Cross Rhythms asked 14 musicians to give us their thoughts and feelings about radio play and hip-hop
Christian hip-hop is clearly going from strength to strength. The latest album by Lecrae entered America's mainstream album charts at number one and in Britain there have been a succession of the prestigious MOBO Awards handed out to UK gospel rappers. Yet there is a continuing enigma surrounding Christian rap music, namely that the majority of Christian radio stations around the world won't play it. There are a few bright spots with internet radio giving hip-hop exposure and some of the black American gospel stations beginning to gradually succumb to the gospel flows of streetwise musicianaries but in the main, even Christian radio stations supposedly aimed at today's youth, play little or no hip-hop. We asked a batch of Christian musicians, both hip-hop and non-hip-hop artists, why they thought that was.
Gareth Gilkeson of Rend
"It's a good question; it's something a lot of people are asking us. Hip-hop is so popular now in the Christian world, yet it's not played in radio. I'd suggest that it's just we're always a little bit behind the times. Not necessarily that we're prejudiced, but maybe the people that are in charge of the radio stations are nervous about offending the listeners. They have to be interested in their listeners and what they want. I'm pretty sure they'd get a lot more young people listening if they did."
"I believe the radio will play what they deem 'safe' for their audience. I think they can be intimidated when it comes to going outside of that 'safe zone'. They're probably also influenced by the monetary side of things. . .you know, what the advertisers demand and so-forth. And even though you and I know that there is some awesome hip-hop out there that should be blasting through every single Christian radio station on the planet, at the end of the day, we still aren't there yet. I don't agree with it. It's just the way it is, I guess."
Leslie Jordan of All Sons
"I would hate to make a blanket statement, but when I listen to Christian radio stations I hear a lack of diversity. I wouldn't just say hip-hop or rap. I think America's Christian radio stations are typically limited to one particular kind of sound, one type of song. I'm challenged by that, because I know a lot of different people have different tastes in music than what is heard on Christian radio. You can flip through the radio and almost peg a Christian Station because you recognise the sound."
Mac Powell of Third
"Stations have to play for their audiences. As I've been told many times, and as I see in life, the audience currently listening to Christian radio is a lot of soccer moms. I guess you wouldn't say soccer here: football moms. It's ladies between the ages of 25 and 45, so they're not usually listening to hip-hop music. You play the music your audience is wanting to hear: I think that's probably the main point."
"As someone who loves and performs rap music, I've thought about this a lot. There are at least three reasons why Christian radio stations refuse to play hip-hop. One is that a lot of Christian radio is only concerned with 'self-serving' an extremely niche 'subculture'. Rap/hip-hop simply isn't popular in that subculture. Two, although this is now changing, currently rap/hip-hop doesn't sell as well as other genres within Christian music. You can blame the marketing or the production quality or the fact that a lot of rap/hip-hop is given away (mixtapes, etc) or stolen (shared illegally) but the fact remains that there are only one or two big sellers like Lecrae. Three is content. There needs to be more rappers prepared to raise their game and express genuine worship and testimony and model effective outreach. Once this happens, I believe more church people, and eventually programme controllers, will view it as a secret weapon in our spiritual warfare arsenal. 'And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.'" Rev 12:11, NKJV
Joel Parisien of
"I wonder how much Christian hip-hop is being recorded and serviced to radio. It's a daunting task in America: that I know for a fact. It's expensive to shop a single to radio - prohibitive if you're an independent artist and the majority of Christian hip-hop releases are independent. If there is a bias, it may start from the ground up: major labels coming out of Nashville - the ones with the budget - are simply not signing hip-hop. Having marketed music to the contemporary Christian music world, I know that the listener is traditionally that 25 to 50 year old female. But they're also the moms buying music for the family, so if they've got young kids or teenagers who are into hip-hop, it might not be their first style of music, but they need to hear about it."
"Well, I know that Cross Rhythms plays quite a bit of hip-hop, because I listen to the station. I don't live far away, and when I travel slightly north I pick up the signal in my car. I'm surprised other Christian stations don't play hip-hop. They should. I enjoy rap: it's great. It's that old idea which was once around concerning rock music, that there's something inherently bad about the style of music. You move along 20 years, and rock is worship music now!"
"Radio One started off playing stuff that was selling really well and then rap music and hip-hop starting selling really well, so they started to play it. But the big sales will only come through radio play and in Christian circles that is not happening. I've always had the attitude that if God wanted something to happen all I have to do is work really hard and he'll do his bit. Then hopefully Christian radio stations will start to get behind hip-hop. I think that if they do it, it will be a big push and a big step for urban artists."
Dave Griffiths of Chaos Curb
"I would venture that it's as simple as this; rap and hip-hop is the sound of the streets - it's urban and has its roots in quite a politicised movement. Christian radio in the UK tends to serve a much more middle-class audience, who don't easily relate to that tougher, more confrontational sound. Rap isn't really background music - the artists who rap have a lot to say and the beats around them demand your attention. Radio is meant to be able to sit in the background. So, for those reasons, I think Christian radio producers have chosen to stick with a more melodic, less in-yer-face sonic texture. I wouldn't say it's prejudiced - just practical. I'm sure there's a place for shows devoted to Christian urban music."
Peter Field of
"I think to answer the question why aren't most Christian stations playing any hip-hop you need to grasp what attitudes and policies have sprung up with stations both Christian and non-Christian in the UK and overseas. I've always loved listening to modern music on the radio. In the car I listen to Radio One and Planet Rock and when I was living in Stoke-on-Trent, Cross Rhythms. At home I listen to a lot of internet radio.
"A few months ago I wrote a song about doing just that and it went on to be the breakthrough single for my band Peter118. Our track 'Radio' first got airplay on Japan's biggest radio station and now stations in the USA and Britain have just started playing it. But despite the fact that all three members of Peter118 are Christians, it's been non-Christian stations, not Christian ones, who've been playing our song. With the exception of a Christian radio station in Toledo, Ohio and Cross Rhythms in Britain, Christian stations have shown no interest in the 'Radio' single. Why? Because it's punk rock music and Christian stations by and large wouldn't consider giving airplay to punk rock, or hip-hop or other contemporary musical styles that have a huge mass audience. Even the Christian stations who have opened the door to punk or hip-hop or pop techno or whatever will only play these styles on a once-a-week "specialist" programme. It's crazy. It seems as if the styles Blink 182 or JayZ and many others don't exist in the Christian radio world.
"Now I know that in America radio stations organise their stations into formats but Christian AC radio - which stands for Adult Contemporary - clearly isn't very contemporary at all. Consequently, most Christian radio sounds out-of-date compared with, say, a mainstream Top 40 station. I listen to a lot of radio but the only Christian station I can listen to regularly is Cross Rhythms. They don't play a lot of my particular favourite, punk rock. But you will hear the occasional Relient K or MxPx. And awhile back Cross Rhythms had the American band The Shiny Darks on their playlist. Putting a track by an "unknown" independent artist like the Shiny Darks, or hip-hop independents like Ad-Apt or Souls Rest, on their high rotation playlists is something that just wouldn't happen with most Christian stations. I know for a fact that one of Britain's Christian stations will only play independent releases in one special programme. They won't even audition ANY independent releases for their general playlist consideration. Mind you, that's probably true of many non-Christian stations. It seems that, unlike internet radio, lots of stations are closed shops and are open only to record label releases. It took a big radio station in Japan to take the risk and give Peter118, who were then an unsigned independent, airplay. Maybe, now that Peter118 are signed, the BBC and Capitol and all the others will at least consider Peter118 for airplay. And maybe the secular radio stations will start to give exposure to the best gospel rappers like Lecrae and LZ7. The ironic thing is that's currently more likely than most Christian stations getting up-to-date with what is happening in the music world."
"Today Christian radio stations play a large amount of worship music. But I think worship needs a much more diverse musical expression. If I try to think about the vastness of God - character, nature - to try and express that in one very simple musical genre seems really difficult. If we could have the full extremes [of genres] it would be amazing. A phrase I've been thinking about in terms of worship - just to get more broad emotional bandwidth. You look at the Psalms, the extremes of emotion - pain, suffering, joy, excitement, anticipation. In our music, it's all a bit middle of the road, soft rock. We could press into so much more, and Christian radio could encourage that - perhaps helping shape people's minds and expectations of what's out there."
Lindz West of
"Go to Key 103, go to Radio 1, go to Kiss FM, go to Galaxy FM, go listen to what they're listening to, what's everybody into at the moment? It's big, uptempo dance tunes, R&B, dubstep, trap, all that kind of business. Then you go to a Christian radio station, and this isn't being disrespectful about it all because everyone wants to worship, we want to worship Jesus. I guess LZ7 sit in that middle ground. We're worshipping in a different kind of way. So when I'm up on the stage and we're bouncing around and sweating our backs off and dancing and doing all that kind of stuff and you're in your car cranking it up loud that's actually just another way of worshipping God because it's an extension of yourself. It's an extension of what God's called you to be, he wants you to be friends with him and in a relationship with him. What we do with our music is an extension of our relationship with God."
"I think the lack of Christian hip-hop on the radio is tied up with where rap was born or where it came from, that whole gang culture, ghetto culture. But that shouldn't stop radio stations play it. I think 'why not?' The whole point of Christianity is to redeem the things in the world, so I think let's take it back, let's get rap on our side."
"As a rapper who works a lot in schools, I can see every day the appeal that hip-hop has for large sections of youth so it's a great shame that by and large Christian radio stations are ignoring that audience. That story I heard about the American radio stations who refused to play the Crystal Lewis remix of one of her old hits because it had a rap on it is crazy. Clearly some radio station people are very blinkered. 20 or 30 years ago the Church had the same attitude about rock guitars. Let's hope it doesn't take another 20 years before rap is being regularly heard on many Christian radio stations and in many different church worship services."