By Joshua Stratford - Although we often call the Christian section of hip-hop “Christian Hip-hop” or “Christian Rap,” one may also hear the term Gospel Rap. So what is Gospel Rap? Is it different from Christian Rap? Does one encompass the other? It’s a deep topic and requires a lot of discussions.
In addition, this ties back to the Christian rapper vs. rapper who’s Christian debate. People may have differing opinions on all of these topics, but I believe there is a concrete answer to each question. The simple answer to whether or not there is a difference is, YES. However, we must also consider those different views and how this affects literal camps within the “Christian Hip-hop” community.
The best way to explain how the differences between these styles or forms of music is to explain Gospel Rap first. It is also important to note that it is more correct to identify an artist as a Gospel rapper rather than a song as a Gospel rap song. These artists typically quote the Bible frequently in their music. The topics of their songs are mostly comprised of Gospel themes. Sometimes we hear the term “ministry over music.” That is Gospel rap.
Some artists that fit this category would be FLAME, Bizzle, and GS. The sphere of Gospel rap is by no means bad. The greater the reach and impact they have the better. They’re people out here trying to do good and show glory to God. We can see this clearly in their music. Consider the themes of any one of Bizzle’s albums. He commented in an interview with Respect, “like every album, [Crowns and Crosses] was inspired by my relationship with the Lord.”
Christian Rap, on the other hand, encompasses Gospel Rap. These artists may not necessarily rap about God on every single song. Even still, they have clean music that doesn’t contradict the standards of the gospel. NF, 1KPhew, and nobigdyl. are all rappers who fit into this category. We know NF always shares about his personal struggles in his music. Even still, he confesses his faith (even if he struggles with it) in his music. As he said on his last album, “this year I might do something different like talking to God more.” Thus, those who only fall under the Christian Rap category don’t restrain themselves from talking about God. Rather, they don’t limit themselves to religious themes in their music.
The Narrative – Christian Rapper vs Rapper Who’s Christian
Let’s say we’re talking about a new rapper. We’re on Rapzilla’s Facebook group. Or maybe we’re on a Social Club Misfits Instagram post. Someone says, “Yeah he’s a super dope Christian rapper.” Most of us would not assume he is a “gospel rapper” by our previous definition. A lot of the time the person who made that comment won’t be trying to give that impression either. That’s because we are familiar with this subculture and the music. But if we go outside, especially to mainstream hip-hop, they have a different mindset.
Lecrae expressed this very clearly on T.I.’s expediTIously podcast. Many hip-hop fans have a preconceived thought when they hear someone say Christian or Gospel Rap. “Before they listen to it [people said], ‘we don’t wanna hear this gospel rap.'” They think “that it’s lame, it’s gonna be corny.” Whenever they hear either phrase, they assume it to be what Gospel Rap is. However, it really depends on who you listen to. Some people fit in that “Gospel Rapper” box that others put them in. Others, like Lecrae, do not. “I’m talking about real-life on my records… I MAY talk about God.”
This is where the Christian rapper/rapper who’s Christian debate comes in. Artists use this language to convey an accurate image for why they are talking to. They are not putting the music before God. Instead, they are adapting their language so others don’t jump to false conclusions. It may be more correct to label one as a Christian or Gospel rapper, but those outside of CHH don’t recognize a difference.
Flame expressed very similar viewpoints in an interview with Rapzilla in 2016. Watch above.
How Some Artists Have Changed (We All Do)
All of this is not to say one can’t go back and forth from Gospel Rap to Christian Rap and vice versa. There have been several artists that are still CHH but no longer make Gospel Rap. Consider the difference between Andy Mineo’s newest music and his older records like Formerly Known. The mixtape’s title track took on the concept of Jeremiah 1:5. We can see the varying gospel themes on songs like “Young,” “Let There Be Light,” and “Fools Gold.” In contrast to his more recent EP II: The Sword, we see Gospel themes in less abundance. The same comparison can be made between Lecrae’s Rebel and Church Clothes 3 or All Things Work Together. The same thing happened with NF.
As many artists have made this slight shift, we have seen growing acceptance in mainstream music. It’s simply more appealing to them. All of the previously mentioned artists have had albums that reached the top 10 of the billboard 200. Futuristic has collaborated with NF, Andy Mineo, and nobigdyl. All of these artists fit the definition we gave to Christian Rap. Who said it’s bad to switch from Gospel Rap to Christian Rap? Think about how much of a positive impact Lecrae has made alone. It’s not to say he didn’t make an impact in his earlier years. However, it’s undeniable that he has touched tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, even millions of lives in different ways because mainstream rap “let him in.”
The Negatives of Gospel Rap
Now there’s always something negative about division. Sadly, the divide between the Gospel section of CHH and the rest of it has grown in recent years. As previously mentioned, the term “ministry over music” is used sometimes within Gospel Rap. This isn’t a bad thing. For those focused on lifting others in Christ and attempting to use music to do that, go for it. The issue arises when certain people using this term expect their music to get played and featured. In the music industry, it matters less about the purpose behind the music and more about its quality. That’s a law written by those who run the industry, not me. There are many websites, radios, etc. within CHH, like Rapzilla, that promote all types of artists. Not just those who are Gospel Rap. If your music is not good, then it’s not going to get played or featured.
In addition, there are some within Gospel Rap who believe if you’re Christian, you have to explicitly express it in your songs. Always. Because of this, some of these artists also refuse to collab with others in Christian Rap, outside of Gospel Rap. Lecrae talked about both of these problems in an interview with DJ Wade-O. Some of us have “created rules where there are no rules.” He also explained how in the early days of Reach Records they treated music like that. “If you weren’t a believer, we wouldn’t even take a beat from you… Then if you weren’t our denomination we wouldn’t take a beat from you.”
That would be similar to me refusing to work shifts with any worker that had a different belief system. It’s a ridiculous concept. Thankfully, they have since left that in the past, and Reach Records has released several classics because of it.
Watch Lecrae’s interview with DJ Wade-O above.
The Negatives of Christian Rap
Remember, there are always two sides to the story. Those outside of the Gospel Rap realm of CHH have their own issues. Occasionally, we will have an artist try to “sneak into” CHH without being Christian. They won’t make Gospel Rap, but they’ll make clean music, mention God once or twice and attempt to get fans faking Christianity. It’s not our fault, but it’s a way people on the outside try to take advantage. On the other hand, many on this side of the genre are less dedicated as Christians. They put music way over the ministry. Lecrae also said, “your soul and your spirit is the most important aspect of anything.” So many artists within the culture have dropped their standards and pushed themselves away. We can hear it in their music. They start swearing (foul language chases the Spirit away) and even say ugly things about the CHH community.
Like Gospel Rap, there are those on the other side of the aisle who refuse to work those on the other end. Often that’s fueled by the hatred on the other side and will even cause artists to leave CHH without ditching their faith. (The backlash of that comes with artists speaking out against it, which is good that they get to express what’s wrong, but it hurts the outside image of the community). But there are also some who have the same perspective on those of Gospel Rap as those in the mainstream. “It’s lame, it’s gonna be corny.” They say/think that all of them are too focused on the ministry to be good artists. This is also false. There are talented rappers in the Gospel Rap section of CHH just as there are outside of it.
There are some things we need to get together. This is just one of the things that has created a toxic environment in CHH. (Check out Cutright’s recent article for a few more). We need to stop beefing with each other. There are dope artists on both sides of the aisle. We can collaborate with one another. What kind of example do we set for Christianity when we fight amongst ourselves?
In 2017, Lecrae and Datin had a very mature exchange that didn’t result in hatred (except by the insensitive and quick to judge fans). Why can’t we have that now? Why can’t we be different from one another like God made us to be and yet still one in Christ? We all have different purposes in life. We all have different paths. Lecrae said “some people make music for the church, some people make music from the church for the world.”
This division can be fixed, but it will take those on both sides to step up and take responsibility.
This content was originally published here.