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.