Tony Cummings and Susanne Martin find out about a young man with a whole new take on worship music, rapper RAWSRVNT.
One of the difficulties with what we call worship music is that far too much of it remains rooted in a few stylistic categories. Today most churches in the West choose their worship style from five different templates - the hymnody style (largely unchanged since Victorian times), the brass band style (if you're Salvationists), the gospel style (if you're a black majority church), the pop style (think Hillsong) or the rock style (think Redman/Delirious?). Some more adventurous fellowships might mix and match a bit but that's about it. So if you're a devotee of grunge, or house music, or alt country or a dozen more genres you'll simply have to leave your tastes at the church door when you go to participate in congregational worship. Now down the years Christian record companies have started to notice the gaping stylistic holes in contemporary church worship and have spasmodically released a string of albums to address a perceived need/niche market. And though some of those albums have been of decidedly questionable quality ('Trad Jazz Praise', 'Heavy Metal Worship', etc) at least it has been a start in communicating to all church goers that ANY style of music could be a vehicle for genuine worship.
Using rap and hip-hop music as a vehicle for true worship has had a spasmodic history. The groundbreaking World Wide Message Tribe albums 'Jumping In The House Of God' (first one released in 1995) used rap as one of the elements in their dance/R&B mix. And more recently, the 'hip-hop church' Crossover Community Church in Tampa founded by rapper Urban D has done sterling work in bringing an appropriate worship form to the new converts of mainstream hip-hop. But it's been the release in 2006 of an album by a Florida rapper which, to all those who've heard it, is the best ever fusion of hip-hop and worship ministry. 'In Rare Form' by Rawsrvnt is quite simply a milestone album and the benchmark for all future rappers seeking to get beyond dissing demons and the evangelism-by-numbers content of much holy hip-hop. The haunting track "Breathe" from 'In Rare Form' is currently getting Cross Rhythms radio play (it rose to number five in the 6th May 2007 Cross Rhythms chart) while another two songs, the powerful outpouring to a God who "cleans up our mess," "All About You" and the perfect counterpoint to "Breathe" where God's love for us is contemplated, "I Know" are also set to make it onto the playlist later in the years. And if such maximum airwave exposure wasn't enough, another three tracks, including Rawsrvnt's re-assembling of the old Vineyard Music classic "More Love, More Power" have made it onto Cross Rhythms regular worship slot Verticality. So how did this Latin rapper from North Palm Beach, Florida feel about the unprecedented exposure from a radio station in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire? "Praise God! I think that's awesome," he told Cross Rhythms' Susanne Martin. "Just goes to show you that people long to worship through hip-hop. I believe the reason why there isn't much of this around is because there isn't any reference to do it. It really hasn't been done much. I'm truly honored that God chose me to set the platform in order for this style to come to life and help other people do what they feel in their heart to do.worship God through hip-hop."
Rawsrvnt went on to talk about his current Cross Rhythms hit "Breathe". "I feel the most important thing we do daily is breathe. We don't even ask God to give it to us but he gives it to us freely without even being asked. Man, to think that God loves us so much that he would give us the most important thing we need just trips me out. If God didn't give us breath we wouldn't be able to do anything else we wanted to do. Ever since I chose to trust him, the Lord has proved his theory time and time again. So I trust that everyday that I breathe God will take care of me. . .and he has. . .to the fullest. So, even though I don't ask him for my 30,000 breaths a day (or whatever the number is) he still gives it to me at ease. So I'm gonna trust him and thank him for everything else he's doing and getting ready to do in my life."
Rawsrvnt was born Eduardo Puyol and grew up in Florida. He said, "I started a relationship with Jesus at age 11. By the age of 12, I started a rap group, Kid And Posse, with a few friends at my church. We opened for pioneer Christian rap group, ETW (End Time Warriors) at Studio 777, a popular club in Coral Springs. When I hit high school I went haywire. I got mixed up with the 'wrong crowd,' experimented with drugs and alcohol and dated as many girls as possible. Getting an education was no longer as important as 'hanging out,' so my grades slipped. I continued rapping, but the main reason for writing lyrics was to get the girls and gain the respect of my peers. I stopped rapping about Jesus. My life took a downward spiral and I even ended up homeless for awhile. I eventually realized that my life was going nowhere fast. Everything that I worked so hard to accomplish crumbled before my eyes. I had to make the choice (just as the 'prodigal son') to abandon that 'thug' lifestyle and return to my first love. . .my Lord, my family and my music. I went on to record 'Representin', which was a form of healing for me. It serves as a testimony to the many things that God does restore."
Representin', released in 2003 through Rawsrvnt's Soul Deep Ministries, was described by the Cross Rhythms' reviewer as having "an overriding mellow R&B vibe contrasting with a Pettidee warrior passion." The rapper himself spoke about the outstanding track on the album, "Extravagant". "It was a love letter to God thanking him for the extravagant love that he has for me which he showered me with. I would say that song birthed the whole hip-hop worship thing I'm doing now."
In 2004 Rawsrvnt's next album 'Gone Fishin'' was released. The rapper spoke about his revelation of God's unconditional love which inspired the album. "After I took my stance for Jesus and shared that statement with the world, I noticed that people were getting blessed by my decision and the reality in which I live, the unconditional love that the Father has for us and the very fact that he blesses us more than we know, even if we don't always do things right. The wonderful truth that sets people free is the fact that God never wishes harm on any of us. That's why in his word he shares with us key things that will help us succeed in life and help us to live life the way he designed it to be - awesome. God shared with me in my quiet time with him that he has called me to be a fisher of men (Matthew 4:19). I then realised that my music is simply the bait I use to catch souls for Jesus. So, I entitled the album 'Gone Fishin'' because that's exactly what I was doing, and it's exactly what he called me to do."
After a limited edition remix EP 'Unshakeable' in 2005 Rawsrvnt began working on 'In Rare Form' which at least one music critic has already called "a masterwork." Said the rapper about his hip-hop worship project, "This album is very dear to my heart specifically because it was my one on one time with the Lord. No one else around, just me and him. Hence the 11 tracks - 1 man to 1 God. See, I came to a point in my walk with Christ where I was longing to worship God with the style of music that I enjoy - hip-hop. So since I would do it in my spare time anyway, and occasionally add a few of them onto my albums, he laid it on my heart to make this album. I even told the Lord, 'I don't care whether anyone else likes it or buys the album, I want to do it so I have something to worship you with.' It's funny because in doing that, I have started a frenzy over this trend-setting thing called 'hip-hop worship.'
"As soon as I got back home from Africa I started working on the concept. I remember jamming to an R&B song and worshipping God to it. I began singing 'everyday that I breathe. . .' and felt the urge to write it down. So, as I was driving I recorded the idea on my phone. I was headed up to my parents' preschool to see them. When I got there, my parents asked me if I could watch the kids for a little while in one of the classrooms so they could speak with one of the teachers. So I did. I popped on the CD that I had been listening to and continued to write down additional ideas that came to me. It was so cool. I remember such a peace of God came over me and the kids in the classroom as I pieced the song together. There was one girl in particular that was awake while I was in this zone of worship. I remember her looking at me, mesmerised by what I was doing. She had a smile from ear to ear. Many of the kids know that God has gifted me to rap, and they all smile when they hear me rhyme, but her smile was different this time. It was like, 'Wow, that is so awesome what you're doing.' So, I completed the song. Shortly thereafter, I brought the idea and lyrics to my partner in the music ministry, Chuck Hemann, and we put the whole concept together, the song was fully birthed. From there, we continued working on the rest of the album. It was so cool. I could remember just having a blast recording the album. I really had no reference to consult while doing this album, so I would come to Chuck with whatever I was worshipping God to earlier that day and we made the music. Man, God is so cool. It was definitely different than what I was used to. I was more accustomed to just getting beats from my producers and hooking up with God to share whatever message he put on my heart. This new concept was totally different because I was coming up with everything right there in my intimate time with him."
In the present post-Oprah Winfrey climate where the excesses of mainstream hip-hop are currently being vilified in the US mass media and where, even in the Church, there are misguided ministers passionately denouncing Christian hip-hop, it's refreshing to listen to the thoughts of a rap worshipper. "I believe that God created hip-hop. And since God created everything, and nothing was created outside of God, it is holy. Now we can't blame God for something that man has perverted and since man has even perverted the truth about Jesus, of course they have twisted other things that God designed for good. I mean, rap is simply poetry. So, since that's true, David was the first documented rapper. In our Bible we have a book of rap (poems) called Psalms and in those Psalms I have found countless rhyme patterns. So rapping has been around for quite some time."
Cross Rhythms closed its questioning of Rawsrvnt by asking about his future plans. "In September I'll be nationally releasing another hip-hop album of mine, 'Makin' Moves'. And I'm in the process of recording my second hip-hop worship album (available autumn 2008). So you can say God has me busy. Besides that, I'm kept busy traveling the globe effecting people with his radical love." Rawsrvnt was smiling as the interview ended.The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.