'Holy hip-hop'

"'Holy hip-hop'" Continued...

Issue: "The surge is on," Feb. 3, 2007

The whole of Christian rap represents a marginalized minority within the broader multi-billion-dollar industry of hip-hop. Reformed rap carves out a minority within that minority. Allen doubts whether Christian hip-hop-especially the Reformed variety-will ever make a significant commercial dent in a culture defined by narcissistic materialism and disrespect for women.

But he hopes the musical genre can serve as an evangelistic tool outside the church and a ministerial one within it. So far, Allen's opportunities to perform in church services have come almost exclusively in white churches. Many African-American Christians are wary of welcoming what they view as a destructive force in their communities. Christcentric, on the other hand, has found opportunities in black churches, though the group's overtly Reformed lyrics are not always well-received.

Allen does not view his music as appropriate for the group-singing portion of church services, and the members of Christcentric also do not expect to substitute rap for the Sunday morning hymns of their respective churches. But in the proper cultural context, they say, the form might serve well in a corporate setting. "As long as the music is not glorifying the culture and putting the focus on the artist that is performing it and as long as it is God-glorifying and Christ-focused and causes the listeners to reflect upon the goodness and graciousness of the Lord, then there's a place for it," Njoroge said. "The danger of hip-hop is that it's a pride-driven culture and that can carry over into the church."

Epiphany Fellowship in Philadelphia has drawn attention for its use of Bible-based hip-hop to reach out in an urban setting. Associate pastor William "Duce" Branch is a nationally known producer for Cross Movement, one of the first Christian rap groups. Philadelphia is widely considered the center of the so-called "holy hip-hop" scene, home to Lamp Mode Recording with such Reformed artists as Shai Linne and Timothy Brindle.

The movement has also stretched west with acts like Flame and J'son in St. Louis. Dishon Knox, a divinity student at Covenant Seminary in St. Louis, counts such performers as mentors and friends. His exposure to Flame led him to Reformed theology, the focus of his debut album scheduled for release later this year. Knox, aka Born2Di, believes hip-hop can become a force for doctrinal correction. "The black church suffers a lot from theological malnutrition, for lack of better words," he said. "That's what drives me to go to seminary."

Knox is not shy with his musical styling on campus, recently performing during a chapel service. The song "True to Reformed Faith" chronicles his view of his own Presbyterian denomination: "Faithful to Holy Scriptures, true to Reformed faith. Presbyterian Church in America, grow in grace. Obedient to the 'Great Commission,' that's the mission. History ain't perfect, but the goal is gradual submission."


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