Hard beats and in-your-face evangelism are the fare of a veritable explosion of American rappers. Francis Blight surveys what's out there in America's gospel hip hop scene.

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DYNAMIC TWINS are now onto their third album, '40 Days In The Wilderness'. If you found the first two didn't really kick, then judging by the single off the latest, you may be pleasantly surprised. With a more laid back R&B flavour they seem to have hit the mark. I was very excited when their first album came out, but then I was new to the Christian music scene and had little else to get into. Looking back, it didn't really hang together. Now they have delivered the goods. Robbie and Noel were rapping and dancing before they got saved. Growing up in the Bronx they had many narrow escapes which, looking back showed them that God was protecting them for a purpose. In the light of this, and with the spur that Christ is coming back soon, they know that they need to get the Word out and that every thing they do has to glorify God.

FREEDOM OF SOUL consists of DJ Cartoon and Peacefiveeightysix (named after the month when he got saved). Their second album, aptly titled "The 2nd Comin", is filled with tight productions and flowing lyrics that basically make great hip hop. The lyrics aren't in your face regarding the Christian message, so may disappoint some. But musically the album is definitely worthy of repeated listening. Look out for guest vocal deliveries from Sup (of SFC), Brainwash Projects and T-Bone who flows Latino style on "Sooner Or Later". '2nd Comin" came out in '94 so we are due for more sounds soon, if they get the distribution.

LPG (LIVING PROOF OF GRACE). Theory and Jurny have been rapping since 1983 but have only just released their first album. They were being offered contracts by companies, but turned them down: "For years we turned 'em down because we just didn't feel it was the Lord." Even though other companies were offering much more money, they eventually went for Brainstorm, because of the freedom they offered. The new album is called The Earthworm' because true hip hop as they see it has been forced to dwell underground by both the gospel scene and the mainstream. Connected to this is the Scripture from Psalm 22:6 which says, "I am a worm not a man, hated by my own people and despised by all." This is how they feel. "We've been rappin' in the church a long time and we are just now being able to think without having to be told how to think. We've been like that and churches don't like that. They don't like it. The churches that we were attending and seeing and dealing with, they like to control. They talk a lot of freedom, but they don't really practice it."

This they see as due to the church fearing change rather than seeing it as an opportunity. Theory wants everyone to know, "It's about Jesus. This is what Jurny believes, what I believe. We have a vision for a youth organisation. We're not rapping just to rap. We're rapping to build, to bring people in. That's just what it's all about for us. It's about Jesus, then it's hip hop."

Grapetree Records are not being distributed in the UK at present. But they are looking for a strong company to pick them up. The name Grapetree comes from two parts of Scripture. In the Bible grapes represent people who have gone astray and are about to be judged by God (see Isaiah 5:1-7 and Revelation 14:17-19). Also in Scripture, trees represent the fully restored state of man (see Psalm 1:1-3 and Matthew 7:17). Grapetree Records' primary objective is to take those grapes that are headed for destruction and plant them on the tree of life.

BARRY G used to be in the pioneer Christian hip hop group PID (Preachers In Disguise). (You can read about them way back in CR2.) Barry got into hip hop at the age of 14 and later on, after he was converted, started to take the idea of using the music for Christ seriously. Things really kicked off in '89 with gigs and an album. But a couple of years later he decided to lay down the hip hop and left the group. He was out of the scene for three years. During this time he got married to Rebecca, his former manager, and became involved in a local ministry as a youth pastor. He also built a new studio and has started a hip hop production company called Black i. Explained Barry, "The concept of Black i Productions came from when Christ said go into all the world and preach the gospel. He was looking into darkness because the eye is the window to the soul. We look into darkness every day and so I was just peeping that concept and thinking, 'Man, that is mad fly. The Bible says that if the eye beholds darkness, how great is that darkness, but if it beholds light, how much greater that light.' So that's where the concept came from. I'm looking into darkness and I'm looking for brothers to get saved. That's what it's all about. It's all about ministry."

In response to suggestions that he is into giving the Devil a black eye, Barry pointed out: "The Bible says resist the Devil and he will flee from you. Many times we waste time battling the Devil, talking about the Devil instead of giving God the glory. So it's not about giving the Devil a black eye."

His production team will be bringing us albums by two other rappers. One Denarius and Black (Brother Living According To Christian Knowledge), both of whom get guest appearances on Barry's mellow grooved album 'Rugged Witness'. Having been away from the scene for a while, Barry has had time to reflect on what he is doing: "Basically my ministry style is different, that's how I feel. I want everything I touch to be different. I'm tired of copying secular artists. A lot of them are creative but I think as a Christian I have the responsibility to stay in the lab a little bit longer and to come up with something fat, as well as bringing life to this world through this art."

DDC (DIRECT DESTINATION CONFIRMED) are on a House Of Pain tip with a style that will appeal to Cypress Hill fans. The title song of their album 'Plate Fulla Funk' is about the Word of God; having it daily and coming back for more. "Slapping you back with the plate full of funk/Open your Word and see the turn of the holy funk/Hit you with the black red leather bound book/It's a book which is hooked with a revelation."

DDC realise that reading the Word can be hard work but is worth it: "It takes a daily commitment. It takes sacrifice, if you want more of God. God wants it all, 24 hours a day, and in the long run it's worth it, because you're spending time with Jesus."

Last but not least is 'Reflections Of An Ex-Criminal' by RUBADUB, an album filled with testimony and tales of gangsters who start up getting paid, but in time reap what they sow. The album disappointingly seems to have been poorly mixed. Not that the backing tracks aren't good, but the mix on them stops them kicking hard. Having said this, the album is well worth getting hold of as Rubadub is a serious minister. The track "The Number 1 Gangsta Rule" is typical of his story telling style, with its simple message based on one of Jesus' sayings: "He turns here and turns there for some answers/Put the gat to his head but he can't just/Take away his life like that/Comes to terms, put away the gat/He wants to turn to the Father, gee/But in his mind he tells himself, 'Don't bother'/He lives by the number one gangster rule/And when you live by the sword, you gonna die by it."

Also available on Grapetree is the 'Heaven's Hip Hop Compilation: Volume One' and coming out in 1996 are FAZE, KIIS and GENO V.

Gotee Records are another label to be reckoned with. Started by Toby McKeehan of DC Talk, they are being distributed into UK Christian bookshops by Nelson Word. Gotee is not just a rap label and currently they have CHRISTAFARI, JOHNNIE Q PUBLIC and OUT OF EDEN on their roster.

The reason for hip hop lovers to get excited is because they present us with GRITS (Grammatical Revolution In The Spirit) and their album 'Mental Releases'. Mellow and jazzy, their lyrics are often harder to grasp than those of many Christian rappers: