This is Part 3 of a four-part series on The State of Christian hip hop. In this series we will address Artistry, Balancing Business and Ministry, and Engaging the Culture.
Save Alex Faith’s head, get hugged by Beleaf of theBREAX.
“I go on Rapzilla, listen to its new singles and everything is same old, same old—even to the point the other day I heard a dude who sounded exactly like freaking Chief Keef,” said Faith. “I was slamming my head against the wall.”
According to those within Christian hip hop, artistry must improve. On the other hand, the genre is encouraged by the direction it’s headed in—the same way Beleaf is about Theory Hazit, for instance.
“If you meet [Hazit] he’s like, ‘Don’t touch me,’ but you want to hug that dude when you meet him because he’s a lyricist,” said Beleaf.
Lyricists had a memorable week after Collision Records’ Mar. 5 release of “W.L.A.K.” which skyrocketed to No. 1 on iTunes’ Top Hip-Hop Albums chart and No. 3 overall. This marked the second time in the past year a Christian’s record has topped the list, the first being Lecrae’s “Gravity,” which also sat No. 1 among all projects.
What should other Christian rappers do to mimic their success? Swoope offered advice: rap less, emcee more.
“Dr. Seuss was a rapper—one fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish. If he would’ve put that on a record, he’d probably sell a million records today because that’s the type of stuff that’s out there now,” said Swoope on the difference between a rapper and an emcee.
Swoope claimed emcees do more than make words rhyme—they’re able to paint a picture on the microphone and, at their “purest form,” are engaging storytellers off of it as well.
Not all artists believe imitating Dr. Seuss is necessarily a bad thing, though.
D-MAUB believes that whether or not the scene’s emceeing needs improvement is a matter of opinion. He explained that, because not all listeners prefer complex rhyme schemes over AB-type raps, lyrical artists shouldn’t knock those with simple patterns and vice versa. In the same way intricate poets scoff at nursery rhymes, he said the AB-type rapper has a justified response.
“Man, if [listeners] can’t even understand those words, how you going to reach people?” asked D-MAUB. To those calling for others to improve their lyrics, he added, “At the end of the day, they’re reaching somebody—[God is] using them to reach somebody like He’s using you to reach somebody.”
Trinidad James’ “All Gold Everything” has been on Billboard’s hot R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay chart for 16 weeks. The track’s success is an example of how it doesn’t take a critically-acclaimed lyricist to reach people.
Richie Righteous echoed D-MAUB, saying that judging an artist’s lyrics is a matter of opinion. He does, however, long for the content of lyrics to improve.
Righteous said talented artists all too often rap about “dumb stuff.”
“Lil Wayne is a crazy lyricist, but the stuff he chooses to rap about makes you think he’s ignorant,” said Righteous. “On the flipside, if he takes a deep topic, it’ll rock your mind.”
Wayne took heat in February for releasing a derogatory punch line about Emmett Till, an African-American murdered for allegedly flirting with a white woman in 1955.
Righteous’ Wayne reference brings up a point, though, that lyricism issues aren’t necessarily confined to Christians.
“There’s whack rappers everywhere,” said Propaganda, explaining how he wants emceeing to improve not only in the Christian scene but mainstream as well. “Artists in general should know what they’re competing against and step their bars up.”
Wit, Collision’s Artist & Repertoire, also used Wayne as an example when complaining about artists who prioritize quantity of music over quality.
“This is the Lil Wayne-era where you’re not considered relevant if you’re not dropping a mixtape every month, and we [Collision] think that’s whack,” he said.
Martymar said he regularly hears complaints about his group, Social Club, not releasing enough music, but he said that because he and F.E.R.N. pour their hearts into their music, they want their listeners to appreciate it—something he said is difficult to accomplish with free projects.
“This is not a buffet,” said Martymar. “The quality will always override the quantity.”
Wit also asserted that, when it comes to album creation, too many artists just grab whatever beat is hot—which may be 10 producers for 10 different tracks—instead of sitting down with a few and building a musical brand. Shai Linne agreed.
“The creation of an album is a lost art, where you have a cohesive thought from beginning to end,” he said. “That is few and far between these days.”
Beleaf advised artists to not even attempt to record an album until they’ve garnered enough support, explaining that cosigning is necessary to succeed.
“Once you tell me, ‘Hey, I want to be a rapper,’ and I hear you and you’re whack, I already shut you down,” he said. “For the next 10 years, you’re whack to me.”
Despite their constructive criticism, Propaganda, Beleaf, Swoope, and Faith are excited about Christian hip hop’s progress. However, while D-MAUB and Righteous refused to judge the Dr. Seuss’ of rap, others have stressed that supposedly poor artistry may not be the result of a lack of talent, but a passion for the craft and for God.
“I don’t feel like the average Christian emcee wants to do more than use God as somewhat of their gimmick,” said Beleaf.
He isn’t alone in that belief, as Collision’s management preached a similar message.
“Christians use Christ as a crutch not to be excellent,” said the label’s CEO Adam Thomason. He was on the same page as the Collision’s COO Mike Luna who said, “People will support anything Christian, so [artists] have been getting away with a lack of quality for a really long time.”
Ultimately, the label believes that, if being a Christian influences the quality of music, it should be positive.
“We [Christian hip hop] think we get a pass on actually rapping because of our subject matter. That shouldn’t be the case,” said Swoope. “We should be the best out [there] because of our subject matter, Jesus.”
Does the Christian Hip Hop Community need to step its artistry up?
Do Christian Rappers use God as our gimmick or is making Him famous their God purpose?
Are ‘Dr. Seuss’ lyrics, biting, etc. any more of an issue in Christian hip hop than in the mainstream?