Confessions of a Christian Hip-Hop Hipster

image courtesy insidekanakuk.com

I have a problem.  There’s this underlying feeling I get when listening to Lecrae and Nem.  It’s like the guilt you get when eating at a chain restaurant.   You see, something has changed since I screamed “I’m a F-A-N-A-T-I-C”.  Something  fundamentally different.  Lecrae has gone…mainstream.  That’s the equivalent of wearing mommy jeans in the Christian Hip Hop industry.  Don’t get me wrong; mommy jeans are comfortable and can be bought at any Wal-Mart in the US.  But mommy jeans have no edge.  It’s not exclusive and it’s not trendy.  Well, to a Christian Hip Hop hipster at least.  And that, in turn, leads me to my first question:

Why Does Mainstream Equal Selling Out?

In almost every industry, this heavy-handed statement is believed amongst its core fans. Even in Christian Hip Hop, this happens over and over again.  You remember when B.B. Jay was signed to Columbia Records back in 2000?  If B.B. Jay ever wanted to be suicidal, all he had to do was check out The Hip Hop Zone message board any day of the week.  You remember when the Tunnel Rats came out with their 2004 Battle for LA documentary and everyone was in an uproar because they were battling non-Christian emcees?  History repeats itself over and over again.

The hair pulling dilemma surrounding mainstream is that it’s presented as a goal that you’re supposed to pursue but never achieve.  We hear scriptures like this over and over again: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8 NIV)  If that ain’t going mainstream, I don’t know what is.  But on the other hand, there’s an expectation that once an artist goes mainstream, they should be persecuted so much that their mainstream success is short-lived.  Now, if you stay mainstream for a while and those lusty heathens are reading about you in The Source?  Then you must be doing the Dougie with the devil.  And this leads me to my second question:

Why Do Christian Hip Hop Hipsters Like Myself Act Like This? 

It’s pride.  I want to impress my friends with my air of musical exclusivity.  I KNOW Christian emcees you don’t know.  I KNOW underground emcees that focus on ministry and not entertainment.  I KNOW that the beats in underground Christian Hip Hop aren’t over-produced as much as mainstream music.  The problem is not just in believing these statements, but it’s from getting my identity out of these statements.  “We live and move and have our being” in Christ, not our hipster playlists (Acts 17:28 NIV).  Since we’re loved and valued by God, there’s no need to impress people with what we know about Christian Hip Hop.

So How Do Us Hipsters Stop Viewing Lecrae and Nem as Mommy Jeans?

By placing your identity in Christ and thinking of people other than yourself.  When one of my friends grabs my boo thang (my iPod) and goes past Smurf Village right to Lecrae, I do an internal “woosah” and think of my friend’s needs.  Lecrae is an exceptionally talented man of God that is encouraging and inspiring.  God created a diverse kingdom to solve a diverse array of this world’s needs.  So if my friend wants to listen to Lecrae, I shouldn’t make a condescending sigh and I shouldn’t say that there are so many other artists in Christian Hip Hop.   And furthermore, that boy good.  It’s not like Lecrae is Wacka Flocka Flame.  I played Lecrae for my brother (who knows nothing about CHH) and he beamed in pride because his baby sister knows “real Hip Hop”.

If we believe in this “bible thing”, then we should believe that “there’s no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1 NIV).  If no one is judging us, then why should we judge ourselves for enjoying mainstream music?  Us hipsters need to live and let live.

Let’s end the mainstream vs. underground beef through repentance.  I publicly repent for placing my identity in anything other than Jesus Christ.  Our Christian Hip Hop community that’s built on the principles of Christ is more important than musical preferences.  I’ll be honest and say that I’m more of an underground head.  But I can’t let my preference keep me from supporting my brothers and sisters in Christ.  Our differences come from a God that is infinitely complex.  In embracing these God given differences, we as a Christian Hip Hop community can reflect the glory of God.

8 Comments

  • Reply September 4, 2011

    middlemaniam

    I will always be an underground head and I am good with that. For me it just seems that when dudes get popular their style changes. it is like in the beginning it was raw street orientated stuff and now its ballads and soft, trendy beats. I just don’t know why it is that cats want to crossover? So many artist have done it. For me its not even really the lyrics that the cats are spitting because they are still decent lyrics, it is the beats they use that kill me. It went from having banging original beats to the same as everyone whack beats that are so prevalent today. But see that is where my personal taste gets in the way. Just because I don’t like it doesn’t mean someone else doesn’t. Mainstream is separated from the roots of true hip hop. Rap and Hip Hop are two different things. Basically, I hope the best for every artist, I listen to hip hop and not rap so they won’t be getting any plays on the ipod but that don’t mean I don’t wish them the best. Hopefully, they impact thousands of Rap fans!

  • Reply September 5, 2011

    Imade

    Middlemaniam, you touched on some very deep topics that can be articles alone. I may have to expound upon your discussion for a future blog.

    1. Why cats want to crossover? – It’s as complicated as the human mind. Desire to grow, need for acceptance, musical laziness, the list can go on. It’s hard to crossover without compromising. Like you said on Twitter, you gotta remember the foundation even during a musical evolution. It’s tough.

    2. Mainstream divorced from Hip Hop – We talked about this on Twitter too. There’s a lack of diversity in mainstream Hip Hop thanks to labels and mega-radio corporations like Clear Channel. It’s absolutely horrible. I’ve always said that we as media outlets have to show diversity in Hip Hop, and especially in CHH. It shouldn’t be about crews or labels, but about music that glorifies Christ. *gets off soapbox* lol

  • Reply September 6, 2011

    chicangeorge

    This is a great article. #spreadthesoup

  • Reply September 7, 2011

    West Hall

    I don’t think Crae went mainstream. Mainstream went Crae. That’s why you hear so many 3rd coast beats & flows. 10 yrs ago most of HH was east coast & sounding like Cross Movement. Times change & sooner or later someone will come along to make a new “underground” sound that’ll eventually turn into “mommy jeans” as you put it.

  • Reply September 8, 2011

    Imade

    West Hall, as I’m typing this, I’m watching a teenager on My (Extra)ordinary Family wear a Lecrae Rehab shirt. It’s so true, mainstream has gone to Lecrae as well. He has made some deliberate attempts to reach outside of his comfort zone with Jai (pop) and Benjah (reggae), but I see what you’re saying. I think that points to the fact how “hipsters” can be so uncessarily condemning.

  • Reply September 8, 2011

    AQ

    Maybe I’m too much of a fan of Lecrae and his ministry to really grasp how he went mainstream and has changed. He still unapologetically preaches the gospel, still raps that Jesus is the one and only way to God, etc. I will say he has changed in that he’s no longer using beats you can make up on a Casio keyboard and putting more effort into production quality, i.e. musical growth. Plus, the world at large, who we as believers NEED to be reaching, can’t always get down with CHH b/c of the quality, so if he’s gotta grow, or go “mainstream”, to attract lost souls to the Kingdom, I’m all for it! :-D

  • Reply September 8, 2011

    J-Mishael

    I’ve been a fan of Lecrae and CHH since 2004. I don’t think Lecrae has gone soft in his style nor in the way he portrays Jesus. The goal of the ministry is to reach the lost souls and encourage God’s people. With “mainstream” visibility, CHH artists have an opportunity to do that on a broader scale. I don’t believe Lecrae went “mainstream”, the man has an extremely large audience that he’s acquired over the years. It’s the people who support their ministry that put CHH artists on charts, not themselves. As Christians we each have our call. Some to reach rich people, poor people, overseas, those in our neighborhoods, and some to be global. Do what thus says the Lord!

  • Reply December 21, 2011

    MySoulisFat

    I wholeheartedly agree with middlemaniam.

    However, I take this same philosophy regarding underground hip hop and apply it to all other genres/styles of my tastes for music, especially considering that I am guitar player.

    I am strictly about seeking after and hearing the content from the heart of the artist through originality & sincere inspiration from their predecessors.

    I appreciate this post & the views shared here.

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