As you may have heard, Christian hip hop icon William “Duce” Branch (better known around these parts as The Ambassador) penned a thoughtful open letter to leading hip hop magazine XXL. The subject: Christian rappers shying away from identity and title of Christian rapper. That includes drifting away from the sub-genre of Christian Hip Hop– we’ll call it CHH from here on out. It’s making some serious ripples in our scene, and I thought it raised enough thought provoking points that we at Holy Culture thought it wise to interact with the letter in a number of ways. So, here goes nothin:
Full disclosure: I’m not huge on labels. Or “ear-hammering” for that matter. While I can’t say I wholeheartedly cosign Ambassador’s post, I think there is great merit to some of his concerns about the Christian hip hop scene. Here are two excellent points he made in response to the XXL piece:
Repping Jesus Will Bring Opposition
And you’re never, ever, never-ever going to get away from that. And let’s be real…if you think you can somehow avoid it, you signed up for the wrong team. Seriously, it’s all over the Bible. Unfortunately, in an (often good-natured) effort to be relevant, it’s very easy to forget that following Jesus won’t be easy, nor will it be a seamless transition to our lives before God entered the picture. Amba nails the absolute necessity of remembering that faithfully following Jesus Christ in any domain will have a cost:
“While we can do things to make matters worse, even the best Christian with the most skill, nicest demeanor, most considerate tone, and most diplomatic approach will meet the same outcome that the perfect Christ himself met—rejection. This ought to not really be surprising because the Bible prepares people for this kind of reaction. Those who belong to Jesus Christ have been told that the world will not embrace you but rather shun you, simply because He chose you (Jn 15:18-19).”
You Can’t Be “Tinged” for Jesus
XXL describes the new school of Christian hip hop as not unashamedly Christian, but instead as “Christian-tinged”. The piece positively describes the shift by stating “Christian-tinged hip hoppers [have] mastered the balancing act between cool and compassionate. Ambassador wisely looks at the very definition of “tinge” as “imparting a trace or slight degree of color”. Is being “tinged” with Jesus consistent with the Christian faith? Can our lives be slightly altered in our faith? The answer is an emphatic “no”!
John 3:3 quotes Jesus telling an inquirer of his teaching that we must be “born again”. Now, you’ve probably heard that phrase thrown around, especially if you’ve spent a decent amount of time in Christian circles, but have you ever thought of the implication behind that? Think of most modern self-help remedies. If you perform differently with X, Y, and Z, you’ll find everything you need to have a successful life! You can have the same old life (and most importantly, the same old heart), with a few minor adjustments and BAM, life improvement! Jesus goes infinitely deeper, claiming that our lives can’t be an adjustment of a previous life, but instead, we need to be given a brand new one! This language is so remarkably strong that Jesus says just a bit later to not marvel at the thought of being born again (John 3:7).
What XXL espouses– and sadly, some Christian emcees are complying with– is that a slight degree of change in our approach from what a non-Christian hip-hop artist might present accurately resembles what our faith ought to look like after making a decision to follow Jesus. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Does this mean blunt sermon-rap is the only route to make God-honoring music? Do we have to mold our music into a uniform expression of Christianity? NOPE–That’s what Part 2 is about. However, there’s gotta be more thought, more intentionality, and more integrity. Our scene has to aim for more than being juuuuuust friendly enough with our display of faith that the XXL‘s of the world think we’re dope.
Don’t Conform to Anything (Except Jesus)
All in all, I appreciated Amba’s plead. We can’t get wrapped up in pursuits that are–in comparison to displaying Christ–very vain. Let’s hold the praises of people, even (especially?) the powers that be in hip-hop very loosely. Let’s not get obsessed about how we’re perceived in secular media. We have a treasure far greater.
But, as I alluded to earlier, that’s not all I have to say. More thoughts comin’ soon.