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Braggin' on their King

"Braggin' on their King" Continued...

Issue: "Unstoppable?," April 20, 2013

As different as pastoral ministry and rapping may seem, Lee sees how the struggles overlap, especially dealing with humility. As fans constantly swarm Lee after his shows for photos and autographs, he said it’s difficult not to take the glory for himself: “Humility was a struggle before I was a rapper, so I think for me it takes a lot more intentionality to not believe the hype.”

Especially in a genre of music known for self-promotion, he’s found it important to stay around people who see him as a brother, rather than a celebrity. He says fellow rappers he tours with keep each other accountable in keeping their pride in check and their eyes focused on Christ: “Because I have a public ministry, I have to have a strategy to deflect glory from myself. I have to know beforehand how I’m going to deflect the glory towards God; that’s true for me as a rapper and a pastor.”

Lee has written a book, also called The Good Life. Response to it helped him see the need for a voice like his: “I love John Piper, but young urban people are not going to relate to it. I don’t think there’s anything new to say, but I’m 25, African-American, urban—just different culturally. … I want to proclaim truth, and say it from a different perspective.”

For Mineo, that different perspective comes from growing up in a single-parent home in New York, dealing with anger issues, and spending time at a behavior modification school. He spent years building up his name in underground freestyle rap battles and making money producing and recording local artists in his home studio. 

While he professed faith in Christ at a summer camp in eighth grade, he quickly fell away without a church community or anyone to model Christian behavior. It wasn’t until college that he started taking his faith seriously. Through discipleship and participating in T.R.U.C.E., an urban ministry that used performing arts to evangelize, Mineo realized he had either to follow Christ wholeheartedly or leave the faith. He says he purged his sinful habits and closed his studio—and as his Christian walk improved, his music more and more started to reflect a Christian worldview.

Mineo now wants to use his rapping skills, well-crafted wordplay, and mix of musical influences to create music that draws in both nonbelievers and believers. “I want to encourage Christians, but I ... want you to be able to say ‘I can play this for my non-Christian friends and they love it musically and are able to relate to the content and also hear about Jesus.’”

It’s a tall order, as “Christian rap” has historically been a subculture for those who already believe, with little playtime on radio stations or publicity in mainstream hip-hop circles. But Lecrae Moore has begun to straddle that line, with collaborations with mainstream rappers like Big K.R.I.T. and producer Don Cannon. Mineo looks to be following in Moore’s footsteps, as Heroes for Sale goes deep into personal and societal issues, sprinkled with pop-culture references and hip-hop slang, yet ultimately pointing to the only One who can save. 

Mineo’s delivery is polished, at times rapping at breakneck speeds, and rivaling much of the music played on mainstream hip-hop radio stations. Mineo, who had gained a following from his previous collaborations and EPs, said he’s anxious about his new album because in the songs he opens up about the pain of failed relationships, bitterness against his father, and struggles with lust, pride, and temptation. Still, he believes that’s necessary: “I can share these experiences because … it’s ultimately going to be a testimony of how He’s redeemed me.”

As the Heroes for Sale album title suggests, Mineo aims to deconstruct the idea of creating superheroes out of ordinary, sinful humans—himself included. He believes the music boils down to one main sentiment: “I’m not great, but I know a God who is great and who redeems us.” He deals with the pain and hurt he’s felt from his absent father and other loved ones in the Eminem-esque “Still Bleeding.” The force of delivery escalates as he raps about words that still sting 20 years later, yet his message doesn’t end with that anger: “I don’t even got it inside me to give forgiveness / I got to find it in the place where He said ‘It is finished.’” 

Mineo says some Christian fans are quick to judge him because he hangs out with non-Christian rappers, without seeing how he’s cultivating those relationships. Such misplaced zeal turns off nonbelievers, who—when they hear the term Christian rap—turn away because they assume the songs will be cheesy and terrible. But what really differentiates the work of Lee and Mineo from mainstream hip-hop is the hope in something greater. 

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