You may have heard of The Truth Behind Hip Hop, a DVD featuring G Craige Lewis of EX Ministries. The series is proving to be remarkably popular with young people; recently while on patrol with the Street Pastors in south London I was stopped by a group of youths whose first question on seeing the Street Pastors' logo was "Do you know where we can see The Truth About Hiphop?". Subsequently I arranged to show The Truth Behind Hip Hop at their youth club in Camberwell with Michael from da Vision. The DVDs had a remarkable effect on the young people, making them think about the artists they spend so much time listening to. This experience has been common in many places where the DVDs have been seen — quite amazing since they are basically videos of a pastor preaching. The subject matter grips them — Lewis seems to have something to say about all the major rap artists, R&B stars and even a few church leaders! Many churches and youth pastors are rushing to use these videos in their ministries, yet I would urge a note of caution. Do not simply take the DVDs at face value; do a bit of background research on some of the claims made in them. One particular part of the DVD that has a strong impact on young people is when Lewis plays a track attributed to Jay-Z. The effect is so amazing that I have even see teenagers run screaming out of the room on hearing the track.
However, the story behind this track is not as simple as The Truth Behind Hip Hop makes out. Underground DJ Danger Mouse mixed an a cappella version of Jay-Z's The Black Album with the Beatles' The White Album to make The Grey Album. If you play the track Interlude normally it makes no sense; however, when played backwards it includes the lyrics "666..., Murder, Murder, Jesus". The track was made to be played backwards, and DJ Danger Mouse simply samples Jay-Z's voice and edits it to make him say what he wants. The album is not made or endorsed by Jay-Z, yet Lewis does not make this clear. This is one of several discrepancies that I have found in The Truth Behind Hip Hop; many other people have also found glaring errors in Lewis's comments. The DVDs' mixture of half-truths along with their personal attacks on Christian artists and preachers have lead me to seriously doubt the validity of The Truth Behind Hip Hop as a tool for use with young people.
There is a history of preachers decrying young people's music as satanic. Many churches now use contemporary Christian music in worship, but this wasn't always the case; years ago disgraced televangelist Jimmy Swaggart called Christian rock music "a diabolical force undermining Christianity from within."
G Craige Lewis’s comments will have little impact on the fortunes amassed by the likes of Eminem and 50 Cent. However, many of the CDs destroyed at Lewis’s seminars are by respectable gospel artists that Lewis has preached against. Lewis is making life very difficult for Christian rappers; his DVD sales reportedly outstrip those of Christian rap music. Holy hip hoppers are finding themselves unable to get gigs in churches that Lewis has preached his message at.
Emcee, singer and spoken word artist Karl Nova told me: "Hip hop is a culture. It is the dominant youth culture today, whether people like it or not. If you want to reach youth you need missionaries who understand the language and can relate to young people. We are in the world though not of it! Hip hop is not an organized religion. I agree that rap music has been co opted and used to push all kinds of evil values through the manipulation of sounds and images that seem to have brainwashed those who are searching for something real, but a generation has arisen from amidst the darkness to shine a light that cannot be overcome, within the culture. I don't personally subscribe to the phrase Holy Hip Hop but I understand it. The redeemable elements of the culture can be offered up to God and made holy by those who have set themselves apart for His service. This is the truth about hip hop that G Craige Lewis didn't tell y'all! The problem with him is that he mixes in his personal views and opinions and tries to pass on everything as Gospel truth. He also mixes in badly researched information and plays on the prejudice of narrow minded traditionalists, legalists and very religious folk! I also disagree with his calling out other Ministers. It throws everything he says into question. Where is the love? We are to speak the truth in love! He has some truth but being that it is mixed in with wrong motives which at times appear to border on hatred, it almost neutralizes the truth he does speak! He simply doesn't understand what hip hop is!
I also asked rapper Smooflow of Royalpriesthood if he takes issue with Lewis's comments. "If hip hop was a sinner, when God came into the picture the dynamics changed. All music belongs to God. Hip hop started in Africa, singing and talking over beats and drums. If you can generalize and say all hip hop is bad, then I guess I can generalize and say all black people are criminals. If people agree with G Craige Lewis's claims then I guess we need to stop using the Internet because the foundation of the Internet is very demonic. Cerberus is a server that we go via to get to the Internet. Cerberus is a three headed demon dog that protects the gateway to hell, yet everyone logs on to the Internet. I don't care about the foundation of the Internet. All I know is I use it for good. I don't care about the foundation of hip hop. All I know is I use that for God. Proverbs 18:6 says 'The words of a fool start fights; do him a favour and gag him.' (The Message). People are coming from the streets into the church and if a man like G Craige Lewis is man enough to disrespect people then what comes back to him is his problem."
Ruslan of theBREAX told me: "As a music major I have taken several world music classes, and they all conclude that modern day pop music, including hip-hop, goes back to black church music. Jazz, blues, and gospel all started in the black church in the early 1900s. Rock music goes back to church music, soul, these are all the foundations for hip-hop. Up until the black church, music didn't have the soul, the beat, the rhythm it has today. James Brown is the godfather of hip-hop. His sound is gospel, soulful. Ray Charles, the innovator of soul, got dissed for taking the Lord’s music to night clubs and bars. The reality is, all the innovators in pop culture in the last 100 years started where? — the church. We dropped the ball because we didn't give these people an outlet to express themselves outside of Sunday morning. It was either praise and worship or nothing. Now if as an artist you were limited like that, I'm sure you would leave the church and go and get your music heard. In the church not giving these artists room to blossom, they left, and the drugs, sex, and sin took over.
"Rock originally used to refer to the rock of Christ. Elvis was a Christian, Little Richard, all these dudes started in church. We need to take back the culture. Christians have always lead what was popular and cool throughout history, until the last 100 years when we became afraid of culture and gave it away to the devil. Those are the roots of hip-hop. Gospel, jazz, soul laid the foundation and the guys in the south Bronx just used it to bring people together and express what was going on in the community. Some of you really need to take a music class and study the origins of music before you start speaking as an expert and say this music is devil inspired. There is no such thing as secular music, just secular lyrics. All music is of God, just like all food is of God. Read 1 Corinthians 8. Paul said it was okay to intake food sacrificed to idol gods. So if we draw the line between what we eat and what we watch, we have a lot of liberty. Our concern should be not offending our neighbors with our freedom."