Emily Black, argues that despite a reputation for focusing on violence, rappers in both the US and UK are spreading Faith through their music in a secular setting, which is ‘astonishing’.
Think of Christian music and images of church choirs and classical music may fill your imagination. There is, though, another more surprising genre that embraces Christianity: hip-hop.
It’s a startling statement, but with English rapper Stormzy chanting ‘Amen, in Jesus’ name,’ to a crowd of thousands at Glastonbury earlier this summer, and America’s Chance the Rapper dropping a new album last month with songs about trusting in God’s plan, it seems that hip-hop is truly an arena where Christian values can be expressed.
Despite a popular—and well-earned—association with drugs and violence, more and more hip-hop artists are threading Gospel and worship into their music, unapologetically discussing their Faith in mainstream pop culture.
Does this suggest that Christianity is becoming more mainstream, and perhaps more ‘luke-warm’? Or is pop culture becoming more Christian?
Famous for his 1990s R&B albums and his roots in Gospel music, Kirk Franklin made a return this year with his album Long, Live, Love. With each track revolving around God, the songs are more akin to modern Christian music than modern rap. The songs are Gospel heavy, with Franklin punctuating the choral singing with rap verses and hooks.
In Love Theory, Franklin expresses gratitude for God’s love and his desire to make God ‘proud.’
With the music video gaining over seven million views on YouTube, this fun, upbeat track is bringing important Christian sentiments to the masses through a poppy, accessible genre.
Many of Franklin’s lyrics about God do seem slightly contrived, but his Christian beliefs are at the forefront of the album.
Chance the Rapper
Chance the Rapper, perhaps the most popular Christian rapper of our day, perennially peppers his songs with references to God, with some of his work entirely focussed on praising God and discussing his personal relationship with Jesus.
Chance’s 2016 mixtape Colouring Book, with tracks like Blessings, How Great and Finish Line, marks an outpouring of Faith—his celebratory, exuberant belief in the power of prayer, in God and in an after-life.
In 2018’s Work Out, the rapper uses his signature mix of playfulness and honesty to detail the struggles of being a first-time dad, his relationship breaking down, and preparing for marriage. “I believe in long distance love, a God that’s above,” he raps.
In an interview with Genius, Chance explained: “I believe if I play my cards right, if I do everything that I’m supposed to do as a man, as a man of God, I’ll get all the things and an everlasting life that I want, that I need.”
Released last month, The Big Day is his debut studio album and a concept album about his wedding earlier this year. On the whole, it doesn’t quite pack the punch of his previous releases, but one song stood out for me. In 5 Year Plan, God is again given pride of place: “Lord of Lords/I know you gave abundantly, even gave up your son for me… I love to say your name, it come from my diaphragm/I just had to scare ’em off and draw a line in the sand/Anything you gave to me, they couldn’t pry from my hands.”
Here, Chance is professing his Faith in God, and that he doesn’t care if he scares off some fans or receives criticism for his beliefs. After all, the gifts God has given him can’t be pried from his hands.
While Franklin’s songs tend to solely focus on God, Chances’ work is arguably more powerful in its discussion of faith and use of hip-hop as a means of expressing belief.
There is something truly moving about the way Chance brings God into songs about the messier side of his life, blending lyrics about his beliefs with more traditional hip-hop subject matter. In this way, his music acts as a witness to God’s presence in the very fabric of life, and he sets an example of how important it is to keep God at the centre of our lives, despite the struggles and mistakes.
Earlier this summer British rap artist Stormzy (above) ended his riotous set at Glastonbury with two songs illustrating his Christian Faith: his new single, Crown and Blinded by Your Grace, pt. 2.
In ‘Crown,’ Stormzy explores his personal struggles and keeps defiantly retuning to the lyric ‘Amen, in Jesus’ name, yes I declare it.’
Similar to Chance the Rapper, Stormzy locates Jesus at the centre of his life, demonstrating that his Faith remains steadfast amid the chaos.
Before starting Blinded by Your Grace, Stormzy spoke to the crowd saying: “We’re gonna take this to church, and we’re going to give God all the glory right now.”
The chorus goes: “Lord, I’ve been broken/Although I’m not worthy/You fixed me, now I’m blinded/By your grace, you came and saved me.”
Stormzy comes across as entirely genuine: he looked truly in awe on stage, taking in how God has blessed his life. His heartfelt performance brought these songs to life, and the crowds seemed truly moved.
It is astonishing to see music like this performed in such a secular setting and filling the audience with awe.
Perhaps the power of artists like Chance the Rapper and Stormzy is that they are entirely situated within secular, mainstream rap but they are unafraid to use this position to express their Christian views.
The juxtaposition of Faith with other aspects of life, and the way their personality shines through their music, results in making them more wholly relatable people, and therefore they have the ability to render truly striking expressions of Christianity.
Written by: Emily Black