Hip-hop isn’t only a place to talk about fantasies like being a millionaire and having dope kicks—it’s where you can talk about God.
“As I mapped out a new path for my life, I wanted to do something positive.”
Reconcile is a rapper from Houston, a city with a rich hip-hop legacy. From the dark raps of the Geto Boys and Scarface to the street signifying of U.G.K. to the syrup-sipping 2000s hits of Slim Thug and Paul Wall, H-Town’s rap roots run deep. But Reconcile is from a slightly different arm of Houston hip-hop—more focused on spiritual triumph over the trap. So he decided that he wanted to rhyme about faith, joining what has become the fastest growing subgenre within hip-hop over the last three years.
“So much of my worldview was shaped by [hip-hop],” says Reconcile, born Ronnie Lillard, who went from breaking into homes to Rice University and now, faith-based hip-hop. “Guys in my neighborhood, we grew up making decisions based off of lyrics in rap albums, and I wanted to put something more positive into my world. And hip-hop was a way to do that.”
The epicenter of Houston’s faith-based hip-hop surge is Lecrae, a wordsmith who emerged ten years ago and began chipping away at mainstream hip-hop’s prejudices towards Christianity—while at the same time breaking down the Christian misgivings about hip-hop. His third album, Rebel, became the first Christian hip-hop album to reach No. 1 on the Billboard Gospel chart and he was the first Christian hip-hop artist to win the Grammy for Best Gospel Album. But also, since his 2012 mixtape Church Clothes (his mainstream breakthrough), Lecrae has earned respect and acclaim from secular peers like Kendrick Lamar; and in doing so, he’s at the forefront of a movement that is rapidly growing from a trickle to a flood.
“For a long time, because the music wasn’t up to par, it marginalized the message,” explains Andy Mineo, a rhymer from New York and star on Lecrae’s Reach Records label who is featured on the new single “Say I Won’t.” “Now, you put Lecrae out here—nominated for three Grammys; right next to Drake and Kendrick and Eminem and anybody else. So the music is banging and I think the message is weaved in there, too. They can’t deny the artistry at this point. That’s been helping that conversation. I have definitely seen not as much of an ‘us vs. them’ mentality anymore.”
The quality of the music is a major factor in this recent surge. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, most Christian hip-hop was viewed as lackluster and uninspired; mediocre music that seemed to care more about message than actual music. But today, these artists are as serious about making dope songs as they are about their faith.
“Coming from mainstream, it’s always been about talent & charisma for me,” says Street Symphony, who’s been a hit-making producer for everyone from Rick Ross to Lecrae. “I didn’t know much about Christian hip-hop, but I knew Lecrae could rap and perform. You take his cult following along with my network, resources, and ear for dope quality records and now the industry has Lecrae.”
Mineo is impressed with how much has changed in regards to how hip-hop views rappers who pronounce their Christianity openly and proudly. But it’s not like there aren’t still hurdles to jump.
“We definitely get marginalized still,” he says. “If someone announces me as a ‘Christian rapper,’ there’s still an ‘Eh, no thanks.’ But perceptions are starting to change.”
“I love working with them because I see the vision,” says veteran publicist Tasha Stoute, who helped break Lecrae. “They are talented and the music is saying something. Artists like them succeed because they have a strong team that is passionate about the work and the movement to advocate as well as leveraging their contacts to introduce them to the mainstream.”
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SOURCE: The Daily Beast