRS aka Kris mentioned that he could tell from our album covers, even the way the track-lists were conceptually sewn together to communicate a message, that we were a serious group.
He told us that he was working on a new album entitled Spiritually Minded, which would be the Christian version of his earlier masterpiece Criminally Minded. We asked if there had been some shift in his worldview that now had him looking to produce a “Christian artwork.” We had to ask because most of his past discography aimed to debunk the Bible and Jesus. His answer showed that, while he had come to think more highly of the concept of “Christ” he was still no believer in Jesus as THE Son of God, but only A son of God, which (according to him) we all are to the same degree.
Despite the pleasantries and the mutual respect, we declined his offer to collaborate for four important reasons which I cover in Chapter 9 “Unequally Yoked” of my new book, The Art of Christianity. But aside from that, there are two things I’d like to share here from that conversation with KRS, because I think it will be a much needed challenge/encouragement to today’s Christian Hip Hop regime.
As we wrapped up the conversation, we remarked, “Yo, we’re shocked that you even have heard or listened to our stuff.” KRS aka “The Teacher” responded, “Man are y’all kiddin’? Everybody listens to y’all; Redman, Busta (Rhymes) . . . .” As he continued, each of us in the room looked at one another thinking, “What? How could this be? We’ve never heard anyone of them mention CM.” And immediately, I looked at Tonic and I knew what he was thinking.
You see, Tonic had been challenging/encouraging us for years; every time we would get discouraged about how “unknown,” or “under the radar” we seemed to be, Tonic would hit us with, “God, for His own reasons, maybe for the sake of our humility or His glory or whatever, may not ever let us see in this life-time, the impact of our ministry. But when we enter the Kingdom of Heaven, when He shows us the total impact, it is going to blow our minds!” But he also used to say, “Every once in a while, lest we lose hope, He might pull back the curtain a little bit down here on earth and allow us to see how he has used us. For those moments we thank him, but let’s not need those moments in order to be faithful in our mission.” Man! Isn’t that good advice? Are you ever discouraged about how under the radar you seem to be? We (CM) felt that way too, not just for ourselves but for our entire genre. And the moves that we made were never just for us, but to bring visibility to an entire genre. But there is something else that Tonic used to challenge us with that I think heads today need to hear.
When KRS began naming well-known artists who listened to our music, we all, quite naturally got excited. To be known by the well-known is a sign of success in this world. But Tonic used to often challenge us not to “put a premium on certain souls over and against others.” Here is what that means. When I bought my TV from Best Buy, three days later they came to deliver it and install it in my home. When I opened the door to let the “Geek Squad” in, one of them exclaimed, “PHANATIK!!!” He knew me. It was a crazy experience. I was a regular dude getting a TV installed. But to him I was not regular. I was (I don’t know what, a star, spiritual leader, musical favorite). But now, here comes the important question. Not ‘what was I to him’ but ‘what was he to me?’ Just a regular dude? Yeah he knew me and my music. He had come to Christ and grown in Him through my art. But how much does that mean to me verses what KRS reported about Red-man and Busta listening to my music with no proof of it having produced any spiritual fruit in them what-so-ever?
Do you see what I am getting at? I am not making the same point Da’ T.R.U.T.H. made on his latest album, Love, Hope & War, where he talked about speaking to Kanye and other stars being no good if he cannot also speak to the security guard. What I am saying is that, there are people with “no name” (even though God knows their name and has written it in His book of life) who we meet and learn of our impact upon them and, when we hear it, yeah it’s cool. But then there are others, who have A NAME, and perhaps they know of us and maybe even want to work with us or some of the most popular artists among us, and we are more excited about that than we are about God producing fruit in the average Joe.
Take some time to check yourself – your heart, your motives and your definition of success; what you delight in vs. what you show disdain for. When God pulls back the curtain just a little to show you the impact He has had through you or your art, what does it mean to you? Would it mean more to you if the NAMED of this world knew your name? I’ll be honest and say that it would to me. It’s natural for that to happen.
But I must keep in mind that what is also natural to me is sin. And of such sentiments, I need to repent. Let me know if I’m not Triple A (Alone At the Altar).
If this was helpful/encouraging/challenging/intriguing, look for my new book From Hip Hop to Hollywood: The Art of Christianity. Pre-order is now available at http://www.urbanremixproject.com/shop/books.php