I've been lamenting the state of hip-hop so much and so loudly lately that I'm afraid that I'm starting to sound like Snoop's dad in the "Gin and Juice" video. I've been talking about the monotony and lack of depth in the lyrics, and the beats that sound like they were not just created on a computer, but by one. I do see some exceptions, in guys like Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole, among very few others, but for the most part, I'm disappointed. It would be one thing if they were just rapping about things that were vulgar or self-destructive, but doing it with excellence in the lyric and music. I can't even tell how many songs I could probably quote verbatim that fall into that category, ones that stay in regular rotation in my iTunes. It would be okay with me if the message were positive, or at least intelligent, but the lyrics were less than brilliant, although I tend to have less respect for those songs than for the former, somehow. But too much of what I hear, is both - vulgar and stupid, and at the same time weak lyrically and/or musically. I keep asking the younger hip-hop lovers I know, "Is this song on the radio because you like it? Or do you just like it because it's on the radio, because someone told you it was the next hot thing?"
I feel very vindicated by this fiasco with Rich Homie Quan at the VH1 Hip-hop Honors show. For those that live under the rock where hip-hop doesn't penetrate, the video of it is posted below. Essentially, Quan was meant to honor Biggie by performing his lyrics in a performance of "Get Money," alongside Lil Kim, at that, and didn't seem to know any of the lyrics past the first line. If he had just switched a word or two, I would give him a pass, but it really looked like he had no idea what the lyrics should be, as if he had tried to memorize them on the limo ride to the venue. It was bad enough that you can see audience members rapping the lyrics, like you would for a little five-year-old boy trying to sing the national anthem at a baseball game and forgetting the lyrics. For my money, the highlight of the video is the look on Pun's face when it registers with him. I feel you, Pun.
I know Quan apologized, sort of, and so I don't want to bash him, really, but that type of disrespect and laziness is unconscionable, and represents, I think, a widespread problem of artists who respect only money and vice, and not the art form that they participate in. Again, he did apologize, and he deserves forgiveness, but I have to point out that to blame this on some technical glitch that had him flustered before the performance is a cop-out. Most of the guys, and women, in my squad could recite those lyrics outside in a thunderstorm, underwater, with five pounds of rocks in their pockets. What I expected from any apology was basically, "I'm sorry I didn't bring it." In fact, what I expected was for some of that old Lil Kim to come out, for her to snatch that Coogi sweater off Quan's back and boot him off the stage with those heels. For him to instead blame it on technical glitches makes me wonder what kind of professional performer he is, to get so flustered by a faulty mic or whatever.
This brings me to the Hip-hop Diet Challenge. I've had to do this for my own personal reasons over the last few years, and it's always had a positive effect on me. The challenge goes like this: For thirty days, I will abstain from any form of hip-hop that is does not have a distinctly Christian message. Not just positive - Christian. There are so many great rappers out there that we aren't listening to because they are either labelled as "Christian" or from a Christian label. I have to confess that I used to be the same way. I took this challenge myself when a pastor that I respect talked about purging our lives of sinful voices. I really felt convicted, but I had a hard time imagining my workouts listening to praise music or gospel. I have nothing but respect for those musicians, but their music isn't conducive to creating a workout mindset. Furthermore, when I hear or sing praise music, in church or wherever, I'm aware that this music is meant to bless God more than me. I also need music that is for me, that speaks to me, that instructs and inspires me. I hadn't listened to much Christian hip-hop, just enough to believe that it was all, in a word, wack. And I stand by that belief, at least at the time. But Christian hip-hop has gone through such a transformation in the last ten years, more or less, that I really think that the majority of the fire lyrics and beats are coming from guys like Lecrae Moore, and the majority of what I hear coming from the radio is just substandard, lyrically and musically. After I did the first thirty days, I went back to listening to the full spectrum of music in my library, but I had added several albums and artists that I had never listened to before, some of whom are now in my top ten list.
You could start with Lecrae, Andy Mineo, and basically anyone in the 116 squad. You may not own much of this music, but try plugging any of those names into Pandora and listen for a while to see which artists you like more than others. If you hear something you like, support the artist and buy the track or album. You're going to hear a range of styles from New York to Dirty South to Trap (just without the actual Trap). You're even going to hear a range of topics, from deep theological discussion to praising Christ to just thoughts on love, marriage, and life from a Christian perspective. I can promise you that you won't have to sacrifice the beat for the message, and that if you love hip-hop, you will love this too. These brothers, and a few sisters, are a part of the body of Christ like us, using their talents to educate and sometimes discipline us (and themselves), but doing it without the airplay and money that other rappers, ones who don't even have half of their talent, and if Quan is any indication, their commitment to craft, are getting. We owe it to them to at least give them a spin.
So let me know how it goes. Thirty days of nothing but "Christian" hip-hop. Let me know if you feel differently by the end, if this has the same effect on your spirit that it did on mine. For me, it was like being off junk food for a month and sensing how much better my body moved and felt, but spiritually. Also, let me know what artists particularly struck you as superior talents, and where you would put them on a scale with the rappers you already know.
Here's a Lecrae video to get you started.