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.
Collision Records CEO Adam Thomason is on the verge of overturning tables.
“Much the landscape of Christian hip hop has turned into a den for thieves and robbers,” he told Wade-O Radio.
The CEO has quickly built Collision into one of the most marketable brands in the genre, claiming the No. 1 spot on iTunes’ Top Hip-Hop Albums charts last week after not having an LP to its name just one year ago. As important as he considers brand building, though, Thomason believes too many are prioritizing it over their ministry.
“Industry agendas are driving what many Christian artists are doing,” said Shai Linne.
The lyrical theology pioneer pinpointed worldliness—“embracing the values and ethics of the world, particularly the secular music industry”—as Christian hip hop’s greatest gaffe.
Thomason has a theory on what’s fueling a large fraction of that worldliness: iTunes.
He recalled the pre-iTunes-reliant days when juggernaut labels, similar to his own and Reach Records, weren’t concerned about charting because achieving such was a pipe-dream.
“We have to release this [album] and really don’t care what it does,” said Thomason of the mindset labels had to have back then and why he considers it the genre’s purest era. “If you didn’t have radio or connections, you weren’t getting in the door.”
Cross Movement carried the Christian hip-hop torch with albums “Heaven’s Mentality,” “House of Representatives” and “Human Emergency” before the iTunes-era began in 2001. Even when the super-group released “Holy Culture” in 2003 and Lecrae dropped “Real Talk” in 2004 as well as “After the Music Stops” in 2006, the genre hadn’t caught on to the Steve Jobs creation. Its dependence on God remained.
Lecrae’s “Rebel” changed everything.
Ask Reach CEO Ben Washer.
“If the Lord didn’t allow me to cross paths with Ben Washer, I would’ve been a passionate rapper with a bad album cover,” said Thomason quoting Lecrae.
Washer was the first to take advantage of iTunes’ branding opportunities. Doing so with flying colors, “Rebel” broke into iTunes’ Top Hip-Hop Album charts, at one point trailing only T.I.’s “Paper Trail.”
Thomason applauded Washer for leading the Christian hip-hop marketing revolution saying it saved the game, but he hasn’t clapped for all who followed in his footsteps.
Collision’s CEO said when some labels realized they could chart on iTunes, they began to think, “How can we make this happen?” compared to what was previously a complete reliance on God.
He added that many looked at Reach’s success—saw attractive album covers and advertisements—and attempted to reproduce a branding-focused formula, all while forgetting that the label’s pure craft and worship were at the center of its success.
“People took what was supposed to be craft and greatness of the Lord and we turned it into a den of thieves and robbers,” said Thomason. “When you take a gift that was given to you and use it to build up yourself and your brand, that’s a language, us vs. them, which isn’t of the kingdom.”
That “us vs. them” attitude has Christian hip hop resembling one’s local high school—there are too many cliques.
“There’s a lot of people in Christian rap who act like divas,” said K-Drama.
Butta P of Rhema Soul claimed the genre is so cliquey that if an artist isn’t connected to a group, he or she is likely to go unnoticed. She sees Christian hip hop as one huge movement rather than a collective of competitors.
D-MAUB felt the same way and believes Christian artists are called to promote one another.
“Here’s what I don’t believe,” he said, “that God will not bless me because I’m helping promote somebody else who’s doing it for the Kingdom. That’s a selfish, backward, greedy mindset.”
D-MAUB said too many artists worry about their brand more than their Christian community.
“Honor one another above yourselves,” Romans 12:10 preaches, but the One Route Entertainment rapper thinks readers all too often choose to follow the scripture only when it’s convenient for them. If there’s money to be lost or branding to be risked, what’s valuable in God’s eyes—supporting fellow believers—takes a backseat.
“We take the world’s mentality and apply it to the Kingdom,” said D-MAUB. “It’s supposed to be a whole different set up—everything is supposed to be different. [People] should be getting jealous of how we [are] doing things in the Kingdom.”
Tragically, “the world” may be more willing to promote other artists than Christian hip hop.
Butta P admitted she loves how mainstream artists co-sign each other, something they don’t have to be on the same team to do. She isn’t the only one seeing that either. Richie Righteous echoed her statements.
“The world has that concept down pat,” he said. “You can see a Diddy work with a Lil Wayne. You can see a Lil Wayne work with whoever else, and their common goal is money. Our common goal is the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
D-MAUB alleged that not everyone in Christian hip hop sees each other as family. He and Righteous are passionate about mentoring inexperienced artists, but they don’t believe enough share their urge.
“We can’t rap forever,” said Righteous. “So why not take a younger guy and say, ‘Hey man, here’s what I did that works.’ I think people feel threatened, maybe of you figuring out some of their secrets … but why wouldn’t you want to reach across and help others?”