Words by Peter Akinnusi
It all started in Syria, at Antioch, the point of origin, where the Jesus wannabes got christened. Later on it was the site of the original “civil standoff”, the reason to “call out”, “rebuke” or “correct in love” a fellow wannabe was premised on the Peter vs Paul bout which has been interpreted in more ways than the word “legal” has. In essence, Peter capitulated and Paul corrected. Peter was “fronting”, shifting from one cool group to another all in a bid to save face and appear in the right when he was just being his old self-politically correct which isn’t really why Jesus saved him was it? So Paul set him straight gave him a dressing down our mothers would have been proud of. That’s that then, or is it?
Twenty centuries later hip hop was discovered by modern wannabes as a tool to get this Jesus message out to all and sundry. Cross Movement became a benchmark for how “it should be done” despite groups like Tunnel Rats doing their thing underground (forgive the pun) and in a slightly different way. Thus, non-conformist Christian hip hop was created in what was already meant to be a non conformist genre/sub-culture. Do I hear somebody saying non-conformist Inception? No? Okay. Inevitably fan bases were grown, lines were drawn and unhealthy exchanges followed. The hatchet was tossed around from street to street, message board to message board and even in some churches. Some claim said hatchet has finally been buried but that report remains unconfirmed. The genre however raised several poster boys depending on what part of the hatchet you held.
The poster boy torch passed hands before resting with one lanky fellow from Atlanta who learnt at the feet of Cross Movement and is currently a good friend of several Tunnel Rats products. He dropped the very unapologetic and unashamed Rebel album which more or less got the world to pay attention to him with record sales, long tours and whatnot. He name dropped Oprah amongst other “grey area” moralists and actually had 90 % of the songs based on sermons and bible verses so yes it was a “churchy” album. Let’s just say as time went on our poster boy felt dissonance and felt he had to put his stuff out on the “streets” and he evolved his music and worldview to suit people who the proverbial doctor actually came for. Gravity was born and it landed him so much recognition and respect from so many that he got a Grammy (even if it was the leprous version for outsiders so to speak). All was well for the poster boy and the genre, Jesus was being proclaimed, heads were listening even if those behind the church fence felt like the juice was being watered down a bit as long as the message was out there it was all good.
It wasn’t all good, like the scene of a medieval battle stones were hurled left, right and of course centre. The genre had grown, more diversity and quality existed, a few had come in from the cold; Jin of the Ruff Ryders, Malice of The Clipse amongst them. There were still nagging questions though. How much change was too much? Why was it ok to outlaw the “Christian rapper” tag while picking up the “Christian who raps” one? Why was it ok to collaborate with artists who would regularly sing about female excretion devices, drugs and violence? Eyebrows were raised, tension increased and the Civil War of old returned. The hatchet surfaced and the in-house squabble took a strange turn.
Kendrick Lamar recently dropped a verse that roused an already bored mainstream hip hop industry into a brief frenzy. Reprisals followed and that died off for a bit with some claiming he had changed the way things were done, a bookmark. In Christian hip hop some began to draw parallels while some claimed the poster boy had taken his eyes off the crosshairs. His fellow collaborators rallied round him to provide support and insulation from the many “judgemental” folk who just didn’t get it. As if sarin gas had been used, nerves began to get rattled and then that’s when it became a high noon scene from an old western. Songs were released that were meant to achieve either the artistes fame or their intended targets correction but they just helped increase the chatter. Kid Jopp attacked Lecrae, Lecrae stans attacked Kid Jopp. Shai linne attacked some Pastors and pretty much everybody attacked Shai linne. There were other squabbles ranging from attacks on major media outlets like Rapzilla and co. there were rebuttals of course and the only thing that was missing was a mushroom shaped cloud. We might still get there though as the recent weeks have shown.
Lecrae did a song trying to clear the air as much as possible. “Rebel vs Gravity” was put out to varying levels of cheering and face scrunching and then Evangel replied with was perceived as a “diss”. Cue intensified exchanges between sides, subliminal tweets and outrage. The war is here to stay was the message at the end of it all and the blood that’s being shed has nothing to do with the one from the Cross it seems. Behind the scenes it is hoped there is dialogue seeing as words like “pride”, “pharisee”, “compromise” etc are being loosely thrown around because on the surface the chaos seems all too tragically hilarious to be true.
We have to ask ourselves what next? Does this fighting make us grow as we ask questions or it weakens us as a body going forward? Inevitably who is right or wrong is at the centre of the debate but what is the baseline? What are the rules and who is qualified to enforce them? Questions abound, answers seem to be on vacation. The issue is more of a mammoth than an elephant while the entire subculture is more a cubicle than a room. One thing remains constant, Christ must be preached. The Great Commission is paramount. Can we just show more grace? Talk to each other like the family we are instead of this petty mudslinging? If these questions bother you please forgive me for asking, I am just like our brother Jason Petty (popularly known as Propaganda), reminding you that there’s just as much Jesus as blood on your hands as the brother we so readily tear down.