Christian Hip-hop (CHH) is largely an underground genre, but has increased in popularity in recent years due to artists associated with it infiltrating the mainstream. With this, the question arises of whether CHH can have a stable position within mainstream music?
The stereotype of CHH is usually that it consists of ‘bible bashing’ lyrics, assisted by a Hip-Hop beat. However, this isn’t necessarily true. Many popular CHH artists’ lyrics speak about subjects everyone deals with, but portrayed from a Christian viewpoint. For example, lyrics from Andy Mineo’s song Uncomfortable include ‘They say racism dead, man our president is black/Two terms in the White House, that don’t mean jack/If we still believe our present ain’t affected by our past.’ This shows the political subjects CHH artists often touch upon, relating to a range of people. Furthermore, the lively atmosphere at CHH concerts isn’t much different from secular Hip-Hop gigs with positive vibes. Moreover, Chris Gaisie, better known by his stage name Mr Ekow, is a CHH artist from South London and says ‘‘my own specific goal is to create music that gets people thinking past the everyday norms and open up to the possibility of there being something more.’’
In this modern age, social media sites such as Bandcamp, SoundCloud, Twitter etc. enable artists to share their work for free, without support from major record labels. When asking what his experience in establishing a fan base as a CHH artist was, Mr Ekow replied ”No matter what your message is, [it] is very difficult work and requires good music, and good branding. Once you’ve got a bit of natural buzz, it’s easier to get popular media platforms interested.’’
The American Hip-Hop radio show ‘Sway in the morning’ has featured celebrities such as P.Diddy, Chris Brown, Usher and many more. In recent years the show’s radio host, Sway Calloway, has interviewed a string of CHH artists- Andy Mineo being one whose had various appearances. On 18th September 2015, Mineo’s latest album, Uncomfortable, sat at No. 2 on iTunes’s Hip-Hop/Rap chart, behind Mac Miller, as well as No. 3 overall. This shows that the talent within CHH has potential to compete with high-profile artists.
Having been nominated for three Grammy’s amongst several other awards, Lecrae is currently seen as the face of CHH. Through media attention from outlets such as BET, Billboard and even having discussed possible collaborations with rappers such as Kendrick Lamar and Tech9Ne, Lecrae’s success is undeniably growing. An article written by Music Journalist, Chris Weingarten, on The Rolling Stone reads ‘‘Atlanta rapper Lecrae is a highly skilled, fast-talking, diary-spilling, self-proclaimed iconoclast. There’s nothing about his music that should have kept him from the mainstream spotlight – except, as Kanye West once asked, ‘If I talk about God, my record won’t get played?”. This media attention shows there is a public interest in CHH and suggests that people are open to hearing a different narrative in the mainstream. Or could it be that listeners are more interested in the instrumentals on a song, rather than the lyrics? Mr Ekow found that with his music ‘‘the majority of people don’t care too much about the content as long as the music sounds good. I’ve performed a lot in non-Christian circles and the reception has been great regardless of the message.’’ Contrastingly, Chris Weingarten says ”I do think lyrics matter. But there’s nothing in Lecrae’s rhymes that make him any different than rappers who have rapped openly about their spirituality in the past: Well beyond Kanye’s ‘Jesus Walks,’ you can go back to Doug E. Fresh’s ‘All the Way to Heaven’ from 1986.” Furthermore, CHH fan, Maryam Boniadi, said that lyrics are a priority to her in music. Eric Soul, editor of the underground Hip-Hop blog ‘Word is Bond’ thinks ”it’s the combination of both [lyrics and instrumentals], but also it depends on the age group it caters to.”
Despite the progress CHH is undergoing, there’s still a struggle for it to get into the mainstream. One reason for this could be that those controlling mainstream music feel CHH doesn’t appeal to the mass market due to the aforementioned idea of what CHH is. If this is the case, it means they aren’t giving the music a chance. Chris Weingarten says ”the hip-hop status quo is still really hesitant when it comes to Christian hip-hop. But I think that’s more a reflection of the industry being slow to embrace alternate viewpoints and independent labels”. Similarly, Eric Soul says ”In this society, it’ll be hard for it to become accepted due to the secular audience being particular on what they want to hear.”
However, if the subgenre continues to develop well, it could get to the place where it cannot be ignored by the masses and therefore has to be accepted. When asked if CHH can have a stable place in the mainstream, Maryam Boniadi replied ”Mainstream isn’t about delivering a message, it’s about delivering a tune. Unless the majority of the population grow to enjoy Christian messages and Christian rap, I don’t think it would become mainstream”. Similarly, Eric Soul said ”I’m not sure about it having a stable place, but the more the artists keep pushing it, the more stable it can be.” Contrastingly, Mr Ekow responded ”Definitely. It would be great to have more Christian artists in the mainstream. What mainstream music, especially Hip Hop, lacks is a balance of different voices and worldviews”.
WRITTEN BY MAXINE HARRISON