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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"We look at it like we're following the example of Christ/When he spoke, he spoke in parables/People had to meditate on what he said before they could understand it/A lotta people didn't get it right off/Even his disciples, his Boys, didn't know what he meant/So he would explain it to them."
Terron and Coffee have heard criticism from Christians saying they don't sing about God. But they insist that non-believers know they are Christians from the way they rap: "I think it's because we as a Christian music industry have put ourselves in a trap of having religious lyrics. Of being so blunt in people's faces all the time, instead of really taking the time to be the maker and the artist and the writer that God has created you to be. Jesus didn't speak bluntly all the time. Sometimes he did but that was for those who needed to hear it blunt. And most of the time, you know who it was? It was the Church. It was the Pharisees. But when he spoke to non-believers, he asked them who he was and they knew he was Christ. It was the believers who didn't know and the non-believers who knew. And it's the only thing that gives me peace about what we do. The non-believers know. The believers don't know."
So there you have it. But although Coffee and Terron may have come against criticism, things aren't looking bad for them in '96, when they will be supporting DC Talk on a tour that will give them huge exposure.
Also a brief mention must go to ERASE who at present can be heard on the 'Gotee Night Out (Live At The Blue Sky)' album. They give us a mellow jam about the family called "Sweet Tea". Hopefully we will get a full album in '96.
REV RUN RECORDS
Cross Rhythms got excited back in '93 when RUN DMC returned to the music scene with a song declaring they were "Down With The King" (see CR16). George Luke finished his article by saying that our eyes would be on the band over the coming months and years to see how solid their convictions really are. Well, two years later on we find Joseph Simmons aka DJ Run is serious about Jesus and has started his own Rev Run record label. The label will launch in '96 with a compilation showcasing two new R&B groups and a hip hop crew called Sin Assisinz. Expect quality material from these guys. With the big name backing let's pray for a mainstream release. Nelson Word will be dishing it to the Christian bookshops.
VINEYARD MUSIC GROUP
Yes, you may be surprised, but a rap album was recorded at Vineyard's studios in Anaheim, California by the SOHL 4UR TRIBE. Their '93 album '2 Tha Bazix' on New Breed was belatedly released in the UK by Kingsway back in '93. Now I'm sorry to have to knock them, but this album is wack. There are a few funky backing tracks, but the rapping is feeble. The only glimmer of hope is the melancholy tale "Papa Dios", which is delivered over a Spanish guitar backing. This is the kind of stuff that gives gospel rap a bad name.
Yet again the UK is dissed. Metro One, which is owned by Billy Ray and Crystal Lewis, still has no UK distribution deal. That means no T-BONE. You may have seen his valiant attempts to whip the crowd up at Greenbelt last summer. This master of the flow who raps in both English and Spanish has had a massive impact in the Christian music scene (see CR17). He grew up the son of a minister in the mission district of San Francisco where he and his mates would get up to mischief. What shook T-Bone up and actually led him to become a Christian was the death of a friend called Ralphie. Ralphie was the member of a Latin gang called the Cholos and became the victim of a drive-by shooting one day when he and T-Bone were hanging in the park. All Ralphie said as he was dying was, "Make sure everyone wears red at the funeral." (Red is the colour that Latin north-siders in California wear). T-Bone thought, "Was that all his life meant? Ralphie didn't say, Tell momma I love her' or anything like that. All he cared about was the colour of the rags that his friends would wear at his funeral."
So this pushed T-Bone to turn to Christ and to shift his rapping talent away from swearing, cursing and making fun of the girls at school, to producing some positive stuff. On the album 'Tha Life Of Da Hoodlum', T-Bone showed himself to be a serious demon basher. The song "Straight Up Psycho" "...is saying that when it comes to the Devil you can't hold me back. I'm a Charles Manson serial killer when it comes to the Devil. A lot of people are scared of the Devil. And we can't be scared of him."
While I'm up for not being scared of the Devil, T-Bone's hit-him-with-a-shovel attitude isn't for everyone and is a long way from Barry G's opinion on this subject. But bashing demons or no bashing demons, T-Bone is a serious contender for the big time and even has a guest slot on the latest Carman album 'R.I.O.T.'. Look out for this man at the next Dove awards.
Also signed to Metro One and making serious waves Stateside are The SSMOB (Soul Serving Ministers On Board). Main man King Shon gave his life to the Lord at the age of 17, but subsequently backslid for several years and got into all kinds of trouble: "None of my family knew what we were walking away from. I thought I was walking into a life of comfort and ease, but I walked into a life of selfishness, greed, perversion, murder - you name it, we did it. I became a drug dealer as well as a drug addict within those years. I made a whole 360-degree turnaround toward the Devil. Satan moved in on my family, in particular me. I began to do things I never dreamed I would do."
It eventually dawned on King Shon that he actually was a drug-addict and he realised how Satan had deceived him. Then the Lord said to him, "Shon, you are going to rap for me and I'm going to bring up your family." Said Shon, "And at that time I didn't know that there were other Christian rappers out there; there wasn't that many. And to me it was like, 'Oh God, I can rap the whole Bible!'"
The album 'Papa Didn't Raze No Punks' (and remember Punk has a slightly different meaning in the US) is a hard gangsta style affair with a touch of G-Funk. Over the course of its making the MOB had 14 different producers both secular and saved. It sounds like a real hot one. Shon straight up declares SSMOB to be an evangelistic ministry. "We have a discipleship home," said Shon. "It's not like a regular music group. Most groups just do it to please, but we help people off the streets and we disciple them and train them in the ways of Christ. The men wake up at five in the morning for prayer, we have breakfast, sharing the Word, and do different chores that need to be done. Afterwards it's free time, then another powerful preaching of the Word and lights out at 10. It is a real powerful programme that God has put together and it is very successful. God has raised different people up as great evangelists, and just like ministry, you have some out there who don't hold on and they're back out in the streets and we end up counselling them as prisoners. It's front line ministry and I thank God for the opportunity just to be able to help in the ministry."
California's N-Soul are recognised as the leading dance music label on the Christian scene, but they have also ventured into the rap market with the PRIVATE BOYZ and a compilation of West Coast rap entitle 'Sanktifunctafyd'. N-Soul are distributed in the UK by Alliance Music so their stuff can be ordered through Christian bookshops.
The Private Boyz album 'Check Da Flava' is sadly disappointing. Some of their tunes are good, but they just don't have the lyrical flow to match the other contenders on the scene. "By My Side" is worthy of note for its mad gospel flavour and chugging rhythm, but aside of this there is little flava to check.