I remember the day when I heard “the perfect verse over a tight beat.” One of my mom’s students introduced me to the music that would have a profound impact on my life. How I walked, talked, and dressed stemmed from my love affair with the hip-hop culture.
It was Hot 97, a radio station in New York, that had my ear 24/7. Radio personalities like Ed Lover and Doctor Dre provided my morning fix. Wendy Williams kept the party going in the afternoon, and Angie Martinez held it down at night. Above all, the Notorious B.I.G.’s Juicy rocked “till my tape popped,” while Digable Planet’s Rebirth of Slick taught me to be “Cool Like Dat.”
Hip hop gave me a new vocabulary that was colorful, metaphoric, and imaginative. I loved the beat, the boom bap, the lyricism, the rhyme patterns, and the story-telling. I was enamored by the culture — the fashion, dancing, deejayin’, and, quite frankly, the way it made me feel.
Two Worlds Collide
But a cloud settled over the blue skies of my hip-hop life. As I grew in my love for Jesus, it was apparent that hip hop, as I knew it, didn’t acknowledge, love, or delight in my Lord, especially in the lyrical arena of rap.
Wait, aren’t rap and hip hop the same? Not really. Enthusiasts refer to hip hop as a culture that includes elements like break dancing, graffiti art, emceeing, and rap. Rap, specifically, involves the use of words accompanied by a musical beat to portray a message.
My love for Christ and hip hop crashed into each other one night in my college apartment. I smashed all of my rap CDs! I had started college with two discs. On that night, I was staring at a trash bag filled with the shards of 400 albums. Sadly, they were not Christ-exalting, gospel proclaiming, soul-edifying, sin-detesting music.
There’s Only Two Kinds of Rappers
Matthew 12:30 gripped my heart as I tried to understand the implications of Jesus’s words, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” If I was honest with myself, I had to admit that Puff Daddy & the Family were not gathering souls from every tribe, language, people, and nation into the family-kingdom of Christ.
It was a long and dry season between trashing my CDs and being introduced to a remnant within the culture who kindled the hope that hip hop too would bow its knee to the Lordship of Christ.
Hip Hop ft. John Piper
The hip-hop culture is known for giving respect to the genre’s innovators. Much respect then must be given to Christian groups like The Tunnel Rats and The Cross Movement. These artists paved the way for the likes of Lecrae, Trip Lee, Flame, Da T.R.U.T.H., Shai Linne, Timothy Brindle, and many others. Hip hop that glorifies God and honors Jesus stands on their shoulders.
There is, however, a surprising twist in the story when an unwitting character hit the stage. If you had told John Piper that he would be connected with hip hop, much less have his voice on tracks, even he would have been shocked. No one would have imagined seeing his name on the back of rap albums.
All Peoples, Even Hip-Hoppers
Droves of hip-hop-loving individuals, including myself, for the first time heard a blood-earnest preacher talking about a big God and our joy in him. And as this theology has influenced Christian rappers, it’s reshaped the holy hip-hop movement.
John Piper is known and loved for his unswerving commitment to point to one thing: the supremacy of God in all things, including hip hop, for the joy of all peoples, including hip-hoppers, through Jesus Christ.
Pointing Us to God
We can all remember when a parent or grandparent came in close to show us something in the distance that we could not pinpoint ourselves, like a particular star in a sky. They stopped, stooped down, put their face next to our face, took our arm in their arm, and pointed. And then we saw, and then we were amazed.
In an era of superstar pastors and uber-star rappers who distract their listeners to the left and right with everything that doesn’t ultimately satisfy, Piper has served, under God, as a voice that beckons hip hop to fix our eyes on Jesus. And when we see, truly see, we are amazed. And when we are amazed by God, we bring a powerful message to the culture and use the medium properly.
A Shout Out
Inherent to hip hop is a propensity to boast. Rappers boast about lyrical skill, monetary status, licentious lifestyle choices, and their wealth of empty possessions. There is, however, a growing group in the hip-hop generation who have truly seen the one who becomes and deserves our boasting (1 Corinthians 3:21).
It’s typical on hip-hop radio shows to give a shout out. In essence, it’s an acknowledgement of a person or a group of people. So here’s a big shout out to John Piper and the God to whom he’s pointed us. Big ups (a.k.a. “thank you”) for pointing hip hop to the Savior we see and savor to the glory of God.
And praise God for showing us more of himself in surprising ways.
For more, see the recent Ask Pastor John episode, “What Do You Think of Your Influence on Christian Hip Hop?”