Sep 8, 2012

'We gospel rappin'

Christian rap has topped the itunes' charts this week, with the release of Lecrae's album, Gravity, which opens, fittingly, with Lecrae rapping that he writes "songs for the perishin' and parishoners." Gravity was ranked as most-downloaded hip-hop/rap album, and the most-downloaded overall. Sales were expected to reach 60,000 units the first week, "easily a first for a Christian rapper" according to Time.

Lecrae raps on the album about such sales numbers and his own outsized talent -- as per usual, for the genre -- but then calling all that a "power trip," detracting from the fact this is all controlled by God:
And now with every sale I'm feeling my head swell
Well I'm a genius in my dreams
Even if I was, it was stitched inside my genes
I'm self-inflated, self infatuated
And somehow I convinced myself I finally made it
The truth is I was made like the mob
Geppetto put my together -- my strings lead to God
This marks an interesting moment for the relationship between Christians and rap. In an interview with the Christian Post, Lecrae said he sees conservative Christians being more open to rap simply because time has passed and the world has changed. He said, "Hip-hop … is over 40 years old and so when you have a change in power, when you have pastors who are 40, they've grown up knowing about hip-hop so it's not as strange to them, whereas if you have a 55-60-year-old person, they've grown-up and hip-hop was never a part of their life."

There's certainly a truth to that.

It also doesn't hurt that Lecrae has been associated with the Reformed Christian community, which is known for being robustly theological, insisting on the importance of orthodoxy and taking seriously even seemingly arcane details of doctrine. This means Lecrae comes to the Christian culture with an orthodox imprimatur.

Endorsement by John Piper can do a lot for one's Christian bona fides.

It's also a very interesting moment in the relationship between Christian cultural products and the secular market. It is difficult to imagine this success for a Christian rapper in sales through Christian bookstores. Lecrae's music still isn't played on most Christian radio stations. But then, it's also difficult to imagine this success coming through sales at secular record shops, where Lecrae's music would likely be segregated into a sub-section of "Christian music," or even a sub-sub or sub-sub-sub section or "Christian-urban" music.

Understanding the changes in cultural gatekeepers is essential to understanding this success.

Changes especially in the shape of the markets for music have lead to this moment, where the title song of the most downloaded album in America is Lecrae rapping,
And everything you hold in your hands you'll never keep
So why hold on?
I flow on to go on, before long I float on
Eternal life is what I'm thinkin' I'mma bank my hope on
Believe me, easy is irrelevant
The devil wants us burning for the hell of it
Elephants in the room say we can't talk about impending doom
Or we gospel rapping or preaching people out of they shoes
It's cool, I'll be that dude
We glued to our depravity
Until someone frees us from this gravity