“Michael in St. Paul, MN asks: “Pastor John, are you aware of the influence your ministry has had and is having on Christian Hip Hop scene?”
I have seen some of my words show up. I doubt that I could say I am aware of any formal, extensive influence. I don’t really know. But I know, for example in Tedashi’s Make War, that was my voice I just heard and yes that was my phrase. Then I watched what he did with it, and I thought, “whoa, that is pretty powerful.” I know that Lecrae’s Don’t Waste Your Life video was related to the book Don’t Waste Your Life, and I am honored by that. I have listened to those and many, many others.
Rap as Narrative
Here are just a few thoughts, mostly positive and a couple of cautions. I rejoice that so much truth in our day comes from these evangelical guys. (I guess it is mainly guys — I don’t know that I have ever heard a woman rap).
These rappers are pouring so much truth into this form. I love it when glorious truth gets poured into different cultural forms because I care about the truth way more than I care about the forms. I know we can’t be indifferent to forms, but there is something about this form that enables it to be very dense with the Bible.
“I rejoice that so much truth in our day comes from these evangelical rappers.”
Rap has the advantage of being in large part narrative. A lot of hip hop lyrics are stories. They move with a narrative which gives it an advantage of telling a story about someone’s experience or the movement of the history of redemption.
Another factor about it that gives it remarkable clout, I think, is that I would call it almost linguistic energy. All the hip hop I see or listen to is phenomenally energetic. The music is drivenly energetic. When I think about that, I remember life is war and that sounds like the kind of energy that it is going to take to push back the enemy.
Rap and Lullabies
I thought a little while ago that this particular energy may be one of the limitations of hip hop. I would like to challenge hip hop artists to record a rap lullaby to help their child go to sleep. See what that would sound like? My guess is it is doable. I have just never heard anything like it. So, there is my little challenge to throw out there.
You might try one for the funeral as well. Try a rap for the death of your seven-year old. What would change about the drivenness of it, the loudness of it, and the forcefulness of it if you are trying to put your baby to sleep with the truth of Jesus or you are laying your baby in the ground with the truth of Jesus?
“Rap is energetic, and that sounds like the kind of energy that it is going to take to push back the enemy.”
That is not a criticism. I am just asking, “Is the form adaptable to that?” And if it is, let’s do it. And if it is not, we just own that. There are plenty of other kinds of music you don’t play at a funeral or use for lullabies besides rap. It is just an interesting kind of test to see what is the nature of the form.
At its best, there is a poetic effort going on in hip hop that sometimes is remarkably shrewd. It is good. It is striking. It is smart. It is awakening. It is surprising. That is the way I think we should do language. We should surprise people with turns of phrase. Rap artists, it seems to me, are doing that pretty much all the time when they are at their best.
Old Ears and Fast Lyrics
I have a couple of cautions and dangers. Everybody has thought of these; there is nothing fresh or new here. First, I find the words hard to understand, which is why I don’t listen to much of it. I am 67 years old. I just can’t understand it. I need the words written in front of me in order to know where they are going because it goes by so fast and so complicated that I usually miss three fourths of it and then it is not helping me very much. That is one downside for me personally.
“At its best, there is a poetic effort going on in hip hop that sometimes is remarkably shrewd.”
Second, the associations are bleak. The origins are pretty bad. I don’t know this with anything other than anecdotal evidence, but the associations and the origins of rap are pretty ugly. A lot of foul stuff has been sung to that medium. That means for many people it is probably going to be hard for them to get over that while pouring the purity of the sinless Christ into a medium. The medium, for them, might be very, very associated with something utterly inimical to the purity of Christ.
Third, will it, for those who are being drawn to Christ through it, lead them on to a fuller, richer, wider experience of forms and music? We would hope that that is the case because all of us come in somewhere, right? We come in to the faith through some cultural medium and all of us want — I hope we want — to broaden our experience and not limit ourselves to one form of art.