Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Refocusing and Redefining Hip Hop: An Analysis of Lecrae’s Contribution to Hip Hop

Out of the dust and ashes from apartment buildings burning in the streets of the Bronx, New York, among the disenfranchised Black and Hispanic youth rose Hip Hop. Hip Hop provided an identity and a voice to the voiceless; therefore, the exclusion of certain voices in contemporary Hip Hop is antithetical to the genre’s foundation. Particularly, the voices of Christians in Hip Hop, whose focus is to make God famous, are rarely included in discussions by academic and Hip Hop communities. On September 4, 2012, Lecrae Moore released Gravity, his sixth studio album. Gravity debuted as the number one bestselling album on the overall iTunes chart and number three on the Billboards 200 chart. 

Despite the success of this album, the academic community has not given adequate attention to Lecrae. If Hip Hop scholarship does not pay attention to Lecrae and other Christians in Hip Hop then it will contribute to the very illegitimacy it fights against. American society has misunderstood, misrepresented and wrongfully accused Hip Hop. Hip Hop is notorious, not only in America, but around the world, for misogyny, the glamorization of gang violence and a seemingly insatiable pursuit of money. Therefore, there is a need for Hip Hop scholars to examine Christians in Hip Hop in order to help combat this limited view of the genre and provide a comprehensive definition of Hip Hop, nationally and internationally. The absence of any voice within a group quite often leaves the entire group vulnerable to improper identification, disenfranchisement and oppression. 

Christians have been a part of Hip Hop throughout its history. During Hip Hop’s beginning, Charles Howard, in The Black Church and Hip Hop Culture, discusses Sylvia Robinson’s encounter with the Holy Spirit. Stephen Wiley, who is recognized as the first “Christian Rapper,” wrote the lyrics to the song “Basketball” performed by Kurtis Blow. In 1982, Peter Harrison, who goes by MC Sweet, released an album titled Jesus Christ (The Gospel Beat) on the Lection Record label. Wiley and Harrison were nationally known artists but there were several local emcees who were also Christians. There is a whole community of Christians in Hip Hop that includes Lecrae; out of this community has grown a movement with Lecrae at the forefront. 

The movement that Lecrae both leads and invests in challenges Hip Hop to go back to its roots of providing a voice to the voiceless and addressing the issues that the disenfranchised of American society confronts. As the face of the movement to mainstream American culture, Lecrae has also had success by winning a Grammy in 2013 in the Best Gospel Album category for Gravity. He is breaking down the barriers that have kept Christians out of rap music by bridging the gap between the church and Hip Hop. He amalgamates “Christian Hip Hop” and Hip Hop and offers new ways of conceiving what is considered “sacred” and “secular.” Furthermore, Lecrae does not perpetuate negative stereotypes; he is one of many Christians who is not ostentatious in Hip Hop. He has chosen to “play the background,” he raps: “Yeah, so if you need me I'll be stage right. Prayin' the whole world will start embracing stage fright. So let me fall back and stop giving my suggestions. Cause when I follow my obsessions I end up confessing. I'm not that impressive, matter of fact I'm who I are. A trail of star dust leading to the Superstar." 

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