Christian Hip-Hop/Rap: The Best Music You Haven’t Heard

23 11 2008


To Hell With the Devil?  More Like To Hell With Your Albums!

To Hell With the Devil? More Like To Hell With Your Albums!

Little break from the recent posts about gaming to mention something that is near and dear to my heart: Christian Hip-Hop and Rap.  As a kid who came into his own, musically, in the early 90s, one of the best things about that era were the dance and rap classics from that era.  I’m talking about artists like Boyz II Men, Bell Biv Devoe, Run DMC, LL Cool J, and even more recent stuff like Eminem and Jay-Z…


So, around the end of my college experience, around the winter of 2001, I had all this music that I loved to listen to (not just rap, but for this post, we’ll ignore the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Smashing Pumpkins, They Might Be Giants, and others that I love as well) and a growing sense inside of me that while I loved this music, I needed to feed the Holy Spirit, and reinforce my belief.  

But here’s the thing, people… The Christian music that I grew up with in my home was stuff like Petra, Michael Card, and Keith Green.  Good stuff for its era, but really?  It was musical retreads, mostly.  Petra was trying to rock, but really just 80’s hair ballad stuff.  Michael Card was musically gifted, but just harkened back to Mid-Life-Crisis Billy Joel.  And while I respect and really like a lot of Keith Green, he was very dated firmly in the 70s.  It was like, there was nothing for my generation.  Sure DC Talk existed, but they were very fake-seeming.  Their lyrics were spot-on theologically, but an album called Nu Thang?  Really?

So, when I became a volunteer youth group leader at my church about 5 years ago, I started raiding their music collection to see the state of Christian music in the opening of the 21st century.  While a lot of efforts are decent, most are about a year old, in terms of pop trends (especially if you listen to the crap they play on an endless loop on K-Love).  So, what’s a guy who loves music to do?  

(read beyond the jump for a couple sample songs, as well as suggestions)

Well, it all started when Ignite! (the youth group I work with) started to purge their less “rented” CDs from the collection.  I picked up a CD mixtape by an artist named DJ Maj.  One of the interludes between songs was a discussion between DJ Maj and someone else and it really impacted me.   It goes something like this:

“God doesn’t say: ‘Throw out all your records.  He says, take who you are, and use it to glorify my name.'”

I’m paraphrasing, because the exact words aren’t necessary.  What he’s saying is, you can’t ignore your past.  My past experiences, my good and bad choices, my passions, my personal cultural history, is what defines me, and what helps me make my decisions.  It’s ME that God says he loves.  I’m not saying that includes everything bad and good.  Certainly God cannot abide with sin.  He cannot stand it and he is righteously indignant every time I choose sin.  However, I cannot change my past.  I cannot change who I was and what has influenced me to this point.  I can, however, take that past and use it for God’s glory.  

Since I loved rap and hip-hop back in the day (moreso than now, because back in the day, most rap was about getting on the dance floor, having fun, and about life on the street, rather than “look at my money, cars, hot video, and pimp lifestyle”), I figured I’d check out the state of Christian Rap, because a couple of tracks on the mixtape, I really dug.

What I found was a goldmine.  Unlike the rest of Christian music, rap and hip-hop tends to be current and on top of the innovation curve, instead of a year or more behind, like the rest of the Christian music industry.  There’s all sorts of subgenres within Christian Rap that exist in the mainstream: dirty south, freestyle, dance tracks, R&B, fun white rap (like Eminem), hardcore life-issues rap, and off-beat stuff too.

Sure, there are some real stinkers, but then that’s true in ANY genre of music, secular or Christian.  But the signal to noise ratio was so great in Christian Hip-Hop and Rap that I feel the need to spread it to you, who may not have seen (or rather, heard) the light.

So without further ado, allow me to suggest some artists and tracks that may turn you, the Christian, and even some non-Christians to some of the awesomest rap that you’ve ever heard (including everything before and current, I believe):

\”Caesar\” by 4th Avenue Jones
4th Avenue Jones – First off, my personal favorite, and who I believe to be the most innovative and true to their rap roots.  They’ve only put out one album on Goatee Records, “Stereo: The Evolution of HipRockSoul”, and it’s amazing.  The first track I got hooked on was “Take Me Away.”  It got me for its gritty raw-ness, it’s cry out to God to help with the life they were living.  It spoke to me in a deep way.  The freestyling on “Caesar” is amazing too.  Ahmad Jones is quite the lyrical poet.  And Tenah Jones is simply the greatest female voice in rap since Lauryn Hill.  Easy.  And for a final suggestion track: “Rush” because again, it encompasses so many emotions/situations that you don’t see tackled in other Christian songs, and digs deep. 

\”Cool The Underdog\” by John Reuben
John Reuben – He’s got a campy style and the least likely rap voice, but his lyrics are amazing and challenging.  His most recent album, “Word of Mouth” is nothing short of a masterpiece.  The way he raps against angsty-WASP culture and the idea of idolizing the self is amazing.  Not to mention, there aren’t too many non-Christian analogues I can think of other than some hybrid of Beck, Eminem, and Cake.  You just have to listen to it.  Track suggestions:  “Focus” has the most non-rap opening ever (it kind of sounds like a Danny Elfman track for the first 15-20 seconds) and is a powerful condemnation of self-centered “important adult” syndrome.  Also, “Cool The Underdog” is an epic song about how in life, most of the time, you don’t win, but that it’s not about winning and it’s not about me.

KJ-52 – A longtime favorite, he’s been most compared to Eminem for Christians.  It’s kind of an apt, yet unfair comparison.  Yes, he’s a white kid that grew up in a trailer park that loved rap and writes well, and has some funny stuff thrown in once in a while.  But he’s the king of dance tracks, as well a some deep songs that speak especially to hurting teens.  Track Suggestions: “Do Yo Thang” – A fun dance-y track about well, doing your own thing. 🙂  “Whoop Whoop” – Another rap/dance track that has a good beat and some good lyrical rythym.  “One” – a common cry of KJ’s is ‘One Love, One God, One Way’ and this hot rap is all about recognizing God’s power and the reason he’s worthy of our respect and worship.

\”OK\” by J.R.
J.R. – This one I found recently.  His new album: “Life By Stereo” is pretty darn good.  There’s a couple of songs that I’m a big fan of right now:  First is “Not a Slave”.  It’s definitely modern rap.  It could be featured in some car commercial, easily.  I don’t know if that sounds like what I mean, but the point is it’s a got a Fatboy Slim vibe, but with some vocoded singing, with rap styling.  It’s good.  Trust me.  I also really like the track “OK” because of its strong R&B tip, as well as the hot rap as well.

\”Here We Go\” by Grits
Grits – a longtime contender in the Christian rap game, Grits is always good for a couple good songs per album that you’ll bump for a while.  I highly recommend: “Mindblowin'” (which features 4th Avenue Jones) as it’s simply an awesome gospel/rap song that’s well, mind-blowing.  Seriously.  I’m also a fan of most of the Dichotomy A album, but selected tracks: “Bobbin’ Bouncin'” gives you a great feel for their southern-flavor of rap.  I also really like the collab with Pettidee on “I Be”.  Dude is scary-sounding.  I love it.

Group 1 Crew – This is that album that the girls will definitely dig.  Although I love it, and so…whatever.  But the entire album is solid from track one to track 13.  They’ve got stuff you can dance to, the flow is tight, and the latin flavor is lots of fun.  The entire album is pretty upbeat, excepting “Forgive Me”, which incidentally is one of the best tracks of the album.  I also really like: “What Yo Name Is”, a club anthem, as well as “Come Back Home” which takes rap and combines it with a reggae styling for a unique sound.




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