Kirk Franklin’s meteoric rise in the late 1990s across the Christian-secular divide was followed by instant world wide recognition. With unprecedented popularity came the usual questions. Would he sell out and water down his message? Would there be a down grade? Would he let the whole world sing to traditional gospel songs like Savior more than Life To me or The Reason Why We Sing ? Kirk’s best answer to that question was his next ear deafening hit aptly titled Stomp.
Stomp, featuring Cheryl “Salt” James (of Salt-N-Pepa), was a huge hit, enjoying heavy rotation on MTV and other music channels, and charting at No. 1 on the R&B Singles Airplay chart for 2 weeks, even making it in to the Top 40. This was the long awaited manna in form of a groovy Holy Hip hop tune. Kirk had finally introduced the entertainment world to a luke warm ‘lovable Hip Jesus’ who you could dance and groove to till you got high. Theologically by popularising his message of a ‘lovable Hip Jesus’ was he making both church folk and secular audiences happy with the same tune? Or was he another pied piper dulling the ears of a generation and making the Holy appear common? I will leave that for you to decide.
‘Holy’ Hip hop seems to have moved on since the days of Kirk Franklin. Or so we are meant to believe. I must add here that this is not an argument for or against Hip hop. Neither is this a debate about if Hip hop is ‘the devil’s juice’ to trap way ward souls. I will then with utmost care turn to Lecrae. In Lecrae most conservative Christians have found the answer to Kirk Franklin’s successor of sorts. A young artist with the right theologically sounding lyrics, astute with the beats and charismatic enough to even stand up with duct tape across his lips.
But what is the recurrent problem with every Christian Hip hop artist who seems to rise up with a seemingly gospel centred message? Do they end up pointing men to Christian Hip hop rather than Christ? Could it be that pride and self exaltation are closely knit to the fabric of Hip hop that the allure of one or the other is simply irresistibly enticing? Why cant Christian artists stand for long on their own? Do Christians not support or offer guidance long enough to their own musicians that they easily slip over and become cross over artists for ‘better audience appreciation’?
When asked in a recent interview about associations and liaisons with secular artists:
Question: When you look for your music, do you primarily go for secular DJs and producers because they’ve got that authentic Hip-Hop sound? Or, are there people within the Christian world who help you with it?
Lecrae: I mean, for me, it’s definitely about good music. Obviously, you would love to connect with somebody from the beat to the final product on a spiritual level. That’s not always the case, but it’s about making good music for me and building relationships. So, you know, there’s guys who are making incredible music who are Christians, like S-1 who does stuff for Jay and Beyonce’ and Kanye. For me, I’m not really so much strung up on ‘are you a Christian DJ or producer?’ That really doesn’t have any bearings on my message or music.
Lecrae seems to be well grounded in his theological roots from the little I gather. But the music industry is big. We have seen people begin with strong convictions but end with abysmal confessions. The allure of attending BET events, MTV concerts and every other talent search competition has its own temptations and compromises.
Can these problems be found any where else? 5ptsalt.com wrote an interesting article recently The Problem with Lecrae in which he said something that would apply to all of us:
The problem, in my opinion, with Christian hip-hop is that there is an attempted sharing of glory with Jesus. Yet He will not share His glory with another. And the problem is not just found in Christian hip-hop, it is found in every one of us who name the Name of Christ.
It is pride. It is self-exaltation, and it is sin. It is a sin not found only in hip-hop, but in street preachers, and pastors, and Christians in every position in life. May God give us grace to mortify it and obey Him when He says to consider all as more significant than ourselves.
Lecrae recently perfomed at BET Hip hop Awards and I know he must have meant well in doing so. Reading some of the comments of the patrons probably shows that his message and intent were lost in translation. (See below)
Lecrae may be talented and ‘killing the crowds’ as he ‘spits’ and may have started well rooted in his reformed Christian roots but we should always remember he too is like you and me. We are fallible. Pray for your favorite musicians.
Pray that Contemporary Christian musicians remain Gospel centred and theologically sound at which ever stage the Sovereign Lord takes them. Soli Deo Gloria.