Last August, Smashing Pumpkins lead singer, Billy Corgan, raised an eyebrow or two and ruffled a few feathers during a CNN interview when he said:
(A Popular American Magazine asked) What’s the future of rock?” And my answer was, “God”. And they said, “What do you mean?” And I said, “Well, God’s the third rail of -” What is it? “Social security is the third rail of politics in America”. Well, God is the third rail in rock and roll. You’re not supposed to talk about God. Even though most of the world believes in God. It’s sort of like, “Don’t go there”.
I think God’s the great, unexplored territory in rock and roll music. And I actually said that. I thought it was perfectly poised. And, of course, they didn’t put it in the interview.
RAJPAL: What would you say to Christian rockers, then?
CORGAN: Make better music.”
Corgan makes some fair points (‘stop copying U2. U2 already did it,’), but certainly stung the hearts of Christian culture artists and consumers alike. This problem always exists for Christian artists, how do we become relevant and inspire creativity at the same time? It is a fine line to walk; most artists want to break free into the mainstream to inspire more than just Christians. After all, how can an artist go into all the world when all we are really doing is making music for Christians?
The answer: stay true to your unique style, and make music that is better than an imitation of your secular competitors.
“I’m tryin to keep it together, forgive my awkwardness…but uh…”
Lecrae, resident of my beloved ATL, reformed Christian rapper topped the Billboard 200 charts yesterday debuting his new album, Anomaly: seriously. He is one of only five Christian artists to do so (Switchfoot, Leanne Rhymes, Third Day, and For King and Country)* and the first Gospel act to debut an album at #1. What an appropriate name for an incredible feat. How did he do it? He made better music.
I’m not trying to sell out the Christian ‘hip hop’ of my youth, after all, these artists blazed the trail for introducing hip-hop into Christian culture. Still, most of us church-raised nineties babies remember the struggle evident within the lines of the lyrics: it seemed like hip hop without the incessant sexual references or commoditization of female body parts wouldn’t ever succeed in the market place. The style was too soft for hip-hop lovers, and too brash for church-goers. The closest thing to hip-hop in our household in the nineties was DC Talk’s “Love is a verb,” a nod to the Beastie boy rap-rock popular in the early nineties. I cannot tell you how many times, “down with the DC talk” vibrated the walls of my bedroom, and my parents were all too happy that I was devouring Christian lyrics and not fighting them for ‘my right to party.’
As I grew older, I devoured hip-hop AND I LOVED IT. I mindlessly mouthed along as these predominantly male rappers made sex into a cheap transaction and sold the activity as an exchange of capital; women only had power for a night…if that. Otherwise, power was achieved through stacking money to the ceiling. Sure, there were a few clever rappers who took popular culture and flipped it on its head; the nineties were an interesting time for hip-hop. As a literary nerd, I became completely transfixed on the thousands upon thousands of phrases and words that entered into popular culture because of these artists. As far as I was concerned, hip-hop artists were modern day Shakespeares.
Now, hip hop has evolved into something that I don’t recognize; if it isn’t EDM, it is a repetition of the same four ideas: sex/misogyny, money, drug-dealing, or trash-talking. If that wasn’t enough, one can often hear the same thing repeated across multiple songs: just insert a female body part, or stacks on stacks, or something about some other rapper ‘doing work.’ Clearly, I am not the intended audience for these lyrics (I’ll have a pumpkin spice latte and get some more blonde highlights please!)
Still, I cannot help but think that hip-hop is simply recycling itself into something we’ve heard before…Lecrae tackles the lack of creativity in his song, ‘Nuthin.’
Lecrae has a sophistication to his lyrics, and he begins to explore, what Corgan calls, the ‘third rail’ of hip-hop: God. And he does it with fully developed ideas, a solid lexicon, a unique style, and beats that will get anyone moving. He seeks to inspire other artists (“you’re greater than the songs you create,”); promote *gasp* monogamy; and infuse his effortless lines with deep rooted scriptural principles.
Beyond that, his music is entertaining. It isn’t regurgitated. It is a fresh and interesting take on where hip hop should be moving. I cannot compare him to another hip hop artist, because he has invented a new style that is sure to become a new standard across secular and Christian music.
And y’all…I get to go to his last concert date this NOVEMBER at the Tabernacle in Atlanta. I cannot wait to be present as he brings his tour to his home, in this, the hip-hop capital of the nation (look it up ;)).
If you don’t know Lecrae, be sure to tune in Tonight, tonight…find a way to offer up the night tonight…sorry…Billy Corgan has me singing again…
Tune in to Jimmy Fallon TONIGHT to watch #LeCraeOnFallon. Tonight, tonight. Sorry, just couldn’t help myself.