Hip-Hop Kingdom Come
You can't reach me, my mom can't neither
You can't teach me a godd— thing cause
I watch TV, and Comcast cable
And you ain't able to stop these thoughts
FROM "CRIMINAL" BY EMINEM
It's easier to sin, but it hurts my heart
I'm really tryin' to win, so where do we start?
FROM "READY TO MEET HIM" BY DMX
On Thursday nights in Tampa, Florida, 200 teenagers descend upon Club X, a loud and lively hangout occupying the second floor of what used to be a four-story office building. The billiards and foosball tables, exposed overhead pipes, and spacious common area make it an attractive spot for kids to mingle, play, and dance. Live rap music blares through large speakers onstage, sending funky, pulsating rhythms through the room. On this night, the music sounds as raw and edgy as anything from Snoop Dogg or Puff Daddy. The teams of young rappers come with a variety of monikers: Prophetic Preachas, N-4-Red, The Elect, Rezarekted Elementz, B.J., Eternal Rhythm. Listen closely to their riffs:
I called my family my people who
live with me,
Snuck out of the house, went to
parties, and got high with me
Thought anytime I was in trouble
they would lie for me
But I already had a Friend who had
died for me.
These kids aren't rhyming about money, misogyny, and mayhem but the perils of a life without Christ. And Club X is not a nightclub but a youth outreach sponsored by Without Walls International Church, a 10,000-member congregation that has made headlines in Tampa for its innovative ministries. The performers at the mike tonight are teenagers who came to Christ through the ministry of Without Walls and are now praising God in the language they speak best. "Most of the raps are based on the Word; there's no fluff," says Robert Mallan, the young pastor who oversees Club X and other programs from his church's Millennium Generation youth ministry. "They're basically talking about their life experiences, rapping their testimonies."
Eleven-hundred miles up the East Coast in New York City, about 1,300 teen and pre-teen youth pour into Club Life each Tuesday night to sing and dance to hip-hop music with Christian lyrics. Like the kids in Tampa, they walk and talk hip-hop: their clothes are baggy and imprinted with designer logos (FUBU, Tommy Hilfiger) and their conversation is sprinkled with street idioms ("phat," "the bomb," "homey"). But, as at Club X, the focus here is Jesus.
Mark Gibbs, a pastor who leads the music department at Metro Ministries, which hosts Club Life, says the hip-hop bells and whistles are a means to drawing kids in to hear the Word. "We provide exciting music and present it not as a forbidden music but with positive lyrics to the popular beats."
Club X and Club Life are just two examples among a slew of growing youth ministries that are unashamedly embracing hip-hop culture. At churches across America, the hip-hop nation is setting up camp in the kingdom of God and bringing its own streetwise sensibility to the task of proclaiming the Good News of Christ.
Oops, here it is
It has been two decades since the Sugar Hill Gang charted hip-hop's first top-40 hit with the festive "Rapper's Delight." Since then, the music has worked its way into the national jukebox, with artists like Run D.M.C., MC Hammer, Beastie Boys, Will Smith, Queen Latifah, and Dr. Dre ushering it into the mainstream a little more with each song and video.
Early on some wrote it off as a harmless novelty genre that would soon fade into the annals of cultural gaffes (think disco). But now it's clear: hip-hop—in its various forms and manifestations—is here to stay.