Shai Linne and I are having a conversation between Christian brothers about Christian rap. This post will not make sense unless you start at the beginning of this discussion and read through all the posts. You can find the other posts in this discussion on this page or on the right hand side of this post. This is my rebuttal to Shai’s recent answer and his reply.
Thanks for your explanation, Shai. A couple thoughts in response.
First, I want to affirm that the propositional content of Christian rap is often much better than most gospel songs, CCM, praise choruses, or other Christian pop songs. People who have read me know that I object to those kinds of songs just as much (and, really, more often) than I do Christian rap.
Second, I want to point out that you did not “prove” that rap is a fitting and appropriate medium for communicating God’s holy truth and his worship in any different a way than I have explained why I believe it is not fitting. We both applied Scripture to our assessment of the form. I think that’s important to acknowledge.
Third, you reduced your definition of rap to high word count, internal rhyme, and complex structure. These are qualities of good poetry, to be sure, but with respect, you may as well have been describing a sonnet.
In other words, you really didn’t defend what makes rap what it is.
I’d like to use your own example to illustrate this point.
I want to point out a couple things here: First, I enthusiastically applaud what you did in this video. You recited a poem exalting Jesus Christ. (I’m also very thankful for the clear presentation of the gospel you gave in the second part of the video.)
But was that rap? If that is rap, then let me go on record that I’m fully in favor of that kind of rap. Many have asked what truly redeeming rap would look like, and I’d say that’s it!
But I would submit that what you did in that video is not rap. Would it be rap if you recited that poem while Bach’s “Praise be to You, Jesus Christ” was playing in the background?
No, rap is not just many words rhythmically strung together with internal rhyme. I certainly don’t object to those characteristics, but that’s not what makes rap what it is. Rap includes those characteristics, but it also includes particular kinds of musical accompaniment, performance style, vocal tone, etc.
And, from your own words in this video, I think you recognize this. You explain why you stopped your concert to do what you did:
You hear a lot of music, you see a lot of lights… and it can get rowdy… And I’m going to be honest with you. Sometimes it’s hard, because these things, these lights, and stuff like that, as good as it is, sometimes it can be a distraction. And it can distract us from the most important thing. We do not want to leave here tonight without proclaiming what the Scripture calls of most importance, and it’s simply this…
Based on the defense of rap you provided, I wonder why you felt it was necessary to stop rapping and present the gospel in this way. Isn’t rap well-suited to that kind of proclamation?
You see, the same kinds of things you cited as distractions are what really set apart rap as distinct from poetic, rhyming proclamation, and they are the same kinds of things I believe are ill-fitted to gospel proclamation.
Finally, you claimed that Watts, Toplady, and Newton “couldn’t begin to fathom” the “beauty and complexity in the structure” of Christian Hip-Hop. I would say two things in response:
First, not only could they fathom it, they far exceed it. Great hymn writers of the Christian tradition utilize internal rhyme (like rap) and a wealth of other poetic and structural devices including consonance, assonance, modulation, alliteration, anadiplosis, anaphora, antanaclasis, antistrophe, epanadiplosis, epizeuxis, mesodiplosis, tautology, chiasmus, climax, antithesis, paradox, allegory, metaphor, metonymy, similie, synecdoche, apostrophe, hyperbole, personification, and more (these are just the ones I teach in my hymnology class; any good hymnology textbook will describe many more devices hymn writers use). Hymn writers use these devices because the purpose of Christian poetry (and music) is not just to express truth; their purpose is to grip the imagination and shape the affections with that truth.
Second, you are comparing what you have admitted is not a congregational song form (rap) with hymns intended to be sung by a congregation. Even with the many rich poetic and structural devices they employ, good hymn writers hold back from too much complexity so that people can join in singing.
If you want to compare what you consider a complex poetic presentation of truth with something equivalent in the Christian tradition, try the poetry of George Herbert (like this on prayer), John Milton (like this on Christ’s birth), or John Donne (like this on God’s forgiveness).
Scott, you said:
“I want to point out that you did not “prove” that rap is a fitting and appropriate medium for communicating God’s holy truth and his worship in any different a way than I have explained why I believe it is not fitting.”
Brother, the burden of proof is not on me to demonstrate rap’s worthiness as a medium. I simply showed that Christian Hip-hop can and does in many cases honor what Scripture explicitly commands and exemplifies concerning the church’s music. I can go to Scripture and objectively analyze whether or not a CHH song is giving praise and thanks to God or telling of His salvation, etc. Those are clear, explicit commands. If a song meets that criteria, the burden of proof is on the person who rejects that God-praising, God-thanking, salvation-telling song on the basis of something that is not explicit in Scripture. Let’s talk about the video you posted. You said:
“I enthusiastically applaud what you did in this video. You recited a poem exalting Jesus Christ…But I would submit that what you did in that video is not rap. Would it be rap if you recited that poem while Bach’s “Praise be to You, Jesus Christ” was playing in the background?”
Scott, I say this with all due respect, brother. You seem very knowledgeable about certain things. Your Ph.D. indicates that you’re obviously educated. But when it comes to Hip-hop, you are ignorant. You don’t know what you’re talking about, brother. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with being ignorant. We’re all ignorant about many things. It’s why schools, textbooks, online classes and cross-cultural friendships exist. But refusal to acknowledge that ignorance and then make statements like the one you made above? That’s inexcusable. You (as a cultural outsider and obviously ignorant about Hip-hop) would submit that what I did in the video wasn’t rap? Really?! Well, I, as one who grew up in Hip-hop culture, studied the culture, will soon release my sixth Hip-hop album and write raps for a living- including that one- I would submit that it absolutely is rap. I wrote it as a rap and performed it as a rap. And yes, it would still be a rap with Bach behind it. In Hip-hop culture, we have a term for that kind of thing. It’s called a Mash-up. Happens all the time.
But do you see what you did? You came to this conversation with a presupposition (rap is an unworthy vehicle to communicate God’s truth). You heard me exalt Jesus in a rap and enthusiastically applauded it. But because of your presupposition, you reasoned that it can’t be a rap. Would you accept that kind of reasoning from one of your students? Imagine a freshman student came to you and says “Hymns can’t glorify God.” You play “And Can It Be” for them and they applaud it, saying “Yeah, that was good, but it wasn’t a hymn. It can’t be a hymn because hymns can’t glorify God.” How would you respond to that? You said:
“You explain why you stopped your concert to do what you did: Based on the defense of rap you provided, I wonder why you felt it was necessary to stop rapping and present the gospel in this way. Isn’t rap well-suited to that kind of proclamation?”
Anyone who has been to one of my concerts knows that I use the music as a platform for gospel presentation. At some point in each of my concerts, I stop the music and take time to give the gospel. That would be the case regardless of what genre of music I did. I never said that rap should replace gospel proclamation. As good a tool as rap is, it’s limited just like every other form. Like all art for the church, it’s meant to point to and not distract from or supplant the preaching of Christ. You said:
“Finally, you claimed that Watts, Toplady, and Newton “couldn’t begin to fathom” the “beauty and complexity in the structure” of Christian Hip-Hop. I would say two things in response: First, not only could they fathom it, they far exceed it”
I’ve studied both forms. Newton is one of my historical heroes and I have his complete works with every hymn he ever wrote in it. You have no idea whether his poetry “far exceeds” the best lyricism in Hip-hop because of your ignorance of Hip-hop. So we can’t have that debate just yet.
Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is on faculty at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He has written two books, dozens of articles, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and two children.