John J. Thompson
April 18, 2012
While I have enjoyed the Vesper's new album and agree that Americana music is decidedly open to people of faith, I would not go so far as to say that it is the singular music form that allows for this kind of thing. Rock & roll, hip-hop, and country music all make for fertile ground to present one's faith and, contrary to popular belief, have often been welcomed with open arms. Whether it will sell as well in the general market is a different question, but given the fact that Christian hip-hop acts like Lecrae and Trip Lee have broken the Billboard Top 100 & 200 and the fact that acts like Sixpence None The Richer and The Civil Wars have graced the stage of The Tonight Show and the fact that Carson Daly told Sonny of P.O.D. live on-air that his testimony of Christ was "dope," lets me know that these forms of music are not necessarily hostile to the message of Christ, rather they are waiting for authentic people of faith to speak.
Good point, Mr. Manifesto, and those moments were all high-points in this ongoing experience, but I do believe they tend to be the exceptions that support the rule. With the exception of the Civil Wars, who came from this same Americana mindset, those "crossover" moments were all marked as unique and special circumstances - both by those of us inside the circle and by the gatekeepers of the culture. It was odd and remarkable for these rock or pop acts to reflect a position of faith in the "real world" - whereas within the Americana realm it is not even noteworthy anymore. It's perfectly common for Christian ideas to be explored right alongside every other subject matter.
I didn't mean to denigrate the other genres, and I sure hope people of faith keep rattling those cages, but I do think there is something different about the Americana scene - and country music by extension.
I see your point and raise you specifically "hip-hop," which is my area of expertise. LOL. Hip-hop, to begin with, is religious in its roots and in its nature. African-Americans often take "the gospel" for granted, so a person can listen to Tupac on Saturday and pass the plate on Sunday with no problem. A hip-hop artist at the GRAMMYs can give a "Shout out to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!" and while Bono is dismissive of those shout outs, those in the African-American community (such as myself) and hip-hop community understand these thankful send ups to be legitimate. Hip-hop is a derivative art form, birthed out of sampling and turntabilism, borrowing heavily from gospel, jazz, and the blues--all spiritual art forms to be sure. As such, those who are Christian in hip hop are welcomed with open arms and even thanked for their presence. I think it seems like an anomaly because 1) most people assume hip-hop is hostile to the gospel (when, really, their music says the same things pop music does...but I digress) and 2) the AA church is ALSO steeped in moralism that for a very long time demonized secular music, especially hip-hop. However, this outlook of hip-hop did not diminish what hip-hop was. So, yes, Christians breaking into the Billboard hip-hop charts is viewed as something novel, because it is. But, there's always been ROOM for it within the genre. We've simply kept ourselves out of it or created a lackluster alternative--as with CCM--for so long that now everyone is surprised.
I know you didn't mean to diminish other genres, but given my love for and study of hip-hop, its spiritual roots, and its continuing growth, I'd suggest books like "The Soul of Hip-Hop: rims, Timbs, and a Cultural Theology" as well as "Hip-Hop Redemption: Finding God in the Rhythm and the Rhyme."
Hip hop may be an anomoly, C, but I've been around that scene for a long time too and I can say that there is a very big difference between when someone gives God lip service - sincere though it may be to them - and when they start living that out. I also have been amazed at how slow the Gospel world has been to embrace hip hop and rap. LeCrae is certainly changing things right now, but I'm curious if his numbers on the chart are really about connecting with the mainstream culture, or generating a passionate following among believers. Casting Crowns shows up on the Soundscan chart too, but that doesn't mean mainstream pop music is embracing them. I hope LeCrae really does do that. I do think that the "lip service" folks will probably line up to support him if his music is amazing (which it is) and maybe he can make an impact from there. He's a champ. I do remember several legit hip hop acts getting bumped to the Christian music world, though. But good points. Maybe a full-blown exploration of the Gospel and Hip Hop is in order here ;)
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