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10.15.04 02:32 PM

yo, Q is really getting his scribe on

My boy Q is on the come up - this piece is really showing his growth as a writer and a thinker.

"Holy hip-hop" aims for mainstream

By Quibian Salazar-Moreno
Special to The Denver Post

For years hip-hop music was perceived as a violent, misogynistic and materialistic segment of urban culture. Things changed this summer as multiplatinum rapper Kanye West released the inspirational hit record "Jesus Walks," rapper-turned-pastor Mase returned to the hip-hop industry, and embattled singer R. Kelly churned out a lauded gospel album.

Christian ethos has been filling hip-hop radio and television airwaves the past six months. Along with the success of Mel Gibson's movie "The Passion of the Christ," it seems Jesus Christ has become an "in" thing for at least a portion of pop culture.

But for a plethora of unknown underground rappers, Jesus has been the in thing for quite a while. Christian rappers are looking to ride a wave of acceptance for hip-hop with spirituality and meaning.

"In what I call holy hip-hop ... it's set apart for God," said Lewis Brown, 25, also known as Proxy, a Denver rapper looking to spread awareness of God through hip-hop. "Of course, we celebrate hip-hop culture and the art form, but we celebrate God first in every way."

Holy hip-hop, or what some call Christian hip-hop, first appeared in the late '80s and early '90s. Groups like SFC, Dynamic Twins and Stephen Wiley created hip-hop music with the message of the gospel. The scene was underground back then, and the most anyone really saw of holy hip-hop was what DC Talk was doing, which was considered too forced and manufactured to appeal to an urban crowd. The scene began to take off in the mid- to late '90s with groups such as Cross Movement, Grits and Gospel Gangstaz bringing more credibility and a better quality of music to the forefront. Now dozens of individual artists, groups and record labels rap about Jesus - and some are on the verge of breaking through to the mainstream.

"I think within the last five years there's been quite a bit of growth," said Sherice Sudds, chief executive and publisher of FEED Magazine, which covers the holy hip-hop industry. "I think that's mostly because the quality level is definitely changing. For the most part, the majority of Christian hip-hop that existed was all about the 'Jesus raps.' Now people are applying their faith to things that are relevant to people everyday. I think the change is long overdue."

A bridge or an island?

The success of mainstream acts who send a spiritual message - West, Mase and others among them - could open doors for lesser-known Christian rappers. The platinum achievement of Christian rock acts like P.O.D., Evanescence and Switchfoot is an inspiration to Christian hip-hop artists, but holy hip-hop is not supported by the Christian music industry, Christian radio or the mainstream hip-hop industry.

Can songs like West's "Jesus Walks" get the ball rolling?

"I don't think it's helped us at all," said Josh Niemyjski, general manager of Illect Records, a Christian hip-hop label that has a roster of 10 artists. "Kanye just sells more records. ... I disagree wholeheartedly with how people have embraced Kanye's 'Jesus Walks.'

"The album is like you go to church on Sunday and then you're slanging crack on Tuesday and filming porno movies the next day. What gives? It gives off a vibe that it's acceptable to do certain things which would be more probably like misrepresenting holy hip-hop."

Sudds of Feed Magazine has a different take on the situation. She chooses to look on the positive side of things.

"I think that we have to ... make an opportunity out of it," Sudds said. "I think what Kanye presents really is reality, and we can't negate the fact that that exists. I mean, do we condemn people for it? Just because Kanye raps about his contradictions on a record doesn't mean that Christians that rap about Christ consistently in their music don't have contradictions themselves."

"Just praying" for it to last

As for Mase, a multiplatinum rapper who left the industry in 1999 to become a Christian pastor and returned this summer with a new album, most Christian artists sees his transformation as genuine. Even though Mase sharply criticized hip-hop when he dropped out, Denver rapper Shawn MacDonald, also known as Complexx, can relate.

"Mase left for spiritual reasons," MacDonald said. "He felt he had to leave to get right with God, and that's the same thing I did. Now with Mase coming back into the secular industry and giving a new message, I think that's a good thing. It's a good thing because the secular world actually saw him leave for Christ."

Lewis Brown shares the hope that Mase stays on his present path. "I'm just praying for Mase's consistency," Brown said. "I'm praying that as a man he upholds what God has sent him to do."

Brown and MacDonald are working on various projects, with Brown scheduled to release "The 2nd Coming" early next year. MacDonald is building a home studio to help produce other up-and-coming artists. His former group, Like Minded, released an album earlier this year that featured his vocals on most songs.

With the mainstream's ear open to spiritual messages for the moment, maybe Christian hip-hop artists like MacDonald and Brown can slip in.

"The only thing that I'm concerned with about the release of Kanye's project and what Mase is doing, I don't want to see it become another trend," Sudds said. "Like we had the social-political stuff, then we had the gangsta rap, then we had the bling-bling rap and now we're going to be on the positive Jesus stuff.

"I think the popularity of spirituality and Christianity is just not within hip-hop," she said. "'The Passion" doing as well as it did just shows that the climate of the world is ready for something different.

"I'm just praying that it's going to be lasting."

Reverent rap

Here's a quick survey of Christian hip-hop. These albums are available at Amazon.com

Gospel Gangstaz, "Exodus": A pioneering West Coast hip-hop trio.

Grits, "Dichotomy A": A duo on the verge of breaking through to the mainstream.

Corey Red & Precise, "Resistance Iz Futile": An ultra-aggressive East Coast-style group.

Cross Movement, "Holy Culture": Often described as a Christian Wu-Tang Clan.

Procussions, "As Iron Sharpens Iron": Denver's own celebrates hip-hop and the Spirit.

KJ-52, "It's Pronounced Five-Two": Often compared to Eminem because he's white and sounds like him too.

New Breed, "Nine": A brother- and-sister group pushing the boundaries of thematic hip-hop.

Papa San, "God & I": Dancehall/

reggae music with a Christian theme.

The Tunnel Rats, "The Tunnel Rats": A collective of artists and groups coming together to create an album.

DJ Maj, "DJ Maj Presents: The Ring Leader: Mixtape Vol. 3": A mix of various Christian hip-

hop and R&B artists mixed by DJ Maj.

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"Better late than never, right? Observations, interesting reading, and tunes of course- John Legend, Toshi, a Little De La Soul, Talib, and Brand Nubians too. Here and there...." [read more]
tracked on October 22, 2004 11:43 PM

» friday melodies vii. | ej flavors
"Better late than never, right? Observations, interesting reading, and tunes of course- John Legend, Toshi, a Little De La Soul, Talib, and Brand Nubians too. Here and there...." [read more]
tracked on October 22, 2004 11:47 PM

 

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