Event Banner

Can Hip-Hop Be Saved?

/

Christian hip-hop artists can take this troubled musical genre into a new era and have an even greater impact on changing the culture, but to do so, they must return to prioritizing the Gospel message and salvation through Christ — not grievance and social justice.


The recent video release showing Sean “Diddy” Combs abusing his then-girlfriend Cassie Ventura has reignited the discussion about cause and effect in the hip-hop industry.

Does the culture reflect the music, or does the music shape the culture?

This incident is just one of many controversies that have plagued the genre over the years, ranging from misogynistic and violent lyrics to the glorification of materialism and drug use.

Hip-hop, though first “born” in the 1970s, reached its zenith during its “golden years” in the 1980s. However, darker themes emerged in the lyrics as the genre evolved in the 1990s and 2000s. Notorious B.I.G., Tupac Shakur, and many others brought raw, unfiltered experiences to their music, often including vivid depictions of violence and misogyny.

Over the years, hip-hop has become a global cultural phenomenon, transcending racial and cultural boundaries. Today, it is America’s most popular music genre, exerting its influence worldwide.

Regrettably, much of today’s hip-hop music can be described as “lyrical pornography,” prominently featuring artists like Sexy Redd, Cardi B, and Megan Thee Stallion. Under the guise of female empowerment, these rap artists highlight themes of sex and materialism to an extent that would make earlier generations of hip-hop fans blush.

Given this new reality with sexual promiscuity seen as female empowerment and the recent allegations against Sean “Diddy” Combs, should we reassess hip-hop’s impact on our culture?

More importantly, can conscious or Christian rap resurface as a remedy for the toxicity of today’s music scene? Can hip-hop ultimately return to its foundational principles and thrive in today’s market?

The Early Years of Hip-Hop

When you reflect on the music that forms the soundtrack of your life, which songs come to mind? If, like me, you grew up during the golden age of hip-hop (1980s), you probably remember “Rapper’s Delight” by the Sugar Hill Gang. This 14-minute, 35-second masterpiece is among the pioneering rap songs to achieve commercial success. Like most of the hip-hop of this era, the music was all about parties, being cool, and who was the best rapper. Groups like Run-DMC, the Beastie Boys, and LL Cool J were on constant rotation on my boombox.

The origin of hip-hop traces back to the Bronx in New York City, to a legendary event on August 11, 1973. Clive Campbell, better known as DJ Kool Herc, hosted this back-to-school party where he introduced a new DJing style using two turntables to create a continuous breakbeat, a technique that became the cornerstone of hip-hop music. DJ Kool Herc’s innovative DJing and the party’s energy laid the groundwork for hip-hop as a musical genre and cultural movement.

From 1973 to 2023, hip-hop celebrated 50 years of existence, undergoing numerous transformations throughout its journey. During hip-hop’s “Golden Age,” artists such as Tupac Shakur, Notorious B.I.G., and Nas used their music to tackle various socially conscious issues. At the same time, they often normalized themes of drug use, thug life, and anti-police sentiment.

However, not all hip-hop artists were content with the genre’s shift toward darker themes. During the golden age, several groups emerged that carried the torch of socially conscious rap, using their music to address issues such as racism, self-improvement, and unity. Digable Planets, known for their jazz-infused beats and thoughtful lyrics, became a voice for introspective and progressive thought in hip-hop. Similarly, De La Soul brought an eclectic, positive, and often whimsical approach to their music, challenging the norms with albums like “3 Feet High and Rising,” emphasizing individuality and creativity.

Public Enemy is one of hip-hop’s most influential socially conscious groups. Their politically charged lyrics, spearheaded by Chuck D’s powerful orations, tackled racism, media bias, and governmental neglect, as seen in songs like “Fight the Power” and “Don’t Believe the Hype.” 

These groups and others demonstrated that hip-hop could be a force for positive change, offering critique and insight into societal issues while achieving commercial success.

Unfortunately, their success was short-lived. In the early 1990s, the hip-hop group N.W.A. emerged and became notorious for its explicit lyrics glorifying gang culture and defiance against authority. Comprising artists like Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, and Eazy-E, N.W.A.’s music presented a raw look at street life in Compton, California. Their seminal album, “Straight Outta Compton,” became a cultural lightning rod, bringing the realities of gang violence, run-ins with police, and drug culture to the doorstep of suburban youth.

Elevating the game, Dr. Dre’s protégé, Eminem, propelled the popularity of his controversial tracks, often filled with graphic depictions of abusive relationships and explicit sexual violence. This led many to question the impact of such messages on listeners. These elements have continuously sparked ongoing debates about the social responsibilities of artists within hip-hop and whether the genre can move beyond these destructive narratives while maintaining its authenticity and cultural relevance.

This shift moved hip-hop and its audiences away from socially conscious rap, embracing the more sinister elements of gang culture and misogyny reflected in the music.

Positive Messaging: The Rise of Christian Rap

As someone who grew up witnessing the birth and early years of hip-hop, I also had a front-row seat to its transformation. While hip-hop has undoubtedly been the soundtrack of my life, I had to admit that it also had some damaging effects.

In 1985, my life underwent a profound change, and along with it, my appreciation for good music evolved. After becoming a Christian that year, I began seeking music that reflected my new life in Christ.

Unfortunately, the Christian rap genre was in its infancy in 1986, offering limited options. Stephen Wiley, however, broke new ground as a pioneering artist in this genre with his song “Bible Break.” By the year 1989, DC Talk had emerged on the scene. Years would pass before artists like Grits, Dynamic Twins, and Gospel Gangstas emerged, all of whom were still in the early stages of their careers.

It would be another decade after that before the names Lecrae, Trip Lee, and Andy Mineo from Reach Records became prominent. These pioneers gained significant traction by focusing on uplifting themes and providing an alternative to mainstream rap.

Lecrae successfully blended his faith with his music to create a powerful narrative. His lyrics tackled real-life struggles such as addiction, identity, and redemption while celebrating his unapologetic life in Christ. Albums like “Gravity” and “Anomaly” topped Christian music charts and earned critical acclaim in the broader rap community.

Despite the positive impact that Christian rap artists like Lecrae and Andy Mineo have had, they have faced criticism within certain circles for their shift toward social justice. Long before the tragic incident resulting in George Floyd’s death in 2020, a significant transformation was already underway with Lecrae, who publicly distanced himself from “white evangelicalism” after Donald Trump’s election.

The events surrounding Floyd’s death further intensified his sense of isolation, prompting Lecrae to embark on a profoundly personal journey to deconstruct and reevaluate his faith. This reflective journey involved thoroughly reassessing his beliefs and deeply understanding his long-held Christian faith. Many of his longtime listeners felt alienated as he explored themes of social justice, which he believed were incompatible with the values of his previous audience base.

Lecrae was not alone in this evolution. Other Christian rap artists also embraced an ethos of social justice, confronting issues such as racism and inequality in their music and public statements. This stance led some of their white evangelical listeners to feel betrayed, as they saw the artists addressing racial issues that implicated the very demographic that had significantly supported their careers. The tension between maintaining artistic integrity and meeting the expectations of a diverse audience has strained the entire Christian rap genre as artists navigate their faith, social responsibility, and commercial success.

Even as these artists grapple with these issues, their work remains a testament to hip-hop’s evolving nature. It highlights the genre’s potential as a platform for preaching themes of faith, justice, and hope.

A New Era Awaits

As we observe the transition within both secular and Christian hip-hop scenes, it’s clear that the genre remains enduring. Secular hip-hop enthusiasts should critically assess the decline of figures such as Sean “Diddy” Combs and consider the implications of the lifestyle he embodies. Likewise, Christian hip-hop fans must acknowledge the increasing friction between their chosen faith and the genre’s pervasive themes of social justice and self-reflection.

Within Christian hip-hop, artists must return to the faith they once held dear. Exploring Critical Race Theory, social justice, and racial equity has yet to be a strategy for winning sales or growing their audience. Worse, though, these ideologies are wholly incompatible with the Christian message of individual responsibility, forgiveness, and grace.

Salvation is not a group endeavor and moral superiority is not derived from racial identity. Romans 3:23 tells us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” and that all must individually choose salvation through repentance and belief in Christ.

Scripture emphasizes Christians are to die to self and find their identity in Christ and that spreading the message of Christ to others is paramount. While it is essential to address cultural issues that impact our daily lives, these issues should not overshadow the priority of spreading the eternal message of the Gospel.

It is here that Paul’s admonition to the church at Philippi is appropriate: “Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8).

It’s this message, the message of the Gospel and the sacrifices, joy, and hope of a life spent following and serving Christ, that must be embraced and prioritized if Christian hip-hop hopes to enjoy a new era of truth, impact, and relevance.


PHOTO CREDIT: Lecrae in concert, YouTube screenshot

If you like this article and other content that helps you apply a biblical worldview to today’s politics and culture, consider making a donation here.

Not Just Conservative.

Christian conservative news and issues that matter. Curated just for you!

Tired of your social media feed being censored?

For more timely, informative, and faith-based content, subscribe to the Standing for Freedom Center Newsletter

×
Join us in our mission to secure the foundations of freedom for future generations
Donate Now
Completing this poll entitles you to receive communications from Liberty University free of charge.  You may opt out at any time.  You also agree to our Privacy Policy.