Popular Southern rappers T. I. and Big K.R.I.T s’ music objectifies women, glorifies materialism, and encourages drug use and both rappers have performed with Gospel rapper Lecrae.
Lecrae’s lyrics attempt to encourage people to live the opposite of the lifestyles glorified in the media. In his single, “Fall Back,” the Grammy award-winning rapper clearly explains his opinion on the images being portrayed in the media:
“Lies on the televisionlies on the radio/so no telling what lies on the radio and TV…I know you might’ve seen it on the TV/The enemy crafty and misleading/that’s why I use the Word of God to lead me/and I ain’t eating every thing they feed me/tryin’ to deceive me/so I gotta fall back.”
Even with that, Lecrae will take the stage with rappers whose lyrics are contrary to the “Word of God”.
Is it hypocritical? No it’s not said Lafayette rapper Levy whose music is laced with hard beats and a militant attitude, but the lyrics Levy spews give homage to Jesus Christ.“Every opportunity is an opportunity to let people know about God,” he said. “The (Gospel) music penetrates the mindset and the spirit, there are no limits or restrictions to where I will perform because the people gathered to hear these other artists are the people we need to reach.”
Baton Rouge Gospel music producer Israel Martin agrees. Martin said he supports the merging of the genres and would follow in the same path.
“If I were asked to open up for Lil’ Boosie at his next concert, I would do it; but if he asked me to produce a track for him, I wouldn’t do it,” said Martin, who is CEO of World of Music Productions.
The Baton Rouge native said he and Boosie grew up together and he has nothing against the rapper, but creating music for him is condoning an lifestyle not centered on Christ.
“I feel like I would be promoting a life that is not Christ centered and pushing people away from Christ which is the opposite of what I want to do,” he said.
Producing for other genres can be very lucrative, but Martin said he believes his purpose is more than just to entertain and have financial gains.
“My commitment to God is that my ministry is going to draw people to closer to Him,” he said “and I would not want do anything that takes way from that.”
He and Levy said the Enemy or Satan’s agenda is to drive people away from God and producing or performing music for secular artists would be promoting that agenda.
“I have no problem with other producers who do it and are very successful at it. I know I have the talent to produce for other genres and make more money…it is just my personal conviction that keeps me from going in that direction musically,” said Martin.
Many artists who have gone on to reach high levels of success in other genres such as R&B and hip hop began their careers singing in churches.
“In general, (the reason) why people would transition from Gospel to secular is for the obvious reason: money, prestige, a bigger platform, and notoriety.” said Maceo Harris, operations manager and announcer at Word of God Broadcasting Network in North Carolina.
According to SoundScan, an online service that tracks the sale of music releases, Gospel record sales have tripled in the past three years. As a result, artists who have gained popularity in other Hip Hop and R&B have taken notice in Gospel’s increasing revenue in fan base.
Many have begun recording their own Gospel tracks.
Singer, songwriter Kandi Buruss is an example of the trend. Buruss, who is famous for her role on reality TV show “Realwives of Atlanta,” was a member of popular 90s R&B group Escape. She has had the most success as a songwriter penning hits for some of the top musicians in the industry including Sporty Thievz, Pink, and TLC. Although she currently is developing an adult toy business, the musician has decided to add Gospel artist to her resume.
“The Bible says God created everything and only he knows our deepest intentions,” said Martin. “Just because an artist of a different genre records a Gospel song their doesn’t make their intentions less pure than some established Gospel artists.”
In 2007, the Grammys took notice of Gospel music’s evolution by creating the “Best Gospel Rock or Rap Category”. While some believe Gospel’s evolution over the past few years is responsible for bringing more people closer to Christ; others said the message is being watered down.
“It’s a double-edged sword kind of thing,” said Harris. “Of course, we need to get the Gospel message to as many people as possible, but what is it going to cost the artist? Will they compromise to do it? I think we have gone to the extreme with it in some cases.”
Harris, who is a licensed ministered, point to Biblical examples in the New Testament. He said the people who were revilers, fornicators, adulterers, liars, and thieves did not want anything to do with the believers. If anything they hated and despised them, he said. They did not accept the believers into their world, and if the believers went into their world, it was not to adapt to it but to be a shining light to bring others out.
“When Gospel artists open up for secular events and collaborate with secular artist, my question is always, ‘Are they staying true to the testimony of Jesus Christ?’,” said Harris. “It’s hard to bring someone out of something that you yourself aren’t out of. I can’t answer for them, but their fruit will tell us what’s their motives and what’s in their hearts.”
Harris said that unfortunately sometimes even the genre who’s goal is to bring people closer to Christ contains artists who sometimes are simply just performers.
“I don’t think some Gospel artist are singing and making music out of a relationship with Jesus anyway They have a gift and a talent which was given to them by God and without intimately knowing him; they are able to make good music.” said Harris.
Although the Gospel industry’s unofficial guidebook is Bible, tells Christians “judge not, that you be not judged,” Harris, Levy, and Martin said the nature of the industry is competitive and Gospel artists are scrutinized more than artists in other genres.
“Someone said to me long ago, preach to the level you’re living. We shouldn’t use that as a crutch not to strive to be better and do better. But because of who we musicians, singers, preachers, and anyone who does anything on a platform in Gospel represent, people are looking at us to make sure it’s real; and when it’s real, we shouldn’t have a problem with people analyzing our lives.” said Harris.
Martin said, even with the scrutiny and other negatives, the measure-ability of success in Gospel music is different from other genres.
“If it’s having a big house, plush bank account, and having people around the world know you, then yes I believe they can have that type of success at the level or close to the level of a secular artist,” he said.
In terms of changing lives, seeing people healed, delivered and set free by the power of the “Word being put to song,” the success should be even greater, said Harris.
Both he and Martin agree that the Gospel industry will, just like any other genre, continue to evolve and garner more fans. Each support the changes taking place in the industry and are prepared to embrace the new ones in the future as long as the genre stays to true to it’s original purpose: Bring people closer to Christ.
“People will soon recognize that God is doing something new to have His Word go forth,” said Levy.