The City that never sleeps has long had a problem waking up the rest of the country to its brand of Christian Hip Hop
Ever wondered why New York has had very few widely-successful Christian hip hop acts? Sure, we’ve had guys like Michael Peace (Google him – he’s O.G. status) and Corey Red from New York. But in comparison to our secular counterparts, this city hasn’t churned out the number of top artists we assume it should based on its population.
In mainstream hip hop, New York has produced some of the biggest names in the genre. Jay-Z, Biggie, KRS-One, A Tribe Called Quest, Run-DMC, Busta Rhymes, Wu-Tang Clan, Public Enemy, Rakim, Nas, GrandMaster Flash & the Furious Five as well as EPMD all hail from the 5 boroughs or nearby Long Island.
We can’t name that many elite Christian Hip Hop artists from New York though. Why?
It certainly can’t be a matter of talent. By sheer numbers alone, the NYC Meto Area has enough people that the odds would be highly in their favor to produce top notch talent in an urban music niche.
It also can’t be a matter of musical trends. Sure, the southern and midwestern sounds have been dominant forces in both Christian and mainstream hip hop for the past few years. Yet, we’ve seen artists like 50 Cent, Jay-Z, Kanye West, Drake and others build and/or maintain huge followings at various points the past 10 years while still maintaining their local musical flavor.
So what could it be?
A catchphrase made popular by Jimmy McMillan, who ironically ran for governor of New York two years ago sums it up well: THE RENT IS TOO DAMN HIGH.
Yes. The rent in New York City is too expensive.
But what does that have to do with Christian Hip Hop being successful in New York?
I’m glad you asked. The logic is quite simple.
When I’m talking successful, I’m referring to record sales and influence. The sad reality however, is that it’s not cost-effective to do ministry full time in the Big Apple. In fact, the only Christian rapper I know in New York right now who make a living rapping full-time is Andy Mineo.
Andy is signed to a record label based in Atlanta, Reach Records, is single with no kids, and, if you watched his Saturday Morning Car Tunez videos you know he lives with several roommates to help split living expenses. I’ll share why that’s significant in a minute.
Let’s look at the economics though.
According to Citi Habitats, the largest retail rental firm in New York City, the average rental in Manhattan was $3,418 a month in March 2012. Before you object, that’s not just Midtown, Upper East Side, the Village and SoHo. That also includes Harlem and Washington Heights. That $3,418 will get you a two bedroom apartment and no view unless you live in Harlem or Wash Heights.
Don’t want to live in Manhattan? Fine. Move to Brooklyn. In June 2012, the average two bedroom there went for $3,097 according to mns.com . Yes, you non-New Yorkers read that right. Two bedrooms for three grand a month in Brooklyn. (You can thank Jay-Z and the Brooklyn Nets for that)
Meanwhile, according to Truilia.com, the average 3 Bedroom home in Metro Atlanta sold for $210,000 between May and July 2012. The $210K translates to a $1,717 monthly mortgage assuming a 6% interest rate and no money down. That mortgage would be even less, if money is put down.
The sad reality however, is that it’s not cost-effective to do ministry full time in the Big Apple.
Think about that for a minute. If I’m full-time in New York, verses Atlanta, just to have a 2 bedroom apartment for me and my family, I need $3,000 a month and that doesn’t include tithes, food, gas, clothing, childcare, date night, the cost of operating my ministry, saving for retirement or anything else. Meanwhile in Atlanta, I can get a 3 bedroom house for less than 2 grand even if my credit isn’t great.
That makes a huge difference. In most industries, we can make the argument that employers will pay a worker more money for the same job if he/she lives in a larger city where the cost of living is higher. I’ve never heard a church pay a rapper more because he came from New York vs. if he came from Atlanta though. You’re honorarium is your honorarium.
Now, let’s go one step deeper.
I mentioned Reach and Andy Mineo earlier. It’s no secret that Reach has better infrastructure than any other CHH label. It’s part of why they sell so many records. They are a well oiled machine. They have a very competent full-time staff.
Prior to being located in Atlanta, they were based in Memphis and briefly in Dallas. All three of those cities have reasonable cost of living situations, especially when compared to New York. Reach wasn’t selling tons of records in 2004 or 2005 though. Yet, they were able to continue to build and operate in part because their personal overhead wasn’t $3,000 a month just for a two bedroom apartment.
Unfortunately, New York artists literarily aren’t afforded that same luxury. The rent is simply too high for most full time Christian Hip Hop artists to afford a home plus office and/or studio space to run their ministry out of. Having a separate creative and office space can make huge difference when it comes to productivity. And we haven’t even spoken about staffing.
So what does all of this really mean?
As Matthew Yglesias pointed out in his book entitled, The Rent is Too Damn High (Affiliate Link), scenarios like the aforementioned are created when government regulation creates high rents. Those of us living in high rent areas like New York should petition our legislative representatives to consider changing the regulations surrounding real estate zoning. This zone has been a factor in creating more affordable housing in highly desirable real estate areas. Matthew makes a great case in The Rent is Too Damn High (Affiliate Link) for this correlation.
Christian Rappers and record label owners must put their personal living arrangements into the proper perspective. Many of us want to be Reach right now. Our personal situations, however, may not support us building something like that based on economics alone. Our monthly obligations just won’t warrant it.
Fans need to realize what goes into building a lasting ministry financially. Your favorite artist’s album may not come out on time simply because of economics, not laziness. Paying rent is more of a priority than buying beats for the next CD in most cases. Consider financially supporting those you genuinely believe in and appreciate. This isn’t easy.
Despite all of this, we all must keep in mind that God is the one who provides. Whether in New York, Atlanta, DC, Charlotte, Jacksonville or Detroit, God can make it rain. After all, he did invent the clouds.