According to published research on the world’s population, 1 out of every 3 people affiliate or profess to be Christian; just over two billion approximately. Of those two billion people, about eleven percent of them live in the United States of America, totaling close to 250 million people.
Now, according to US News & World Reports, the United States in 2012 held just under 313 million people. That would mean that almost eighty percent of the United States would at least check “Christian” under the religious affiliation section on their census forms.
So here is what doesn’t seem to line up. Jay Z in less than two months has sold close to two million copies of his latest, Magna Carta Holy Grail album. Drake in just less than two years sold over two million copies of his Take Care album that he released in 2011. However, it has taken Reach Records, the largest and most supported name in Christian Hip Hop, 10 years and the collective album sales of every artist in the history of their label to reach 1 million copies sold combined. It took Reach Records 10 years and every artist they have ever had to do half of what Jay Z did in just over a month.
But 80 percent—80 percent—of the US population professes to be Christian. Surely you’re not going to lead me to believe that only that 20 percent labeled “other” are who buy every chart-topping, platinum-selling, Grammy award-winning, and multi-million dollar-making Hip Hop album in this country. You can’t. Because you know as well as I do that you have one, if not several, of those albums in your iPhone right now.
Three years ago, Lecrae released his fourth studio album, Rehab, which garnered a lot of press not only because of the success of his previous work, Rebel, but because he released the album just after Marshall Mathers (Eminem) had just released his album, Recovery. Rehab turned out to be a hit, selling over 25,000 copies its first week out, 15,000 more than his previous album did. It would go on to see Lecrae placed in the same Grammy nomination categories as none other than Eminem himself, whose album also did fairly well, debuting on Billboard charts at #1 after selling 741,000 copies its first week, and by 2011, over 10 million copies worldwide—half of which were sold in the United States alone.
Have we not been paying attention? The world has been turned on its head because of Hip Hop. National Geographic called Hip Hop “the world’s favorite youth culture.” And we know that’s true even in the Christian sub-genre because Lecrae has become a household name in Christian music because of what? Hip Hop! So, why has not a single of his albums touched even Gold-selling status? He’s got over 700,000 followers on Twitter! Drake sold over two million albums by himself. That’s two million souls affected by his music, and that doesn’t include singles; Macklemore & Ryan Lewis: 1M+, Jay-Z: just under 2M. That’s 5 million souls touched by three people! And that’s not to mention any other top-selling artist like Big Sean, J Cole, Kendrick Lamar, and the worst of them, 2 Chainz. We’re playing a part in this. These artists are not selling millions of records in the United States and abroad without our help. We’re contributing our gold to the building of a golden calf. And what’s worse, it’s not even under the assumption that this is honoring to God. Mainstream Hip-Hop is overtly anti-Jesus; but the sounds and crafty lyrics still draw us away and entice us. But don’t mishear me. I know the world is corrupt, and there aren’t many places clearer to see that than in Hip-Hop culture; but the Hip-Hop art form is very much being used by God to advance His will over and against that of the popular press.
Sometimes I wonder if Christians, the Church, realize what we are advancing. We think there is no harm investing ten, twenty, thirty dollars a month buying music that promotes and celebrates self, self, sex, self and more self, when the reality demonstrates something entirely different. I’m sure Aaron encouraged the people of Israel to build the calf in good faith that he was doing an honorable thing. And when the people were giving their gold to craft the idol, I’m sure they thought it was no big deal—until God saw it and thought it was the worst thing they could have done. The very thing the people thought might have honored the Lord was an abomination to Him. They paid for that idol to be advanced, and I am not sure they even knew that’s what they were doing. But this is far clearer than that. We are paying to advance these musicians to heights far beyond that of Christian Hip-Hop artists, who are actually working to advance the kingdom of God. We have one guy—count it, one—who has a significant global impact because of Christian Hip-Hop. There should be far more.
We’ve seen the effect that Christian Hip-Hop has had in the Church, making the truth of God current to life, and igniting souls to be awakened to Him. So why don’t we really support it? And I know not all of it is good; trust me. But the right Christian Hip-Hop should be bought and distributed, more and further than a good drug. Why? Because Jesus is better! Or do we not believe that.
Well, on November 5, 2013 Alex Faith will be releasing his debut album, ATLast with Collision Records (follow the journey at ATLastthealbum.com). Eminem will be releasing his album MMLP2, on the exact same date. Two different artists, two similar stories, two entirely different influences; and we will get a chance to see what we really think is better. Which will we support more? And not just with retweets and Facebook likes, but with that ten, twenty, or thirty dollars we’re already spending. There’s always a war between influences in our lives, Galatians 5 is clear about that. 11/5/13, we have an opportunity to push one further than we every have before.
Jesus really is better. Christian Hip-Hop aims to make that clear in a form that clearly has transcendent influence among people. We should get behind it and move it farther than we have before. Christians in mainline organizations (ad agencies, marketing, publishing, PR, media, etc.), listen to the music that Christian Hip-Hop is making and use those sounds to brand commercials, radio, film, video games, and television. Christian organizations (churches, bookstores, Para-church, etc.), partner with those Christians who are being used by God through Hip-Hop to resource your people, so that they have better music filling their ears as they ride the bus to school, work out at the gym, and drive home from work. We have a real chance to reach the ends of the world with something that has already been there and back. Don’t miss the opportunity to play your part. It’s really only a touch away.
Why do Christians hate Christian Hip Hop? I don’t know, but if they disagree with me, they certainly have ample opportunity to prove it. Support the music we keep claiming we want. It’s right here.
James Nwobu is a student at Dallas Theological Seminary, a consumer and executive in the music industry. Over the past year he's written copy and managed public relations and media communications for recording projects topping #1 on both iTunes and Billboard. Follow him on Twitter/Instagram/Facebook/LinkedIn @jamesnwobu.