A posse of rappers descended on Cross Rhythms. Mike Rimmer was there to witness the unbridled Gospel passion of Philadelpha hip-hop crew THE CROSS MOVEMENT.
Not sure about Heaven's mentality, it seems like more of a gang mentality as The Cross Movement invade Cross Rhythms Towers. A posse of rappers, fellow travellers and friends arrives at the studios for an interview. In the end it's The Ambassador, Earthquake, The Phanatik and The Tonic who settle down around the round table to have a chat about their new release 'Human Emergency'. The crew are in the country for some concerts and a few days of ministry.
It's been five years since the band formed and this is their third album. One characteristic of the band has been the focused ministry heart of their music. The Tonic recalls, "What we realised was that it was more important for us to communicate the truth of the Gospel than it was for us to be known as rappers or anything else. I think that made us stick together when everyone else was out for fame, out for money, etc. We were out for the glory of God at a young age. We were out to see a bunch of people rallied around the cross of Jesus Christ and that showed up in our music. Truly, that's who we are, fanatics of Jesus Christ and the cross of Calvary."
It was in the mid '90s that the band recorded their debut album and followed it with the critically acclaimed 'House Of Representatives' but with their new album it feels as though the band have come of age. But it has always been bigger than just music. Earthquake comments, "It all probably comes out of making clear the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Where we come from the name of Jesus Christ is very common. The truth about Jesus Christ is scarce. We like to clear up for people the issues. We're very evangelistic. Our ministry thrust has always been, 'You've probably answered the question about Jesus Christ before but do you know what you were answering? Do you know what you said yes to if you were in the Church? Do you know what you said no to if you're in the world?' When I first got together with the guys I began to see how much of a difference there was between church on Sunday morning and Bible school. If there's that much of a difference, someone needs to bridge the gap. I know a lot of people who don't go to church because they don't understand. Our ministry always wants to bridge that gap between Sunday morning and intense study of the Scriptures."
The group themselves spend time studying together. The Ambassador explains, "Cross Movement was built on our knees in prayer and study and the Word. That's what brought us together. When the rest of the young bucks were running around having fun, either in the world or having fun just in the church culture, we were a young bunch of men who were dead serious about the Gospel. When we got together it wasn't fun time, it was let's deal with these serious, theological issues and see how they bear on everyday life.' When we got together we discussed them, we prayed hard and then we saw God move on the stuff that we discussed."
The new album contains much material that only highlights the band's commitment to communicating spiritual truth. One of the most memorable songs on the album is "C To The R". Phanatik explains, "It is really just an anthem. A lot of our music before is said to be east coast flavour. So hardcore that you've got to be a certain type of person to really get into it. I think when I heard the music for this track, it seemed kinda jumpy, seemed kinda like this might make people wanna listen and I figured if you're gonna listen, let me give you an anthem that you could cheer the cross of Jesus Christ. 'C to the R to the OSS.' Also, I wanted to say the kind of things in the song that would at least get you looking at this life in a way where you would question it rather than just accept it."
But there are plenty of people out there who would rather not face up to the realities of life and hip hop can be as much of an escape as any other music. The Ambassador shares his thoughts about the genre itself. "When growing up, hip hop was around and basically became just the language of the youth culture at that time, so we identify with it as our roots. We do it because it naturally pours forth from us. When hip hop took a turn back in the late '80s, where it became a platform for voicing more than just..." Here The Ambassador does a neat imitation of "Rapper's Delight", "...hip hop, hibby, hibby, hip, hip hop." The rest of the crew dissolve into laughter.
He continues, "It went from that to dealing with political issues and social awareness. Then it got to the point where people said, 'I wanna just say something that may not be so positive but it's real to me,' so it was NWA. It became like gangsters were talking and so we said, 'Wait a minute! Since this is just this big field where you can just bring your heart, why I don't we bring the heart of God to humanity?" Tonic adds, "'Human Emergency' just says that music is starting to make us forget. We're partying so hard we're forgetting that there's still an emergency going around so don't get so partyish and don't let hip hop get so big and trick you into thinking everything's alright. There's still a problem that God has with sin and society and the news reflects that. So don't forget Jesus Christ comes to be the answer to the biggest problem we have and that's the sin of mankind."
The expression of society's sin is endemic in contemporary hip hop. The controversy surrounding Eminem was a hot topic the day we were chatting. How do The Cross Movement view those artists who purvey negative messages? Earthquake sums it up, "Poison. Candy coated poison." Tonic jumps in, "I think that's why we exist. We exist not to be just the alternative to that but the antithesis to that because that's what God is. These same people that we're talking about will step up on the stage at the Grammies and say, 'Thank you Lord for that album I just did.' In the age that we live in a lot of people don't seem to find a problem with that anymore. Here we stand, a voice crying in the wilderness, don't have all the big money and stuff behind it but we believe God and we'll stand up and stand against it because God does. We're not so much against these people, because we realise they're lost. Sin is sin but we will stand against the stuff that they propagate."
In a generation where an antisocial misogynist message can sell millions of CDs, The Cross Movement really do stand out from the crowd. "The Scriptures are clear," comments Tonic. "In Romans chapter 1, it talks about the world and its increasing wickedness. Some people would say things are wrong, yet at the same time they either in their hearts not only love those things but also applaud those who do them. I just thought about when Jesus was here. He said not to be surprised about the wickedness that comes into the world. These things must come but woe unto them through whom these things come. So yeah, there's gonna be sin in the world and our hearts are gonna jump at it because we're born loving it but you need to get fixed by God and then woe unto those who help you enjoy that lifestyle. Woe unto those who spur you on to do wickedness. That's drastic. Yeah! Everyone's gonna sin but woe unto you for helping them sin."
Sitting down around the table in studio seven, I get some raised eyebrows from the crew when I ask what sort of things they'd like to say to Eminem if I brought him into the room. Ambassador jumps in, "We'd need to get a feel for what his heart condition is like. The media can make you see somebody in one light and then when you meet them personally they're different. Jesus had different tactics for dealing with people according to where they were in their internals. If you claim to see and you were a religious leader, he would deal with you a little more severely and harshly than the woman at the well who truly was there with misconceived notions. So we'd probably get a feel for where he's at. Does he clearly know the truth, reject the truth or is he just one of these misled people that is just a product of his environment?
Then we'd try to come and reason with him. If he just cursed us out and said, 'I don't wanna hear that,' we'd probably look more at that individual like this is a sad case. We'd just shake the dust off rather than try to battle with someone who's not softened and open to hearing a rational message of God's love and his hate for sin."
Ambassador begins to get into his flow and he continues, "Eminem knows what he's doing because he spells it out on his albums. He's clever at what he does. As with all of hip hop, that's what it is today. What we're looking at is a time period where, if it's making money, you almost turn a blind eye to the fact that it's hazardous. What are cigarettes? I know it's killing me but you know what I'm saying? Nice packaging. A couple of cool camels or commercials and before you know it, people do that, and so hip hop is no different. We'd try to reason with him and just say what the Scripture says. 'God loves you. He died for your sin. He hates sin. You and me are affected by sin from birth,' etc. We'd tell him about the cross, the resurrection and then trust God with the results."
There are a lot of people who would look at Christian hip hop and think that it's not very good. Obviously The Cross Movement are well respected and also have the opportunity to hang with other artists. Tonic explains, "It's a tough thing, Christian hip hop. I think Christian hip hop is getting a lot better. There are a lot of soldiers out there who probably don't get some of the exposure they deserve. But then to be honest, there's a lot of stuff out there that, holding it up to a biblical standard, is missing the mark. I think a lot of people say that Christian hip hop is so popular now, everybody's getting in on it. All the major labels have started Gospel divisions and this and that. It's just sad that we keep trying to use worldly tactics and worldly strategies to reach the lost. We keep trying to get better at our hip hop, thinking that that's gonna win them over for Christ. We meet so many up and coming Gospel and Christian rappers whose whole emphasis is that if they show them that they can beat them at their game, if they can out rap them, then somehow they feel like that'll make a way in for them to give the Gospel. We tend to have a problem with that because we just can't find a biblical example of where that's done. It's the Gospel. It's the Spirit of God that we believe changes hearts. That's what the Bible declares."
Just spending a few hours with The Cross Movement reinforces that this
is a crew who are focused on ministry and placing their talents at the
foot of the cross for the promotion of the Gospel. Outside in the
sunshine as we pose for photographs, they're all excited at the
opportunities to play in London but equally fascinated by the street
work they'd done in Harrogate. They clearly enjoy being together and
it's Earthquake who sums it all up. "One of the good things about The
Cross Movement is that we constantly challenge one another
scripturally to be more Christ-like. To present ourselves as living
sacrifices to the Gospel, for the cause of Jesus Christ and that's a