Feb 11, 2013

Lecrae and the future of Christian music markets

The Grammy for the year's best gospel album went to Lecrae, last night, the Reformed rapper who had a chart-topping album earlier this year where he rapped about writing "songs for the perishin' and parishioners." It was the second time he'd been nominated for a Grammy. 

Due to Grammy rules, his hip-hop album "Gravity" fell into the gospel category, rather than rap, but the win nevertheless highlights Lecrae's cross-over appeal. 

It's not simply taken for granted that a Christian rap album would be successful in a general market, nor that a Christian rap album with a general appeal would still be acceptable to Christians. But things are changing. Markets are shifting and attitudes are adjusting. The world of contemporary Christian music is very different than it was when Amy Grant stirred up so much controversy, and even since the '90s, when, as Heather Hendershot wrote, there were these ongoing struggles over faith and markets, with "people in the Christian music industry [...] attempting to negotiate between their heartfelt beliefs and a secular marketplace that they realize is wary of both evangelical faith and politics."

Those negotiations are different, today, and seem less tortured, for one thing. 

Lecrae has been on the forefront of a change. His Grammy win is part of that, as is the big big win for a band that started in a Vineyard Church, but last night took home the award for album of the year. 

In a recent interview with PBS, Lecrae talked about the relationship between Christianity and hip hop, and articulates the kind of argument he's been making for several years now. The argument itself is interesting, but what's more interesting to me is the fact, first, that he has to make this argument even though there've now been more than 50 years of continual evangelical adaptations of pop music, and, second, that he's been quite successful at it:

A lot of people will say hip hop, because of what it has been consistently associated with, should have nothing to do with Christianity whatsoever, like you can't be Christian and rap at the same time, but I would challenge them in that. There are things that culturally we have given some kind of cultural connotation to or perspective on, but it doesn't have to be identified with that.  
If I take a butcher knife, you would think 'horror movie.' But, I could just be serving food to the homeless and carving turkey and giving them out. And so, the culture has given this identity to the butcher knife as this evil thing that kills, but really you can take that use that for a whole 'nother purpose that's redeptive and helpful.  
I think rap is the same way. Culturally it's been used as something that's negative, and bad, but I think you can take it and use it for redemptive purposes and helpful purposes as well. 

I'm not sure it's clear why and to what extent Christian music markets have changed, by Lecrae and his Grammy are a good example of how it has.