The nuance of CHH and culture with the legendary Cross Movement’s Cruz Cordero.
Culture and the streets
“Early stages of CHH, or emcees who were Christian, I think they made an intentional decision to say we see where the culture’s going and we’re just gonna blast it from what we understand from white evangelical theology and all things are sin.” And although there is some truth in that theology, it’s not culturally relevant to the streets declares Pastor Phil.
“The best message to start off with is you were created for a bigger purpose than what the streets told you. You were created for a bigger purposed than what your pastor’s told you. There’s more to life than this,” Pastor Phil elaborates. “I just desire good music from emcees who love the Lord to be relevant and to bring a message that’s not so condemning because there’s enough of that already. Especially for folks who feel disenfranchised in the hood.”
Not only did Pastor Phil get a chance to chop it up with Emanuel and Soup the Chemist at Flavor Fest 2022, but he also had a chance to talk with Cruz Cordero of the groundbreaking group Cross Movement.
Cordero admits that early on he wasn’t heavily invested in the church, “I grew up in a Hispanic community. A Latino family. And we’re either Pentecostal or Catholic. So, I got like both sides of faith. The liturgical and the super-spiritual side. But nothing grabbed my attention.”
In fact, it was Christian Hip Hop Cordero says, that helped him develop his faith. While attending a performing arts high school, another student put him on to the CHH legend Danny D-Boy Rodriguez. “I was a freshman in high school. And a friend was liking her [a girl at his school] But she’s a church girl. I got to meet her at the cafeteria. She started to tell me about her life as a follower of Jesus Christ. She was listening to music and I asked her what she was listening to.” Cordero was blown away. “That got my attention.”
That moment led him to get saved. From then on Cordero immersed himself in the culture. In 1991, his youth pastor at the time took the group to Philadelphia for a CHH event. It was there Cordero met William Branch AKA Deuce AKA The Ambassador who was a college student at the time. “That got my attention even more. I saw this guy [Ambassador] indigenous to the Hip Hop culture coming exactly from the hood. I threw away my suit after that!”
Eventually, he and the Ambassador developed a relationship. “One day everybody’s hanging out together after an event and somebody said wouldn’t it be cool if we can take what we see here in the tri-state area and bring it somewhere else? And then Enoch [who passed away suddenly in 2009] said yeah, we’re keeping the cross moving and we can call ourselves the Cross Movement.
Despite being a lover of the culture, at the time Cordero says he wasn’t an emcee. “I was always a hip-hop head. But what got me into rapping was not even Christian Hip Hop. There was this play that I was putting on with the youth group at my local church and somebody asked me to do a rap in the play. I was like I never rapped before. Just write about your testimony and make it rhyme.”
After that experience, Cordero was inspired to keep spitting. One day he decided to drop a 16 for the group. That’s when the “church boy” became an official member of The Cross Movement. And the rest is CHH history.
The 90s are widely recognized as the Golden Era of Hip Hop. “Not only was their music but there was a movement behind the music. The element of music was just a part of the movement. One of the big challenges in Christian Hip Hop is to safeguard it from being just music. And not to forget the real purpose of why we did it,” Cordero says vehemently.
Just because you don’t do music, doesn’t mean you can’t be part of the culture. “Christian Hip Hop is a movement that consists of many parts,” the CHH veteran says. “Rally around something you see as a need. At the time we [Cross Movement] saw in Hip Hop Christianity being dissed. And a misconception of Christianity at that. We had to go in there and uproot the misconceptions and then plant the real deal and represent that.”
As a youth pastor in Chicago Pastor Phil is passionate about his work and insists gun violence in the streets of Chicago and nationwide in all its forms is still a priority for the culture. Especially for the CHH community. We need a message, “relevant to what is happening [in the streets] in order to bring life into that place,” says, Pastor Phil. “Not to beat people down with it but in the context of saying God has a word for this! God has an empowering word for this and it’s relevant!”
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