My wife and I don’t always harmonize that well when it comes to music. She plays piano, took up the cello, sang with the Fireside Singers, and was a part of 2 different bands who performed around Saskatoon, SK. She enjoys a wide range of genres, playing anything from The Weepies to Nero in our apartment, and singing Worship music or the Les Misérables music to herself while brushing her teeth. I, on the other hand…
I like me some golden era hip-hop.
I’m what you might call a “purist.” Every culture and sub-culture has them: people who insist on adhering to the traditional forms. Hip-Hop, as a culture, traditionally expressed itself musically with the ‘DeeJay’ and the ‘Emcee’ playing off one another in performances. Popular acronyms for ‘MC’ have included “Mic Controller” or “Move the Crowd.” This was the job of the DJ and the MC: perform for the people, rock the party.
A rapper (MC) named ‘Killer Mike’ (who chose his name because he ‘kills’ microphones [mic’s] when performing, and his name is Mike) explained the origins of Hip-Hop as a culture this way:
“Hip Hop, as an entity, was started in the late ’60s, early ’70s. All these kids that were kind of the fallout kids of the Black Nationalist movement, Civil Rights, poor white people’s movement, Puerto Rican Nationalism movement — they had street gangs in New York, in the Bronx, that were essentially burned out. At some point in the very late ’60s, early ’70s, these kids were like ‘We’re going to come up with our own peace treaty.’ They came up with their own peace treaty [and] decided that, ‘We aren’t going to engage in violence.’ These kids–they were children–got together in the public park, stole public electricity [and] decided to do park jams as an alternative to violence… So ‘Hip Hop’ is not ‘Rap.’ Hip Hop is the thing that houses Rap, Graffiti, breakdancing, deejaying, and entrepreneurship.
…What it did was give poor kids an opportunity to organize as an alternative to violence.”¹
Encyclopedia Britannica details the major elements of Hip Hop as a culture as well, but below is a snippet regarding the musical expression, speaking to Killer Mike’s description above.
“The first major hip-hop deejay was DJ Kool Herc (Clive Campbell), an 18-year-old immigrant who introduced the huge sound systems of his native Jamaica to inner-city parties. Using two turntables, he melded percussive fragments from older records with popular dance songs to create a continuous flow of music.”²
So, at the core of Hip Hop culture is a socio-political movement born of an awareness that something is very much broken and in need of mending, coupled with a decision that violence was not the way to do it. At the core of the musical aspect of Hip-Hop is the very practical elements of DJ’s taking various broken-apart pieces of music and mending them together into something new.
Now, I’m a pastor. But I also make beats, and rhyme.
And I’m a purist, as I said before. So when I make beats (how hip-hop producers commonly refer to producing tracks for artists), I try my best to stick to the basics, the foundation; Various pieces of music broken apart plus a hard-hitting drum break to create something brand new. Add on top of that the various rhythms and rhyme-schemes of a rapper who creatively puts together words which communicate intelligently in many layers whatever his message is, and you have the makings of a classic HipHop song. This is what I try to do when I rhyme (how MC’s commonly refer to their writing & performing of the lyrical aspect). I try my best to stick to the core of what HipHop culture has been about: communicating creatively, intelligently, & effectively, that which is broken, and how it can be mended.
This, for my theological purists out there, is what we try to do when we proclaim the Word of God: effectively communicate that which is broken, and how it can be mended. This, in its essence, is the message of the Gospel–We are broken, our world is broken, our families and relationships are broken, and we know the way that all can be, and in a sense has been, made well!
We know the way it can all be mended.
A DJ named Sean Patrick said, at the beginning of his 2011 album with rapper Paradox entitled “mending,”
It’s simple really, we’re all broken. God is always in the process of putting us back together. It’s the same thing with this sound, this music… With hip-hop, all these sounds are broken up, all these old dirty records, they’re all chopped up, and you put them all back together. Plus we cover it up–we cover it up with the Living Word… you know. We’re mending…
God is always in the process of putting us back together. As we return again and again each day to the Truth of God’s Word, that we have been saved by grace through faith as a complete and total free gift from God, we are reminded that in Christ, we are already mended, reconciled to the Father because of Christ. As we daily live in that, we are daily being put back together–mended–by the Gospel. This message of mending fits well within the medium of HipHop, and thanks be to God, there are many who have heard and answered the call, using this expression to honestly and authentically bring the hope of the Gospel to those who otherwise might not hear it.
If you want a list of artists to check out–believe me–I’ve got lists for days…
Like I said, I’m something of a purist. I love the art form and culture of Hip-Hop, and I can’t help but bob my head and dance a little when those classic jams come on (just ask my wife). It makes me want to make beats and rhyme, and I love it. But, I want to do all that each day knowing that though I’m broken in sin, there is hope because I’ve been mended back together in, with, and for Christ. I want to remain a purist when it comes to the music, but more importantly, in the things of The Faith. It is truly good news that for 2,000 years has been proclaimed by (though perhaps not self-designated) purists like myself.
As I said: I like me some golden era hip-hop.
And I like me some Gospel.
by pastor nick.