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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The compilation 'Sanktifunctafyd' is better and is packed with artists you won't have heard before. Young Ministas give us 'We Gotz 2 Get Bizzy', a call to do the Lord's work, and Frost delivers the funky head-nodder True Ta The End'. Every Day Life replace the standard DJ backing with a lazy, mellow band and Brainwash Projects get superb production from the hands and mind of SFC's Super C. Mouth Of Babes come straight with a powerful message on 'Dead To Sin And Not The Same', but best of the lot is the offering from GODQUEST. Rapper Marcus Davis simply delivers his testimony telling how a preacher stepped in front of the bullet that was meant for him and died in his place - "No greater love than this has a man, that he would give his life for his friend." The album is only really spoilt by the unfunny interludes and 3NP (3rd Nail Productions) whose loud and grating vocals are slopped over four of the album's tracks. With some sifting you will find some real gems.

DOC (DISCIPLES OF CHRIST) are keen to point out that they are not a rap group but are in fact a vocal hip hop R&B band. They are on more of a pop tip than most of the groups reviewed here and have a soulful style that gives them a chart worthy flavour. Reges and Absalom attended college together in the States where Reges' use of drink and drugs got him to the point where he was enslaved by them. The two guys were introduced to the occult by some of their friends, but subsequently experienced what Reges describes as a supernatural manifestation of the Holy Spirit. This led them to get sorted with God and clean up their lives. A year later they met the third member of the group, Prophet, who explained how they got started: "Originally when we first got started, we just wanted to share what God had done in our lives to the community, so Absalom, he used to write poems and stuff, and he kinda inspired me to start writing songs. I come from a musical background, so I started getting into rapping. So we would just go out to project areas and different places and do some rapping and some singing and we would pray with people in the community. And it's like a time bomb just went off in the community, and the people started seeing that living for Christ was rewarding and that it wasn't boring; you could be excited, you could be on fire for God. And from that, different youth groups started having us out to do shows for their young people and after a while, we bumped into a friend who said, 'Man, you guys are really good, you should put together a demo.'"

They didn't really think they would get a deal and so were staggered that just a few weeks after they sent the demos out a contract came through the post from Star Song. For their last album 'Righteous Funk' they enlisted the production skills of none other than Bootsy Collins, the funk pioneer of Parliament/Funkadelic fame. What was George Clinton's shiny space-suited assistant doing producing a Christian album? Well, DOC give him props as a Christian brother. Let's hope for some righteous funk coming from Bootsy. DOC haven't had an album out for a while now and another one should be due soon.

Frontline Records, through their Myx dance-oriented label, are the home of the GOSPEL GANGSTAS. The group was started by DJ Dove who first appeared with his DJ productions on SFC's third album 'Phase III'.

Dove was deejaying for an MC from San Francisco called CMC, and at one of their shows they ended up sharing the billing with SFC, so he got to meet the band. "Soon after that," said Dove, "CMC decided that he wanted to settle down more, and get more involved with the church, doing Bible studies etc, but I wanted to travel! I wanted to minister outward and pursue a record deal. Well, the same week that we bust up, Sup (of SFC) and his original partner broke up. So then me and Sup hooked up to finish off some dates and that turned out pretty good! Everything just went on from there."

DJ Dove continues his SFC success with the Gangstas' album 'Gang Affiliated'. The album cover depicts the four band members (Tic Toe, Chily Chill, Solo and Dove) toting guns in a warehouse. This has naturally angered some Christians, but we find on the back cover that they have left their guns behind as they walk out the door. Still it is a thin line that they walk between trying to preach the gospel into a gang context and being down right out of order. Were the guys really gangsters before they got saved? I asked Rubadub: "The whole gangsta rap scene has really gotten kinda real commercial and so a lot of times you have acts out there who says if I come like a gangsta I'll be able to make sales. The record companies think that this is what kids want to hear about, guns and a lot of drama, and a lot of it is not really there. If you look into the artist's true life, they don't really represent that. As for the Gospel Gangstas I don't really know enough about their background but I would say that there has been quite a bit of marketing in that, because they know that if gangsta rap can sell in the mainstream, it can sell to Christians too."

So what does the band have to say? Well, Solo when he was younger got into a gang lifestyle that he realised was leading him nowhere: "I had a lot of friends that are dead right now; friends that I gang banged with, drunk with, smoked with, hit my name up on the wall with - and now they're dead. And I was seeing that the road I was leading was either in jail like my big brother who I idolised, or dead like the homies who I kicked it with. And a situation happened where I got shot trying to help my homeboy. And it made me think, 'I could have died tonight.'"

Tic Toe grew up on Compton and hung in a 'Blood' gang which lead him to spend a total of three and a half years in jail. Chill was into the same sort of things as Solo, but more for the money. The two of them were good friends and used to rap together before they became Christians. When they did get saved, they dropped the rap because they thought it was of the Devil; until they met a guy from another group who told them that God wanted them to use their talents and to give him the glory. Solo commented: "So I prayed and I said, 'Well God, you gave me a gift and a desire to rap, but show me how to use it to your glory.' So then God started ministering to me; he said, 'Instead of telling them about yourself and how hard you are, tell them about my goodness and my mercy, and what I came to do for them.' And then I said, 'Okay God,' and I've been trying to write songs of deliverance since then."

So although the gangster thing is about bravado, these guys were gangsters and now they are serving the Lord by preaching his gospel. They have a new album coming out soon called "Do Or Die", so look out for it in Christian bookshops. DJ Dove has also launched a new company called Holy Terra Records. The first offerings to reach us should be CMC's 'Everyday Death Sentence', and 'Into My Life' produced by Bobby Ross Avila. CR

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.