My Life as The Christian Rap Guy – Part IV

In this series, I’m recounting the years of my life when I identified with a Christian subculture, just as that culture’s music was taking off into a new phase in its history. For a time, Christian Rap (CHH) was not just my favorite music; I was The Christian Rap Guy. Part I covered my origin story. Part II introduced the main characters in an unforgettable concert experience, and Part III showed how my faith and fandom changed after being exposed to new Christian communities. In this part, CHH and I start to distance ourselves from evangelicalism, and our relationship is never quite the same.

(All photos in this series courtesy of Cory Dahl (my dad) who is quite a fine photographer)

In the fall of 2014, Lecrae was on the Anomaly Tour, named for his album that had hit number one on the Billboard. My dad and I, still in our concert-going prime, would catch him in Milwaukee. It was primed to be a must-see concert, given that Lecrae was reaching heights no Christian rapper had achieved, Anomaly had a bevvy of concert-ready bangers, and he was touring with Andy Mineo who was, by then, his primary wingman. To me, this was the CHH version of Kanye and Jay-Z’s Watch the Throne Tour. On that tour, Yeezy and Hove had wowed city after city by doing “N—s in Paris” as an encore five, six, even seven times. It was almost certain that Lecrae and Andy would do “Say I Won’t” as the encore, and I was, going into the Riverside Theatre, considering trying to organize the crowd to be so raucous at the end of the show to demand they do it over and over.

I’m glad I didn’t try that, because it wouldn’t have worked.

There was a lot that was great about the show. Lecrae and Andy are both excellent performers, and there were several moments that rewarded us for being down in front: screaming You Can’t Stop Me” with Andy,”; the beat dropping on “Dirty Water“; and, most especially, Lecrae’s performance of “Fear,” the best song on the album, which gives chances to shout “I ain’t never scared! Never scared, never scared!” and “JesusJesusJesusJesusJesus!” Thrilling stuff. The concert production was also tremendous, with an array of practical and digital effects.

But it wasn’t quite right.

Two years before, in Chicago, Lecrae had the entire Congress Theatre at his command. From the front to the back, people shouted and sang and gave the high hands. That night in Milwaukee, the group of us up front were separated by a fair distance from the rest of the crowd who were standing by their assigned seat. There were no chairs on the floor of the Congress, but I guarantee you if there were the crowd would have pressed up to the front. To make matters worse, the group at the front – there because we bought the early access tickets – was not necessarily cliqued up 40 deep all saved all serious. There were a lot of kids, and even the adults in the room were a little less into it than one would expect. The most telling moment was when, during a break in the show, DJ Promote was spinning some tracks and he played “Don’t Waste Your Life,” and, as is common at these things, he would cut the sound on certain lines and let the crowd carry it forward, rapping in unison.

We failed. Miserably. And this is “Don’t Waste Your Life,” at that time maybe the most recognizable CHH song ever written.

At the end of the show, Lecrae and Andy only came out to do “Say I Won’t” because artists just schedule encores; we didn’t do nearly enough shouting to make them come back out. The crowd in the Congress Theatre would have called for another until security shut it down.

Really, against all odds, Anomaly in Milwaukee is not even one of my top 5 CHH concert experiences (probably slot it at number 8 or 9 tbh). It was awesome, of course – if nothing else had happened but Lecrae doing “Fear,” it would still have been awesome. But it wasn’t what it could, what it should, have been.

It was the same Lecrae (and the same Andy), but there was something different in the crowd. There was a youth group vibe, a mainstream vibe, that didn’t used to be there. This is not to say that youth group kids can’t know all the words to Lecrae or sing loud at a concert, and it’s not a rejection of entering the mainstream, but I believe those factors in some way contributed to this environment where Lecrae was not connecting with his audience in the way he had before.

The Anomaly Tour is not a perfect microcosm for what was happening for Lecrae and for CHH at large, and the reasons for that show’s shortcomings are not the same reasons for what would develop, but it is appropriately symbolic.

If this part of the series is brief, it is because it demands too much to do justice here, and because I started to write this series for fun, and this is the part that is most painful.

In the wake of the killings of Mike Brown and Tamir Rice (and Akai Gurley (and John Crawford (and Freddie Gray (etc. (etc.))))), many Christian rappers became vocal about police violence and other racial issues. And they were immediately lambasted for it. Sho Baraka was the first high profile artist to take this turn, earning his banishment in 2013 with the release of Talented 10th, but after Ferguson, many more would follow. Without fail, any tweet or Facebook post or song lyric about racism was met with the Evangelical party line of “stick to the Gospel.” And this has not stopped since, with one of the most visible recent examples being that [redacted for explicit language] Charlie Kirk saying that Lecrae should never be allowed to perform at churches because of his support of Raphael Warnock (that’s now SENATOR Warnock thank you Atlantaaaaa). Fans have left Lecrae and others in droves, and now CHH – once co-signed by John Freaking Piper – is absolutely estranged from Evangelicalism.

And, well, so am I.

I went through a big transformation in late 2014 and early 2015, adopting progressive views pretty much across the board but, first and foremost, on race. And I watched in horror as the Evangelical world not only remained ignorant on so many fronts, but eventually came to throw its full support behind that [redacted for explicit language] who became the 45th POTUS, not once but twice.

And so, for a time, CHH was one of the few places where I was finding what I believed to be a just and compassionate Gospel being preached. It was a haven for me in a Christian world I no longer recognized. Now I could listen to my favorite artists rap not only about God, but about the applications of Christian faith in an unjust world. The unmatched achievement is Sho Baraka’s The Narrative in 2016, but the flow of socially-conscious CHH has persisted. Swoope’s verse on Propaganda’s “We No Entiende” from just a few weeks ago is…man. MAN. I was able to feel this new community each summer at Legacy Conference, as bold cries for justice, like Propaganda’s jaw-dropping “20 Years,” were met with approval, not criticism. Christian Rap was still my favorite type of music, and I was still finding content and community in that world that was a great blessing to my soul – something that still seemed, at times, almost too good to be true.

But I wasn’t really The Christian Rap Guy anymore. My sense of Christian identity and my love of this Rap music were no longer in harmony. The faith I found in CHH, the faith that led me to write my Master’s thesis on Black Jesus after years thinking about Bonhoeffer in Harlem, wasn’t something I found reflected in the Christian communities I had grown up in.

This fission also set the stage for the next significant in my development, which was a waning interest in the music itself. In the last five years or so, the sound of much of CHH has mirrored mainstream rap in adopting trap-influenced sounds. Lecrae even released a mixtape called Let the Trap Say Amen. And I just don’t like this type of music as much, even if I’m down with the lyrics. Maybe 18-year-old me, feening for a game of pickup basketball, would have loved all this music, but as I got older, my musical tastes started to evolve and slow down. I was still finding CHH I liked, but not as easily as I had in the Golden Age.

And so – what? – is this the end of the story? Estranged from Evangelicalism and falling out of love with contemporary rap, I went from being The Christian Rap Guy to a guy who occasionally listens to Christian Rap?

Well, considering Christian Rap may or may not have made me move to Oregon, I’d say no. No, the story’s not over yet.

In the fifth and final part, I find a new niche.

Forth now, and fear no darkness.

Soli Deo Gloria


My Life as The Christian Rap Guy – Part III

In this series, I’m recounting the years of my life when I identified with a Christian subculture, just as that culture’s music was taking off into a new phase in its history. For a time, Christian Rap (CHH) was not just my favorite music; I was The Christian Rap Guy. Part I covered my origin story. Part II introduced the main characters in an unforgettable concert experience. In this part, I take you to the Legacy Conference in Chicago and explain who CHH made me.

The Unashamed Tour in Chicago put me in a space with other people who had not only heard of my favorite artists, but listened to them and bought their merch. It was a meaningful communal moment, but I was still a fan out of context in life outside the Congress Theatre. In high school, I had run into people who had some knowledge of CHH – one kid recognized my Lecrae sweater, another was a voracious consumer of rap and was familiar with Trip Lee’s discography – but in these settings CHH still operated mainly as my own little hobby no one would know about unless they asked what music I was into. In college, it started to reveal itself a little more plainly, as I was the guy who was always in his room playing CHH on his speaker. My next-door neighbor was a strident atheist but still asked me to send him a list of artists to listen to because he liked a lot of the music he heard coming from my room.

CHH was, even as it remained a fairly discreet hobby to the uninitiated, shaping my identity. I started wearing a thin silver cross necklace before my senior year of high school, and still wear it every day. I bought snapbacks and wore shirts that were too big. I wore basketball jerseys and sneakers. I tried not to talk like a square or do basic white people things. I got my first tattoo. None of these things were necessarily because of Christian rap, and might have had as much to do with my obsession with basketball, but the rap part of CHH was certainly making a noticeable impact on the way I carried myself. To continue my metamorphosis, I would need the world of rap music and my Christian community to come more explicitly into contact.

Enter the Legacy Conference.

My father’s church had, for a number of years, supported Vision Nehemiah, a youth ministry based in Chicago, and its founder, Brian Dye. One of the programs that grew out of Vision Nehemiah was the Legacy Conference, an event in Chicago each summer focused on teaching, training, and encouraging young Christians, especially the laity of inner city churches. It attracts high profile rappers, pastors, and teachers, and features multiple concerts as part of its draw. My dad had never gone, and I hadn’t been interested. But in the summer of 2013 we found the concert lineups to be absolutely loaded, and the keynote speaker was none other than John freaking Piper. So, yeah. We were going.

There isn’t the space here to do full justice to the experience of the Legacy Conference, let alone the entire trip to Chicago that became a highlight for me and my dad four consecutive summers. In the old, now-destroyed archives of the SneakyGoodSportsBlog, I wrote about the 2014 conference, and I did write a little about travelling to Chicago here. This is just to say that these trips with my dad were very meaningful to me, and will not receive nearly enough words in this treatment.

The first thing I felt was different, as in, I recognized that my father and I stood out. The attendees of the conference are overwhelmingly Black (and very, very few are my father’s age). Legacy was (and is) by far the most Black environment I have ever been in, and it was the first time I was ever in a place where I was so obvious a minority (not counting a mission trip to Tijuana but that’s different because there you’re running around in these pods of white people). I was, for a good long while, uncomfortable. It’s exhausting to feel like everyone is looking at you, and I had never experienced that before. Everyone looked cool and at ease, unbothered by the loud music or the buzzing voices. I even wondered if I made a mistake coming.

But these feelings began to fade in the face of sameness, recognition, and community. People all around me were wearing CHH merch, but it went well beyond that, as during Brian Dye’s opening message, I go my first experience of Black worship. “Come one now.” “Mhm.” “Say it.” “Yes, Lord.” This was as much enthusiasm as I’d ever heard for preaching – and my dad is a pastor. I admit I was mainly drawn to Legacy by my interest in the concerts on Thursday and Friday night, but here I was seeing that hundreds of people were here for the Jesus of it all.

The first workshop my dad and I went to was led by Derek Minor (again, I was picking workshops primarily based on who was leading it, rather than the content of the workshop). Derek walked into the room with his laptop like he was just some guy. I had only limited experience at that point seeing recognizable people outside their workspace – I met Tony Dungy in a hotel lobby when I was a child, and on the way out of a U2 concert Adam Clayton’s Town Car passed about ten yards in front of me and we made eye contact and no one can tell me we didn’t – and so seeing this rapper struggle to connect his laptop to a projector in a classroom in Moody Bible Institute was a little surreal.

“Oh, big baller status,” said Derek, when an IT guy came and helped him get the projector working.

And then he started leading discussion on how to be an effective discipler, speaking often on the theme of salt and light (while my dad wore a Salt and Light polo). Partway through the workshop, we broke into small groups, which was intimidating what with being a white introvert. As we talked with our group, I met Jimmy from Fort Wayne, who was, like me at the time, a fan of the Indianapolis Colts. When we returned to the full group and were asked to share our responses, Jimmy offered up what I had shared. Then, at the end of the session Q&A, my dad asked one of his standard questions for Christian teachers. “What authors have you been reading to help deepen your faith?” One of the first names out of Derek’s mouth was Tim Keller, who, if John Piper is the Steven Spielberg of American protestant pastors, is, I dunno, Akira Kurosawa. My dad was impressed.

In short, we had just been through a theologically-sound, friendly, down-to-earth workshop on Biblical discipleship. Led by a rapper.

I met Derek afterwards, opting for a simple fist bump rather than chance it with a dap. We got a picture, and as my dad snapped the photo I heard a voice say “I want a picture with Peter!” It was Jimmy. And he got what he wanted.

Jimmy and Me

Legacy was a time filled learning and experiencing new things, but it came in tandem with so much that was so familiar, and the result was that I, even while remaining self-conscious because of my appearance, was finding a new community. These were the people I wanted to be like. I wanted to wear cool clothes and know all the words to every Lecrae song and go to Bible study and get hyped when someone preached the Gospel. There were stars of CHH among us, but there was no mistake that Jesus was that guy.

This was a type of Christianity I could get excited about. The kind where the main speaker on Thursday was Trip Lee (yessuh) and the main speaker on Friday was John Piper (amen). It was a place where, rather than getting a concert from Lecrae, we got a workshop, where he was breaking down the original Aramaic in his Biblical teaching.

Oh, but, yeah – the concerts were dope, too.

The first night began with Skrip, who is a fine rapper but also a reminder that there are a lot of Christian rappers and they are not created equal. He was followed by this group called Beautiful Eulogy *airhorns*

Narrator voice: Beautiful Eulogy, consisting of three white men, Braille and Odd Thomas (not their real names) on the mic and Courtland Urbano on the instruments (actually his real name). I had heard about the trio from Portland making coffee shop rap before, but only after I had become a fan of the Reach Records crew and was thus defensive if I heard about someone else in CHH being really good. I hadn’t bothered to check out their music. I mean, come on; they’re white.

And then they did their set. The trio do not wear the usual trappings of a hip-hop group. They look like, well, baristas. Before their set, they placed several poles with bare light bulbs around the stage, and these would light up in sync with their songs, a neat trick I’d not seen before or since (save at future BE shows). Braille and Odd Thomas impressed me with their complex and precise rapping style, arranging multisyllabic rhymes into theological dialectics. They did songs from their recent debut (as a collective), including “Beautiful Eulogy” and “Anchor,” two of the most achingly beautiful rap songs in existence. “Anchor,” in particular, changed my life. It is, still, one of my 5ish favorite songs, it sealed the deal that I was going to become a Beautiful Eulogy fan, and it introduced me to another artist who will play their part in this story, Josh Garrels.

Propaganda followed his labelmates, joining them on stage to welcome their newest signee, Eshon Burgundy. This solidified for me that Humble Beast was, in fact, a real factor in the CHH landscape.

The night closed with Derek Minor and then Tedashii, and the flowin’ Samoan was absolutely in his bag. He played hit after hit and barreled right through his allotted time to the delight of the crowd. At one point he turned to DJ Wade-O (the CHH Sway Calloway) and asked what song they should do next, and the crowd started screaming something unintelligible. And I knew, I knew, they were asking for “Riot.” “Y’all sound like y’all wanna start a riot” said Wade-O, and T-Dot obliged.

Most concerts include moments where the artist(s) speak to the crowd, sometimes at length, and CHH concerts are no exception. Often these speeches serve as a means of sharing a personal testimony or preaching the Gospel. On that night, Braille concluded the BE set saying “All of our confidence, all of our hope, all of our trust rests in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross, our Lord and Savior, who lived and died in our place, our resurrected Lord who reigns forever, and we long to be with Him because He has saved us, He has changed our hearts, we’ve been reconciled to God through the cross. Hallelujah.” And the crowd was cheering like he was Bernie Sanders at the 2016 DNC Convention. I emphasize this again because you must understand that I was at a concert of my favorite music and the people I was there with were praising my God. This is a feeling of community on 10. “If Christ is dead, this is dumb,” said Tedashii, in his short sermon. “But if he’s not dead…” It’s the kind of moment that gives you chills.

The concert on night two was delayed because John Piper spit so much fire in his sermon. jk. But srsly.

It began with The Ambassador, one of the most respected old heads in CHH, and one blessed with crowd-commanding aura. Shai Linne followed, a man marked by his theologically complex rhymes and Philly accent. Our friend Thi’sl was next, and this was the first time that I got to see one of his favorite moves, which is to invite an audience member on stage to rap an absent artist’s verse. In this case, a young man, tossed to the stage by his peers, rapped Lecrae’s verses on “Fakin'” and did it with aplomb.

KB came in hot with the HGA crew, and the night finished with Flame, a legend in CHH, accompanied by V. Rose, who was just coming into her own as a coveted featured vocalist.

I returned to college for my sophomore year ready to be a more complete version of The Christian Rap Guy. The Christian part was getting loud, as I became much more involved in Cru (formerly Campus Crusade), attending the weekly meetings and bible studies, going to the fall retreat and the winter conference in the Twin Cities, and participating in a week long leadership camp the following summer. Being a Christian in college was becoming the most central aspect of my identity. This was ultimately, I believe, God at work, but my involvement was definitely spurred on by my experience at Legacy. And, because of that, I brought my own brand of college Christian to my new community. That’s not to say that I was the only one there who knew who Lecrae was – not at all! – but I was the one with all the 1-1-Six shirts.

CHH was clearly no longer just a thing I was into; it was, along with pickup basketball and Xbox, what defined who I was. Post-Legacy, Christian and Rap were working in perfect harmony, the one augmenting my love of and identification with the other.

At the above-mentioned leadership camp, I met Cru students from another nearby school, and CHH was a point of connection for me. I eventually started dating one of the girls I met, and so now I was The Christian Rap Guy in a Christian relationship, and I was The Christian Rap Guy in a broader circle of college Christians.

Later that summer, I went to my second Legacy Conference, which was another fantastic experience, but this time my dad and I went to the outreach on the Saturday morning/afternoon after the conference. I admit we mainly went for the additional concert, which isn’t really the spirit of the thing for conference attendees. We were rewarded with another great series of sets, and while rap is meant for small indoor venues, there was something affecting about this being outside. It ended with a powerhouse from Thi’sl (I was serious when I said I’d lost count of how many times I’ve seen him) that included his testimony (let’s just say Thi’sl is about that life) and a presentation of the Gospel.

After the concert, I asked Thi’sl for a mean picture. This was the result.

I also got a picture with Swoope. He is one of the rappers I’ve met who sized me up and spared me the humiliation of a failed dap and proceeded to give me a regular old handshake. This was a great relief to me.

I did not get a picture with KB because there were a bunch of young women who wanted to get a picture (he’s cute) and he was super, super sweaty (a set of his is the cardio equivalent of running uphill for three hours).

That fall, Lecrae released his album Anomaly, which debuted at NUMBER 1 on the Billboard charts, which was huge for everyone in CHH. We’d won. We weren’t a lame subgenre anymore. Lecrae and others were starting to make it mainstream and were going to share the Gospel with a bigger and bigger audience.

I got a 1-1-Six tattoo. And I went to see Lecrae in Milwaukee where I got to meet him again. He said he liked my shirt this time (a Legacy shirt) and I probably mumbled something like “thank you.”

Yes, he’s in his pajamas. Yes, I’m wearing cargo shorts.

I was The Christian Rap Guy on top of the world.

But things were starting to change. It’s much too complicated to point to single moments, but two stand out that set up the next phase in this story.

I was talking to Sho Baraka after he led a Legacy workshop, and mentioned my interest in the Harlem Renaissance. He made a passing reference to Dietrich Bonhoeffer. That’s number one.

Number two is something that happened in Thi’sl’s backyard.

They killed Mike Brown.

In Part IV, the redefinition of a Christian rap guy.

Forth now, and fear no darkness.

Soli Deo Gloria


My Life as The Christian Rap Guy – Part II

In this series, I’m recounting the years of my life when I identified with a Christian subculture, just as that culture’s music was taking off into a new phase in its history. For a time, Christian Rap (CHH) was not just my favorite music; I was The Christian Rap Guy. Part I covered my origin story. In this part, I introduce you to some of the main characters in this story through one unforgettable night in Chicago.

“Have you heard of Lecrae?”

No. I hadn’t.

“He’s supposed to be the best Christian rapper.”

So, as a CHH noob, I searched him on YouTube, and found a song called “Don’t Waste Your Life.” That was a title I was familiar with, but as the name of a book by John Piper, and the shorthand title for one of his most famous sermons.

Piper requires a sidebar. For those of you who don’t know Pastor John, he’s like the Steven Spielberg of American Protestant pastors – long career with a staggering output of work. Can captivate the masses but leave the thinking person with more than enough to ponder. A force of nature who couldn’t possibly have ever done anything else with their life. Wild hair. A pillar of their industry with legions of students and imitators. Personally, Piper has had a major influence on my own theology, though we have some significant disagreements, and I find some of his beliefs extremely problematic. But find me one single thought leader in any school of thought who doesn’t have any problematic beliefs. I’ll save you the time and let you know there isn’t one, except Jesus, but that’s a little unfair what with being God and everything. Point is, Piper is a big deal, and a name almost beyond reproach in the Christian circles I ran in.

This included my father, a Baptist minister who is personal friends with John Piper. Put a pin in that.

I wondered if the title of the song was a coincidence, and, if it was on purpose, whether this was a token nod to the theological school with which I rocked or the music was truly steeped in it. I kept exploring Lecrae’s discography, especially the recently released Rehab and Rehab: The Overdose as well as the instant-classic, Rebel. And what I found in banger after banger was that Lecrae was weaving theology that spoke to the head and heart in his music. “Don’t Waste Your Life,” was, indeed, named after Piper’s book, and, as I would find, Lecrae was not the only artist influenced by Piper. It turned out he was, in a sense, the patron saint of CHH, and the respect went both ways. This was an unbelievable discovery.

So, who else was there? Who were these other artists that were appearing on the recommended albums on iTunes? The names that kept coming up were Trip Lee, Tedashii, Sho Baraka, and Pro. I made my way into their discographies, too, and again, I was thrilled to find more artists making quality music and preaching the Gospel. If that wasn’t enough, their connection was not arbitrary – they were all signed to Lecrae’s record label, Reach Records, making them a part of the collective the 1-1-Six Clique, which is a reference to Romans 1:16: “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God to salvation for all who believe.”

Understand – rap was my favorite genre of music, John Piper was my second-favorite preacher, and here are these guys making rap music I loved giving Glory to the God I loved. I don’t even know what the comp is. Like, imagine your favorite team in your favorite sport signed the best player and hired the best coach.1 Or, you favorite director made a movie written by your favorite screenwriter in your favorite genre with your favorite actor.2

My dad also took note of this remarkable alignment, and he started – for the first time – to check out the music I was into. I grew up taking after my dad in many of my interests. I read The Lord of the Rings because he read it. He introduced me to sports. I loved U2 because he was a serious fan.3 As I got older and started to develop some of my own interests, the roles would sometimes reverse, which is why he’s a fan of Everton Football Club and enjoys Wes Anderson films. The first notable example is CHH. He started listening a little, intrigued (and relieved) that his son was listening to music that was for our good and God’s glory. And he, to my great surprise, rather liked a lot of what he found. He also encouraged my listening, buying me CDs and t-shirts if ever I hinted about one (and even when I wouldn’t).

I wasn’t the kind of teenager who wanted to like things precisely because my parents didn’t, so this new bond was exciting for me. I like having someone in my family to share it with, especially because my younger brother, who was a fan of Kanye like me, hated CHH. To this day I don’t know if it was a legitimate dislike of the music, a desire to be different from, a jealousy of the thing I had with my dad, or revenge for the fact that I hated the music he loved – country. But, that rivalry aside, I was in an ideal place, with a bevy of talented artists all making music that I enjoyed and made me feel spiritually nourished, music that my dad liked but I could also blast on the way to baseball practice without feeling like a dork. And the music these artists were making was such that they weren’t just my favorite rappers – they were people I could look up to. They were my heroes. They were cool, and they were good people who loved God.

The logical next step in this head-over-heels fandom was, of course, to go to a concert.

The 1-1-Six Clique would sometimes go on tour together, calling it the Unashamed Tour. In the fall of 2012, my first year of college, they were on one such tour, and they would be coming to Chicago in October on a long weekend not too far from my birthday. My dad took no convincing – he even bought the tickets that would give us early entrance and a chance to meet the artists.

So here we were – a skinny white kid and his gray-haired father going to the Congress Theatre (which isn’t exactly on the Gold Coast) for our first rap concert. I was very excited, but also nervous. I’m introverted, and I was a stand-still-and-listen type of concert goer, so going meeting my favorite rappers and going to a concert that I assumed looked like the final scene in 8 Mile was intimidating. I don’t know precisely what my dad was feeling, but I know he was self-conscious about probably being the oldest one there. And I know he brought ear plugs in case it was too loud.

The meet-and-greet with the artists involved those who had bought the special tickets filing through a line where they could say hello and get an autograph.

First in line was Lecrae. I don’t remember much of that moment, except that I horribly botched the dap, a moment which has made me self-conscious about doing this to this day (this will come up again). After that, I just said hello to each artist and handed them my ticket to sign. As I handed my ticket to Tedashii, Lecrae pointed at my dad, who was wearing a Don’t Waste Your Life shirt – not a Lecrae shirt, but a Piper shirt – and said “I like your shirt,” and my dad, without missing a beat, said “I know you do,” meaning “I know you know this is a John Piper shirt and that’s why I like you.” And I thought I have that shirt too – why didn’t I wear that! My dad said something else complimentary, and Lecrae steepled his hands and bowed. I went on down the line and greeted Trip Lee, Derek Minor, and KB. Andy Mineo was wearing a fake mustache, and he asked me, “Hey man, would you like a beer or something?” and being in the flustered state I was, I said, in total seriousness, “Oh, no, no thank you.” He laughed and said he was just kidding. Of course he was just kidding.

I was star-struck. I was absolutely buzzing, embarrassing as it all was.

Since we got early access, we could get about as close to the stage as we wanted, but my dad thought we should head up for the balcony, in those seats that extend down around the sides until they’re almost right above the stage. He wanted to do that in part because there were chairs where he could sit down (there were no chairs on the floor), and since I, like him, was a little uncertain about the mosh pit aspect, agreed to go to the balcony.

Before the six Reach Records artists did their sets, there would be two opening acts.

First up, Propaganda.

Prop is the human incarnation of the West Coast. I didn’t know anything about him, except that he had done a spoken word piece called “The Gospel in Four Minutes / G.O.S.P.E.L.” that had recently gone viral. What I didn’t know as he rapped a couple songs while waving his dreadlocks, was that he was on the ground level of a record label called Humble Beast, a collective who will, in time, play a major part in this story.

Next up, I was introduced to Thi’sl, a big man with a gritty St. Louis accent. He walked from one end of the stage to the other with small, purposeful steps, and used basic hand gestures to accompany his driving, snarling, methodical flow. And he had the crowd on a string. He debuted, at that very concert, a song called “Snap Off,” which I would later see him perform many times. I’ve actually lost track now how many times I’ve seen Thi’sl perform.

The Reach artists performed in an order somewhat equivalent to their notoriety, which meant the first artist would be Andy Mineo, now using his real name instead of his previous stage name, C-Lite. I knew him best for singing the hook on Lecrae’s soaring “Background,” and not at all as a rapper. I wasn’t alone, as he had to that point only released one mixtape. Andy was the one white artist performing, and he seemed a little goofy to me, not just because he offered me a beer when I met him, but because he hopped around and rapped in a nasally voice very different from the first two performers. At one point he rode a skateboard around. He made too many shout-outs to Chi-Town. But then he rapped a song called “In My City,” and the crowd – nearing capacity – was roaring the hook.

Within a few years, Andy Mineo would be – arguably – the face of Christian rap.

KB followed, the other young up-and-comer on the Reach team. His debut album had just released a few months prior, and one of the songs he performed was “Zone Out,” a livewire that would go on to be one of his signature concert songs, one that allows him to perform in his energetic style. KB is as physically active on stage as anyone, and he pours sweat. He treats rapping more like boxing than singing.

The artist formerly known as Pro performed next. Realizing that it’s impossible for someone to find him through Google by searching “Pro,” he changed his name to Derek Minor. At this stage in his career, Derek was still mainly producing big, bold tracks and utilizing his growling drawl. But big things were on the way for Derek. In a few years, he would leave Reach Records, having grown to the place as an artist, businessman, and leader to start his own record label. His sound and style would evolve too, until he became one of the most consistent and versatile artists in CHH.

This left Lecrae and his two deadliest lieutenants – Tedashii and Trip Lee.

Tedashii is a big Samoan man with a deep, deep voice. He entered the dark stage wearing a custom jacket with neon lettering after the style of the cover of his most recent album, Blacklight. The crowd roared, and that was just the beginning. His hype music is as fierce as any, with his anthem “Make War,” about taking the roof off and his frenzied “Riot,” just about starting an actual riot in the middle of the floor. His Houston-influenced “26’s” started, but he stopped the song and signaled for the DJ to spin the remix version.

This drew my attention to Nelson Chu, aka DJ Official, an unassuming figure at the back of the stage on an elevated turntable. DJ Official is the DJ of CHH. Or was. Nelson passed away in 2016 due to complications with a double lung transplant. He was just 39.

Working with DJ Official on the other side of the stage was Nate Robinson, the BeatBreaker, operating a drum set where he drummed all the beats for all the artists. I didn’t know that was something someone could do. One could be forgiven for thinking that music was being made by a machine.

Tedashii’s set perfectly encapsulated who he was as an artist in so many ways, and was a testament to his ascension in the industry. His next album would be a very different thing, a project born out of the pain of losing his only son to SIDS just a couple years later. His career, like his life, would not be the same.

Trip Lee was next, the opposite of Tedashii in so many ways – short, slender, with a nasally Dallas drawl. Trip was, more or less, Lecrae’s first disciple and protégé, and at the time he was the undisputed Westbrook to Lecrae’s Durant (that analogy worked at the time). As much as any performer, Trip makes rapping look so effortless while also maintaining high levels of energy. Slight as he was, he stood tall on stage.

Not long after this concert, Trip would enter semi-retirement to pursue other ministry opportunities, and his touring days were all but over due to chronic fatigue.

And then there was Lecrae.

Lecrae was introduced through a video on the big screen – worth mentioning that the production of this concert was fairly impressive – and the audience screamed when he first appeared on the video.

Oh, I thought to myself. This is something else entirely.

From where we were sitting, we were able to see the area where the artists would stand just before coming out on stage. As the video played, I could see the silhouette of Lecrae, and he was shadowboxing. Not like a light, playful thing, but like he was actually exchanging blows with the champ. He knew what was coming. I didn’t.

Lecrae is a physically imposing person. He’s at least 6’3, with broad shoulders, chiseled arms, and an elegant swagger. He’s handsome, with big eyes and a mouth as ready to smile as it is to mean mug. His voice ranges from a deep drawl to whinier inflections in the way that some of the most dynamic rappers are able to manipulate their voice as an instrument. He’s lived all over, and so it’s tough to pin down his dirty south accent.

Lecrae’s set was a rapturous run of hit after hit after hit. Everyone knew all the words to all his songs, including all the songs from his new album, Gravity, which would go on to win a Grammy a few months later. Other artists joined him on stage for some of his notable collabs, and it just went on and on. This wasn’t just a concert. This was something spiritual, something holy. It was the height of live music.

The concert ended with all the artists returning to the stage to do a few more songs together, including Derek Minor’s “116,” the de facto anthem of the entire collective. It slaps. And it features a refrain of “Ooooone, ooooone six,” that is absolutely perfect for a call and response with the audience. They could have probably done that for an hour without anyone getting bored.

When my dad and I left the concert and returned to the car, we looked at each other and both said something to the extent of “That was awesome.” It was more than either of us could have imagined. I had had the most validating experience for my fandom, and – if there was any doubt left – my dad was now fully in on CHH.

We drove home from Chicago late that night, reliving some of our favorite moments from the concert, neither of knowing that this would be the first of many such adventures. And, though we didn’t know it, we had caught this group of artists at a major inflection point. All of their careers were about to go in major new directions, and a coming together like this was going to be exceedingly rare in the future.

I was The Christian Rap Guy, and I had just been to a concert with a few thousand other major fans. This was no longer just the music I loved. This was me. And it was still only the beginning.

In Part III: The Legacy Concerts expand my horizons, and I become The Christian Rap Guy in campus ministry.

Forth now, and fear no darkness.

Soli Deo Gloria



1. I experienced some version of this over the past year when Everton hired Carlo Ancelotti and signed James Rodriguez. It’s pretty great. 2. I spent way too long thinking about what this would be for me. Maybe a family drama written by Hirokazu Kore-eda, directed by Wes Anderson, starring Oscar Isaac and Kiera Knightley, or a societal parable written by the Coens, directed by Jia Zhang-Ke, starring Tsao Tao and Adam Driver 3. I haven’t held onto all the things my father taught me, but he did teach me to enjoy my coffee black, chocolate dark, and whiskey neat, and that’s pretty important.

My Life as The Christian Rap Guy – Part I

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[1] 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,[2] 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.” 
Toby Flenderson

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,[3] 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.[4] 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.[5]

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.