Hip-Hop Uncovered Part IIApril 24, 2007 at 1:36 pm | Posted in The Source | Leave a comment
In 2006, Hip-Hop’s seemingly silent sub-genre, Holy Hip-Hop (Christian/Gospel/inspirational rap music), gained mainstream exposure as well as momentum. From Dr. Robert Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California and Pastor Phil Jackson’s Tha House on Chicago’s West Side to Pastor Tommy Kyllonen’s Hip-Hop infused community outreach in Tampa, Florida and Father Timothy Holder’s e-Mass (a combination of Hip-Hop and Episcopalian ritual) in South Bronx, NY, emcees who specialize in Holy Hip-Hop music became widely recognized as did Hip-Hop themed youth groups, events, performances, and music ministries.
Although the Hip-Hop industry tends to balk at spiritual emcees and DJ’s remain unsure about what to do with Hip-Hop’s flourishing sub-genre, the influence of Holy Hip-Hop music in churches and even gospel infused lyrics in mainstream songs continues to grow in popularity. Entertainment marketing consultant and artist manager for The Diadem Group, LLC, Treiva Williams explains the disparity, “Just like any other genre or sub-genre there are doses or levels of [Hip-Hop]. You just have to keep listening until you find your style and your appropriate dosage. Each kind serves its purpose [but] because [Holy Hip-Hop] is associated with the divine it [usually] gets a one shot deal.”
Two of the most influential advocates of Holy Hip-Hop are rap pioneers Curtis “Kurtis Blow” Walker and Christopher “Play” Martin. Noted for their individual achievements and contributions to rap, Walker and Martin are proactively involved in advancing Holy Hip-Hop. Although their platforms differ, their goals are the same.
Hittin’ the Breaks
With more than 25 years of industry experience,
Walker has 10 albums to his credit and a host of accomplishments that won him music, film, and television acclaim in the 80’s. Although
Walker always “knew God as a kid,” at the lowest point in his life, he succumbed to drug use. It was
Walker’s spiritual encounter at Church on the Way (Pastor Jack Hayford) in 1992 that changed his course and added another chapter in Hip-Hop’s history book.
Walker has since transitioned from entertainment magnate to co-founder of the Harlem-based, Hip-Hop Church America where the former break-dancer serves as a rapper, DJ, and worship leader.
Like the Hip-Hop Church in Harlem, sanctuaries in Dallas, Los Angles, New Jersey, Philadelphia and 15 other U.S. cities duplicate efforts to bring families together through lively church services garnished with Hip-Hop themes and Holy Hip-Hop music. “That’s the thing about the
Church–we don’t target the 18 to 34 year old [demographic]. We target entire families. When the kids come to church, they come in with their parents. They are not dropped off in another room,”
In addition to his role with Hip-Hop Church America, speaking engagements, and tours,
Walker is actively involved in community initiatives. He is an advocate for social justice and speaks empathetically against racism, drugs, and alcohol. His current film credits include a two-hour documentary titled, “The History of Rap.” Remaining true to his first love
Walker also deejays on Backspin 43, Sirius Satellite Radio’s Classic Old School Hip-Hop station.
Fully embracing the Holy Hip-Hop movement,
Walker believes that Holy Hip-Hop will “get [rappers] back on track so that God can do good through [Hip-Hop].” “When Hip-Hop first began it was the voice of the people doing and saying the right thing. Teaching was important. It was fun and wholesome… There was a code of ethics and integrity,”
Walker said. “[Today] Hip-Hop for many is a way out of the ‘hood,”
Walker commented. In order for Hip-Hop to thrive,
Walker says that people who like Hip-Hop must have a “different mindset about how to use it.”
Ain’t Gonna Hurt Nobody
Walker, Martin has also amassed his share of music, film, and television credits. The 90’s Hip-Hop icon is best known for his role in the Kid’n Play rap duo and as an actor in the House Party trilogy. Always a price to pay, the glamorous life that fueled Martin’s claim to fame eventually lost its luster. What Martin worked so hard to obtain fell short of the happiness he sought. Predicated by many disappointments and later, a failed marriage, Martin attempted to commit suicide. It was hearing Ron Kenoly’s single, “Use Me” that interrupted the attempt.
Describing Hip-Hop music as a language that everyone can relate to, Martin queries, “What won’t God use to save somebody?”
Today, Martin serves as the executive director for Amen Films–the distribution arm of HP4 (House Party 4). As the founder and CEO of HP4, Martin helps “bring to fruition a dream or vision of an individual with an idea.” Martin’s first film under the Amen umbrella, Holy Hip-Hop: The Movie was released on DVD in March 2006. The film features the efforts of Holy Hip-Hop artists and their impact in communities across the nation. Martin has since completed video projects for Holy Hip-Hop artists, Platinum Souls, Infinity, and former trio, Ziklag Boyz. Simultaneously, Martin lent his musical talent to create three Holy Hip-Hop compilation CDs titled, “Taking the Gospel to the Streets (Volumes 1, 2, and 3).”
Although Martin’s love for Hip-Hop remains, he prefers to be more of a fan and a producer-director. “I love Hip-Hop and am a product of Hip-Hop…I am just focused on looking at ways to keep [Hip-Hop] alive, advance it, innovate it, and develop it,” he advised.
Expanding his reach to the academic arena, Martin serves as a professor at
University. Teaming up with 9th Wonder (Patrick Douthit) formerly of the rap group Little Brother, Martin teaches the school’s inaugural Hip-Hop 101 course.
Together, Martin and Walker are forging full speed ahead to impact the lives of youth and young adults in a positive way. Martin’s film endeavor, “Welcome to Durham USA,” is geared towards gang reform in the
U.S. The documentary exposes the gang problem, qualms about gangs, and addresses the “unspoken hope” of gang members. Prior to their reunion last year, Walker also completed a documentary centered on gang activity in the
Among their collaborative efforts, Martin and Walker support the Annual Holy Hip-Hop Artist Showcase and Music Awards in
Atlanta. The two also joined forces with notable Hip-Hop R&P artist, Canton Jones, to create a 24-track CD. “Tha Block Iz Hot,” features Holy Hip-Hop artists from each region in the U.S. Atlanta-based, Ifeanyi of Ifeanyi Music and Love International’s upcoming reality show, “The Streets Need Us,” carries the album’s lead single.
Walker is on a nationwide tour with his group, The Trinity. Martin is scheduled to make guest appearances on selective tour dates.
Individually, the two still work to progress Holy Hip-Hop. In May, Walker will cross-promote a series of Holy Hip-Hop tracks titled, Hip-Hop Ministry in conjunction with Pastor Kyllonen’s Unorthodox project, which includes a Hip-Hop themed book, CD, and DVD. In addition to championing independent film and television ventures and corresponding soundtracks, Martin is also working on a music video with Holy Hip-Hop recording artist, Blessed.
Martin and Walker are not the only mainstream rap converts to the Christian faith. Nor are they the only Hip-Hop artists to merge their passion for Hip-Hop with their faith. Cheryl “Salt” James, Fabo of D4L, and Diddy’s former personal assistant, Fonzworth Bentley are among a growing list of rap personalities who embrace Hip-Hop and Christianity–a trend popularized six years ago by Bad Boy recording artist, MA$E (Mason Betha). Included in the count are mainstream artists who publicly express their faith in God: Diddy, LL Cool J, Trina, Ludacris, Marques Houston, Ciara, and Crime Mob’s Diamond and Princess and rap converts to ministry.
Former Three 6 Mafia member, Mr. Del continues to rap on his Holy South label while he pastors City of Refuge in
Memphis, Tennessee. Currently, Betha maintains his position as a Hip-Hop artist while pastoring
Church International in
Atlanta. Though he does not formally pastor a church, Reverend Run of Run DMC fame is an ordained minister whose latest album was released June 2006.
Walker, who became an ordained minister in April, attributes the spiritual revival in the Hip-Hop community to purpose. “I always knew that Hip-Hop was very spiritual–something about the rapper’s popularity and their mystic. [Rappers] have the potential to become the hero of their communities. That’s what they are…”
Even though the influence of Hip-Hop in the church is clear as is the viability of Holy Hip-Hop artists, less evident is if the diversity and cultural influences of Hip-Hop will be transformed by churches through Holy Hip-Hop artists or by the heroes who lead Hip-Hop today.