Hip-hop artists increasingly take Christianity along on ride to mainstream acceptance

Hip-hop music, a counterculture genre that emerged in the 1970s on the black and Latino streets of the Bronx, has seen a gradual shift toward Christian themes in recent years, reports Sandi Dolbee in the San Diego Union-Tribune (June 13). “After capturing the allegiance of generations of urban young people, a growing crew of hip-hop artists are taking their penchant for in-your face narratives into the world of amazing grace,” she writes. “The underlying foundations and institutions of Black people and music in the Western world, including hip-hop, are rooted in religion,” says hip-hop scholar and fan Roy Whitaker, an associate professor of religion at San Diego State University. Dolbee adds that hip-hop “historians note that in the early days, many artists were influenced by Malcolm X, the Nation of Islam and even some Rastafarians. But there’s been a migration toward Christianity—with a hip-hop worldview that mixes social irreverence with born-again reverence.”

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At the genre’s outset, some churches and pastors were so opposed to the language, misogyny and hyper-sexuality of hip-hop that they publicly burned the CDs. But the genre has won both religious and secular respect. By the end of 2017, hip-hop surpassed rock music to become the most popular genre in the country. “It also became firmly ensconced in many contemporary church services seeking to draw in a younger, more diverse congregation by finding ways to marry their own faith messages with the beats that resonated with hip-hop audiences,” Dolbee writes. Danny Baragan, the lead worship pastor at Rock Church in National City, says that some “people may walk in, and to be really honest, they get really uncomfortable hearing hip-hop in a church. But I think it’s a safe place for them to be in tension with that a little bit. And the hope would be that they would say, ‘Hey, this is being done positively. This is celebrating someone’s upbringing and culture and expression and you know what? I need to be a little more open-minded to that.’’’ Dolbee adds that the Christian turn may be a result of aging—Snoop is 49 years old, Kanye is 43, and the late DMX was 50. “I think we live our life one way for so long and when it continues to give you the same results, you realize I need to change something. I need to grow up a little bit, and I need to mature in the way I approach life. And I think a lot of those guys realized that,” Barragan says. While DMX’s death in April “may be a reminder of the lifestyle tension between hip-hop and holiness, the musical blending appears to be here to stay,” Dolbee concludes.