By James R. Andrews
Born in 1975 and raised in East Orange, NJ, Rappers Delight, the Breaks and the Message were my nursery rhymes. I remember literally skipping home from school in kindergarten screaming these urban anthems from the Sugarhill Gang, Grandmaster Flash and Kurtis Blow. I remember listening intently to the radio while in the second grade for the next song to drop in the Roxanne wars and arguing about which song was the freshest… was UTFO going to reply to the Real Roxanne, was Roxanne Shante going to rip another single, was Sparky D going to jump in again as an outsider to the fray. Ralph McDaniels and Video Music Box was my Walter Cronkite and the evening news every day after school as we tuned into the UHF channel to check out the new Kid N Play, Salt N Pepa, Run DMC or Whodini videos. Mr. Magic, Red Alert, and Marley Marl kept me up many a Friday and Saturday night, as I recorded their latest master mixes including everyone from Doug E Fresh to Kool Moe Dee, to the Geto Boys and NWA. My youth was not just influenced by Hip Hop, but Hip Hop was spliced into my DNA.
In my opinion the golden era ran from the late 80s to the early 90s and included, Blacksheep’s Flavor of the Month, De La Soul’s 3 Feet High…, and Buhloone Mindstate, the first three Tribe Called Quest albums, Public Enemy’s, It takes a Nation of Millions and Fear of a Black Planet, five albums from Boogie Down Productions, EPMD’s Strictly and Unfinished Business….the Chronic, Snoop’s Doggystyle, Digable Planet and Pharcyde. (forgive me to all the awesome artist not mentioned) PE, Dre, Cube, and others exited the 80s bringing Hip Hop into the 90s and introduced a commentary that was more raw than previously offered. We also see the emergence of the Roots, Digable Planets told us about being cool, Wu-Tang, infused Shaolin, Pac and Biggie exploded, Diddy danced and Hip Hop became more than just the anthem of the streets.
Hip Hop grew to a place where we dissed those like Hammer and Vanilla for not being REAL…There were wars between the coasts, and it had expanded from being party anthems and poetic iterations of what was going on in the hood i.e. Slick Rick, Nas and Too Short to commercial artists such as Rico Suave, Tone Loc and Fred Durst.
I graduated college in 1996 at a time when Dr. Dre was breaking in Eminem, Nelly was on the cusp, Jay Z had reasonable doubts and Lil’ Wayne’s daddy was popping. I could turn on MTV and see artists spitting lyrics in a video format on par and superior to their rock and pop counterparts. Michael Jackson had done a song with Biggie, and Will Smith had become a movie star. Unfortunately, with all of this exposure, the popularity of the styles and the music of my Hip Hop icons was a thing of the past though artist like Slum Village and Little Brother were making music in the vane of the Native Tongue family (Tribe, Dela Soul, Blacksheep, the Jungle Brothers), only anthems of murder, sex, drugs and partying were getting heavy rotation.
Over the last two decades, I have become a married father of five children, an attorney and minister. I cannot ignore or separate from a culture that is intertwined with my development, however because of the content of most of what is produced today, my fervor about the genre has faded from “100 miles and running” to “you gots to chill.” Frankly, how many times and ways can you listen to how someone is going to murder, sell drugs, stack chips and have sex. Once upon a time there was a range of experiences narrated in Hip Hop, which some times broke the boundaries of mere decency, but today, the balance of what is produced is musical porn. Though I love my relationship with the music, and our history together, I had to get a divorce– “I Used to Love Her.” Maybe I am just getting old, but I am also getting wiser.
Like any person who has had a great relationship that is no longer moving along, I sought a replacement. I love neo-soul, some rock and jazz, but none could fill the void that the art form that I grew up with filled. I remember a homeboy of mine had told me a few years ago about gospel hip hop and all I could think was I had heard some guys before, but they were corny so I did not even think to give it a shot.
…..I don’t remember the exact day, but I remember being hyped by this spoken word piece called “The Gospel.” It’s 4 minutes that take you from Genesis to the Revelation done incredibly by Propaganda. I heard this then did what we all do now– I Googled him and found he had some other pieces of poetry, and he also rapped. I copped his album, Excellent, and peeped the rest of his label Humble Beast, which includes artists like Odd Thomas, Braille, Theory Hazit and Beautiful Eulogy. This eclectic crew reminded me of the golden days of Hip Hop, when there were crews such as Uptown, which included much of the Juice Crew, artists like Biz Markie, Mc Shan, and Masta Ace. It incited me to check for other players in the industry and I came quickly upon Sho Baraka who had just released what some considered a controversial album the Talented Xth. This was my second iTunes Christian Hip Hop purchase, and my music library and choices have never been the same. Instead of simply listening to talk radio, silence or settling for less inspiring music as an alternative to the violence, debauchery and frankly ridiculous hip hop on the airwaves today, my music life had been resurrected.
So over the past two years, I have gone from digging in the crates and ripping old CDs into my amazon and iTunes clouds to downloading fresh Christian Hip Hop releases and mixtapes. Because I listen to it, my kids ages 5 through 14 listen to it. I mention that for perspective, because my musical choices compete with Drake, Katy Perry, and Justin Beiber for their contemporary attention. However, my oldest asks for me to put on Trip Lee, all of my kids love track 3 on his Good Life album, I Robot. W.L.A.K. (We live as kings, featuring Swoope, Alex Faith, Dre Murray, Christon Gray) currently rules our automobile airwaves with one and my kids favorites Long Way Down. I just got turned on to J Givens while attending the Crimson Chord Tour featuring Swoope and Propaganda. Back in the day I was big fan of Digable Planets and Camp Lo, this brotha, J Givens is every bit as talented and delivers lyrically with a Christ centered flow that is so chock full that every time I listen to his album, I catch something I did not get the last time.
Trip lee, LeCrae, Shai Linne, KB, Propaganda, Beautiful Eulogy, J Givens, Bizzle are all hot. GemStones, formerly Lupe Fiasco’s featured man on the Cool has delivered gems with cameos on God Over Money and the Tasha Combs’ song Break Every Chain. These brothas, Andy Mineo, Social Club, Alex Faith, Dre Murray, Swoope and others have given me a new excitement about Hip Hop. Rapzilla.com and Wade-O Radio keep me abreast of who is hot, who is next and give me a platform to explore if I want to seek something older to hear for the first time.
I started this piece because I Used to Lover Her, I met this girl when I was five years old…. But by the time I was 30, the relationship started to grow cold. But I met her sister when I was 37 and the focus of her verses lead you “All the Way to Heaven.” I am not one who likes pop music because to me most of it lacks soul and substance. My new found love for Christian Hip has several layers. The content of the music is the Gospel, the messages are not just positive and about God, but the best one’s point you to Christ, force you to think and feel about something in your life and like secular hip hop, there are club bangers such as, 116’s Man Up, Trip Lee’s I’m Good, and KB’s Zone Out, outstanding lyrics, i.e. J Givens’ Bienvenue, anything on Shai Linne’s Lyrical Theology 1 and 2 and the variety is as immense as its secular cousin.
Because of the variety in Christian Hip Hop, I need not settle for the content that is produced in the mainstream that may sound good at times, but may hurt my heart, my ears, and mind to truly feel and understand the insanity of the misguided messages of immoral hedonistic and unruly behaviors that are touted. Point blank, if you are a fan of quality Hip Hop, poetry, spoken word or any art form that espouses the Gospel, there are a substantial number of artists who produce music on par with anything Kanye, Jay Z or Lil Wayne release. I have come to realize that what we let in affects us and definitely determines what we put out. Christian Hip Hop is an awesome vehicle for me to receive and in turn benefit from and share the Gospel, while nodding my head and enjoying the music. Today, I do not skip down the street yelling nursing rhymes, but I sit in my office listening to J Givens, Propaganda, and Swoope.
About the Author:
I am a God fearing, husband, father of five, attorney, minister, music junkie and sports fan. I have written over the years on everything from finance, to fitness to the gospel and if you read this article, you will get a glimpse into my perspective on Christian Hip Hop