Last week I had the honor of speaking on main stage at the Ichthus Music Festival. I spoke right after a very powerful performance by Holy Hip Hop artist LaCrae. Earlier that day I was on a panel with LaCrae, Trip Lee, and Pro speaking on the influence of Hip Hop and Urban Culture on all of youth culture today. These artists are all apart of Reach Records. Some of you may remember a post I did not long ago on the “Odd Marriage Between Holy Hip Hop and Calvinism.”
In this post I shared my concerns about Holy Hip Hop being dominated by Calvinist theology without the balance of Reconciliation theology, Liberation theology, and Black theology rooted in the history of the Black Church. My point was not to say that Calvinism has no place in Holy Hip Hop, but to say that Calvinism alone makes Holy Hip Hop no Hip Hop at all and limits its ability to be a true transformational and evangelistic force in urban America and beyond.
First let me make one more point about my concerns on a Holy Hip Hop movement dominated by Calvinism. Calvinist theologians and pastors have not fully dealt with a theology that has ties historically to the economic structure of capitalism, the replacement theology connected to colonialism, and the unbiblical development of the race structure and imagination dealt with by theologians such as Willie James Jennings (The Christian Imagination) and J. Kameron Carter (Race: A Theological Account). What this means is that historically, Calvinism has had moments when it was not on the side of the liberation of African-Americans, especially during slavery and Jim Crow segregation. This does not mean that there weren’t some Calvinists that would have been against slavery or on the side of the Civil Rights Movement. We can say though, that evangelicals must own a sketchy history at best around issues of race. We’ve truly come a long way, but we haven’t yet arrived as a truly reconciled people. This is why the Reconciliation theology of Tom Skinner, John Perkins, Howard Thurman, Martin Luther King Jr., Brenda Salter-McNeil, and Curtiss DeYoung is needed within the Holy Hip Hop Movement.
With all that said, I need to give much love to the Ministry of Reach Records. I especially need to show much love to LaCrae. As I sat on the panel of with the artists of Reach Records and witnessed the ministry of LaCrae on stage, I was moved by his gifts, character, and theological depth. I’m also honored that these artists have so much respect for me and my contributions to the Holy Hip Hop Movement. My last post on this subject was in no way meant to dishonor these artists. My heart is to serve as a Hip Hop theologian and to see this movement have a significant Kingdom impact in Urban America and beyond. I pray for LaCrae and the ministry of Reach Records that God would bless them in a mighty way.
In the recent edition of Christianity Today there is a story on the marriage between Holy Hip Hop (or Christian Rap) and Calvinism (or Reformed Theology). Contemporary Reformed Theologians such as John Piper and John MacArthur are having a major influence on Holy Hip Hop artists such as LaCrae and Flame. Though I have some issues with this, I understand the reasons why. First let me present my issue with this odd marriage.
Hip Hop influenced entirely by Calvinism is no Hip Hop at all. Reformed Theology, though it contains some theological elements that I totally agree with should not be the only or primary theology influencing Holy Hip Hop. Calvinism is Eurocentric in nature and in the United States of America has evolved into a theology driven by the privileged. Hip Hop, Holy or Secular is about the engaging and presenting of the issues surrounding a sub-culture of the historically marginalized of urban America.
True Hip Hop is constructed around the elements of the emcee, the deejay, the b-boy or b-girl, the graffiti artist, and most importantly, knowledge of God for knowledge of self. The original principles are peace, love , community, and having fun. Hip Hop originally was about providing an artistic and social alternative to gang violence, drug dealing, prostitution, and other negative elements of urban culture. It was also about speaking truth to power. It was about poor urbanites feeling rejected by upwardly mobile people of color.
This doesn’t mean that the culture was ever Christian in nature, although there has always been a respect on some level for God. Today, many are stating that true Hip Hop is dead. It’s been replaced by a European-American controlled record industry that makes money off of exploiting the very things that Hip Hop culture was created to go against. Please get this point, secular Hip Hop is being influenced by people outside the culture, who have turn it into a contemporary plantation.
Now back to Holy Hip Hop. Holy Hip Hop is being controlled by people outside of the culture theologically. I have great respect for John Piper, but I question his understanding of Hip Hop culture. I pastored a Hip Hop and multi-ethnic, evangelical church in Minneapolis for almost eight years. Dr. Piper never consulted us on our theological or philosophical approach to this type of Kingdom advancing ministry model. Myself, Rev. Phil Jackson, and Dr. Daniel Hodge have been labeled as Hip Hop Theologians. We all count this as an honor. We have written scholarly works on the subject. We desire to love, mentor, and embrace our brothers and sisters in Holy Hip Hop. Holy Hip Hop artist need to know scholarly and organic theologians such as Tom Skinner, John Perkins, Brenda Salter-McNeil, Soon-Chan Rah, Martin Luther King Jr., James Cone, and Howard Thurman.
I want to make it clear that I don’t want to put down Dr. Piper. I have great respect for him and would love to have healthy dialogue with him on this subject and others. What I am saying is that Calvinism cannot be the lone theology shaping Holy Hip Hop. This is why currently most Holy Hip Hop takes place at Evangelical events, in front of predominately European-American audiences. I don’t blame Holy Hip Hop artists for this though. I put the full blame on the African-American church, which has done a great job over the years of rejecting Holy Hip Hop artists. Because the African-American Church has made orphans of Holy Hip Hop artists, theologians such as John Piper have become spiritual fathers to the movement. I can’t hate on Dr. Piper for that. I do want Holy Hip Hop artists to know though, that they are loved by many African-American pastors, I being one. I’m also willing to bring to the table liberation and reconciliation theology, so that the movement might be true Hip Hop and true Jesus. Let’s come together for the sake of the Kingdom.
Because I’m very fortunate to speak at a lot of christian churches, conferences, and other events, I get a chance to hear a lot of christian music. In general, christian music can be broken down into the following categories; contemporary christian, gospel, southern gospel, urban gospel, holy hip hop, and traditional hymns.
To be more specific though, you can break christian music down to black christian music and white christian music. Many people don’t want to talk about this, but that’s the current state of christian music and it’s been that way for a long time. It’s race-based and is mostly influenced by places like Nashville and Detroit in the United States. Even when I preach at a Latino church, the praise and worship is mainly contemporary christian(white); it’s just being sung in spanish.
Even christian radio is segregated. Rarely, does a ccm station play urban gospel and never have I heard a black gospel/urban gospel station play ccm. As a matter of fact there aren’t very many black gospel/urban gospel stations, but mostly shows that last about two hours weekly hosted by Be Be Winans or Dr. Bobby Jones. Why is it that in this multicultural reality, christian music is for the most part, race music? This shows how far behind christian music is compared to so-called secular music.
Secular music has transcended race. A black artist like Seal to some sounds white, while Pink sounds black. A white rapper named Eminem is one of the hottest artists in what is considered a black and urban genre. Yet, we expect our multicultural, christian youth today to value christian music over secular music. You may want to push back at me (and you’re welcome to), but christian music is held captive by race and we don’t want to seem to talk about it. My theory is that this is done by secular record industry powers to keep christian music a second class genre and we need local church folks to fight against this reality.
Most christian record labels and other companies have been sold to larger secular companies. Find a christian for profit and it’s most likely owned by a company headed by someone who is not a christian. Maybe this explains it. Or maybe it’s because many christians don’t want to have healthy and real discussions about race, business marketing, and power and its impact on christians.
There is hope though. There are christian artists such as Toby Mac, Israel and New Breed, John Reuben, and Kirk Franklin who are being bold enough to cross race lines and create kingdom music. This must be the future. We must move beyond christian music enslaved to race, to a more liberating genre. I will this call kingdom music. Kingdom music is christian music set free, designed for all God’s people, also able to reach all lost people. Can I get a amen? Now what we need is a group of non profit kingdom music record labels that won’t sell out to secular companies. Can I really get a amen?