This blog has mostly served to do three different things – amplify my thoughts on social issues, present my opinions on art, and recount my rollicking adventure into adulthood. One topic that has made the occasional appearance while serving all three objectives is Christian Rap (CHH), a subgenre and subculture that has been – though not evident from this blog – one of the most formative thingies in my life. It seemed good, then, with some space from the years when my identity was inextricable from CHH, that I write an orderly account, dearest Blogophilus, of my life as a Christian Rap Guy.
But, really, I was THE Christian Rap Guy. Among most of my friend groups, I was the only one who knew the music existed. Among most of my Christian friends, I was the one who listened the most. And among my Christian friends who were also fans, I was the one who also went to the concerts and bought the merch and got the tattoo. CHH dominated my musical sensibilities, but also affected the way I talked, the way I dressed, and the way I carried myself. There are thousands of others who were bigger fans of Christian rap than I was, but my story is somewhat unique because only a fraction of those people found themselves in the position I had of being THE Christian Rap Guy in their social circles. My fandom also spans some of the most (if not the most) important years in CHH’s relatively brief history. These years were also formative for me, and my development in some ways mirrors that of CHH.
All this is preface and defense; I think I have some interesting things to say.
The self-absorption of this series will be stupendous, and the niche will be so niche-y you might wonder if there’s any point at all (that’s as esoteric as dad jokes get). But, even if you’re not interested in rap, concerts, Christian life, or, you know, me, you might still enjoy this Bildungsroman of sorts. I first got the idea to write this on a suggestion from Athena Lathos at Bertha Mason’s Attic. Athena writes the kinds of things I wish I wrote, so I’m going to try to write something she might like to read. Blame her if you don’t like this. But don’t @ her, you jackass.
“I would start at the beginning, but I think I need to go farther back.”
I did not grow up in a household that listened to rap. The music and its culture were Other for me from the moment I was conscious of their existence. My parents taught me it was not only bad music (“Rap music? More like crap music”) – it was bad music. Rowdy people who wore their pants below their tush did that. I don’t blame my parents – the average media outlet in the 90s and early Aughts depicted rap as a criminal world of aggressive, unsophisticated music, and a lot of rap does in fact earn its reputation (though without the thinly veiled racist critiques). So from the beginning, rap was a strange, forbidden thing for me.
As a teen and preteen, my older sister would drive me to school, and we listened to Top 40 radio, which at the time would include some rap verses on pop songs and some rap-adjacent tracks. And, without really even knowing it, I liked the music. I certainly didn’t approve of Mr. Rida talking about slapping that big booty, but the song was very catchy. And I couldn’t have cared much less about beautiful girls, but I certainly did like to hear about back in ninety-nine, watching movies all the time. And then “Boom Boom Pow” happened, which was a very important text for white teenagers.
But the artist who really got my attention was a fellow named Kanye West and his song “Heartless.” So, one day, wanting to listen to some music in the background while playing Runescape, I decided to fire up my trial account of Pandora and set up a radio station based around the song. The first thing that played was Kanye’s “Can’t Tell Me Nothing,” and it was game over. I had never, ever heard a song like that. By the time the alluring vocal sample played out for the last time, I was hooked on hip-hop. It was time for me to really and truly cross the Rubicon. I went on iTunes and bought some more of the songs off Graduation. The clean versions, of course, and only after asking my parents’ permission.
I was in love with a genre of music I knew nothing about, pre-Spotify, sans-Shazam, with no one to show me the way. I couldn’t ask my dad, “Hey, who’s nice?” because he would’ve said Fred Rodgers. If I asked him, “Hey, who were the O-Gs back in your day?” he would’ve said “Do you mean the Bee Gees?” So, somewhat blindly, I stumbled around in the world of rap music.
But Kanye remained my north star because he was objectively great and because there were glimpses here and there of his Christian faith. There’s nothing that will make a Christian’s hair stand up like a faith reference in popular music, which is part of the reason my family loves U2, so the fact that Kanye had a song called “Jesus Walks” was a big deal to me. The best to do it (fight me) in my favorite genre was talking about God, meaning I could listen without feeling like I was doing something wrong.
But then My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy came out, and I wasn’t quite ready for that. Between the explicit cover and the, well, darker lyrics, I wasn’t so sure if Kanye was safe anymore. At the same time, I was getting frustrated with how much trouble I was having finding rap music that I liked that wasn’t about sex or drugs (again, I had no idea what I was doing). I wanted to be able to continue listening to rap, but I didn’t want to feel bad about it.
So I thought to myself, Well, there’s Christian music. Maybe there’s Christian rap?
I thought I knew nothing when I started exploring rap music, but I knew even less when looking for Christian rappers. To the point where I think I started my search by entering “Christian rapper” into a YouTube or iTunes search. This brought me to Da T.R.U.T.H., which is an objectively terrible stage name, and his song “Our World.” Listening to that song, I had an experience not unlike my proper introduction to Kanye. The music wasn’t nearly as good, but what entered my ears opened my eyes. Oh, this is a thing. He’s rapping, and he’s rapping about Jesus. I wasted no time and bought the entire The Faith album on iTunes. In doing so, I think I was in some way doing an act of penance, hoping that this indulgence would absolve me of my sinful love of Kanye.
As further performance of my new allegiance, I added Da T.R.U.T.H. to my Facebook favorites in the about me section, which doesn’t exist anymore, kiddos. Soon after, my friend Drake (literally, my friend named Drake – I’m not referring to Aubrey as my friend here) wrote on my wall saying that he listened to a Da T.R.U.T.H. song and also found it compelling because he’d never heard anything like it before. He asked me if I listened to any other Christian rappers. And then he said something that, little could he know, would change my life.
“Have you heard of Lecrae?”
Next, in Part II: Discovering the 1-1-Six Clique, meeting my heroes, and an unbelievable first concert.
Forth now, and fear no darkness.
Soli Deo Gloria
~click the number to return to the text~
1 My tongue is firmly planted in my cheek.
2 Whyyyyyy was everything I wore so big? I also acquired some snapbacks during this year that are really cool, but they never quite looked right on me and, needless to say, that isn’t my style anymore. Also, one time, when I was telling my girlfriend that I thought I was one of the least white guys on the dorm floor, and she said, “Peter, you’re wearing a polo,” which is as hard as I’ve ever been dunked on.
3 One of the most uninteresting takes is that U2 is bad. One of the most unfunny jokes is anything about the iTunes album. U2 is great, and I won’t stand for any slander of the lads. Okay, the last album was bad, but whatever.
4 MBDTF really did a number on me. It’s now my second favorite of his albums, but I was totally unprepared for songs like “Monster.” At the time, Nikki’s verse, like, frightened me, but when I was teaching first-year comp I made a point to quote it to my students. Can we also just take a moment to appreciate that he started an album with “Dark Fantasy,” “Gorgeous,” “Power,” “All of the Lights,” and “Monster”? That’s willlld.
5 At this time I was also freaked out about Illuminati conspiracy theories. I had a legitimate fear that Kanye, Jay-Z, and others were trying to send devil-worshipping messages in their music. What an idiot.