The artists of Humble Beast on the idolatry of artistry, and how the local church best serves artists.
Humble Beast describes themselves as “a family of creatives, pastors, writers, theologians, and musicians who leverage their talents to see the Gospel go out into the community and transform lives,” but they’re best known for their stable of talented rappers who produce music that defies the expectations many tend to place on Christian hip-hop. Their music is available online at no cost.
Humble Beast focuses not only on the ideas of Christianity, but the importance of living out those ideas in the context of a local church. On their website, they spell out that commitment: “As a company, we are submitted to our local church and all our artists are members of local church congregations as well.”
I spoke to five artists on the Humble Beast roster at the Legacy Conference in Chicago about the role of church in their lives as artists.
JGivens is a rapper from Las Vegas, Nevada. His latest album, Fly Exam, was released today.
Jackie Hill Perry is a spoken-word poet, writer, and rapper from Chicago, Illinois. She serves as Female Mentorship Coordinator at Grip Outreach for Youth. Her latest album, The Art of Joy, is available now.
Courtland Urbano, Braille, and Odd Thomas make up the Portland, Oregon based group, Beautiful Eulogy. Their sophomore release, Instruments of Mercy, is available now.
Were you raised in the church?
Courtland Urbano: Yeah, in Texas, so it was a Bible-belt situation. As far as I know it was a gospel-centered church but looking back, I can’t think of a moment where the gospel struck me in the significant way that it did as I got older and actually read the Bible for myself.
As I was going through a rebellious stage, I still felt some of those convictions that I had just growing up in the church. So yeah, I see the benefit in growing up in the church for sure.
Were you all feeling like you were leaning toward being artists when you were growing up in church?
Jackie Hill Perry: I sort of grew up in church, if you call it that. My mom’s not a Christian, so when she was at work, I was with my auntie when she was at church. But I didn’t have a concept of art. I just drew things. I didn’t identify as an artist until I became a Christian.
Was being involved in the local church something that encouraged your art?
Perry: When I was a kid, the only art I saw was speaking in tongues. But when I became a believer, the church I went to, I honed my artistry there. My pastor, when he found out I could do poetry, had me doing poetry like every Sunday, so I was just being affirmed by the people in the congregation, like letting me know “oh you have a gift.” I was like, “I was just writing something.”
I think if it wasn’t for my pastor seeing that in me and giving me opportunities to display that gift, then … I don’t know. I don’t want to say the cliche “I wouldn’t be here today,” but … I wouldn’t have known. I would have thought I was just doing something.
In the churches I’ve gone to, there’s not a category for someone getting up and doing spoken-word poetry. Was that the case for that church?
Perry: Whatever you did, you did for the glory of God … you could do sign language to praise and worship.
Perry: No, I saw this dude, they did signing. And people were worshipping. It didn’t matter. They enjoyed gifts in that church.
JGivens: I was raised in church. Both of my parents are Christian, as well as my grandma, my great-grandma. I’m from a conservative Baptist family that moved from the South to the West.
Like Courtland was saying, there was always just a conviction. I don’t promote mere cultural Christianity, but I would say, as far as the culture of being in an African-American church, it was about emotion and expression. There was a fear of God that was passed down culturally.
That didn’t protect me from my own lustful desires, rebelling, or going off to college and living my own story. But I had a discipline of running to God when there was trouble or when I was in need. So when I was finally at rock-bottom, thinking to myself, I’m way too far out here. I’m pretty much strung out on drugs and no one knows yet, I said, “Alright God, I know I was raised to run to you, so now I’m really out here.”
So I’m really blessed that I grew up in the church, because it gave me a foundation to explore theology and God as an adult after figuring out that I was responsible for that myself.
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