To celebrate some of the advances that Christian hip-hop artists have made in the music industry overall, Urban Faith’s Jelani Greenidge, a long-time holy hip-hop aficionado, takes a look back into his music collection to identify one significant rap song by a Christian artist for each of the last thirty years.
What up, y’all… can you believe it? Thirty years of Christian men and women rockin’ mics and reppin’ the name of Christ.
I keep having to say that to myself and to others, not only to remind myself that this particular segment of what we call the Christian music industry has come a long way, but also to inform other people that it didn’t start with Lecrae. Seriously, few of the mainstream music journalistic outlets that cover Lecrae and/or the Reach Records / 116 Clique movement ever take the time to dig into the scene. It may be new to certain people, or certain places, or it may have made new gains that haven’t been made before, but Christian rap is not a new thing. I know this because I’ve been listening to Christian rap since I was ten, and I’m about to turn 40.
So this is a collection of 30 rap songs by Christian artists that I consider to be significant or meaningful. They’re all good, in their own way… some of them I still bump on a regular basis. Some of them may sound a little dated now, but back when they came out, they were bangin’ (or, def, the bomb, or the hotness, whatever slang was big at the time).
Note that I’m not claiming that these are the best Christian rap songs from the last 30 years, because that’s an argument that can’t be proved. I’m just going with the songs that I feel are or were notable, special, or interesting. To hedge my bets a little, I’m also including a bunch of “honorable mention” titles, which are songs that are just as good and worthy of exposure, but which I just couldn’t write about since I’m only doing one song per year.
Also, I’ve included YouTube links for ease of playing, but when possible, I’ve also included links to purchase the music. If you really want to support Christian hip-hop, support the artists who’ve helped lay the groundwork for the plethora of great hip-hop we have to listen to today.
So without any further ado, take a ride with me into the wayback machine as we celebrate 30 years of Christians in hip-hop…
1986–STEPHEN WILEY, BIBLE BREAK, “BIBLE BREAK”
I remember the first time I heard this on tape; at the time, I was less impressed than I was mystified. It was like, “hey, this is a real thing that exists?” You can even see it in the way the record artwork was designed. It wasn’t like, “yo, check out this hit from Stephen Wiley!” but more like, “yo, there’s this thing called Christian rap!”
What has continued to crack me up over the years is how so many people tend to have that same reaction whenever they encounter Christians doing hip-hop, as if they’re pleasantly shocked or surprised by the concept as a whole.
This one time in college, I’ll never forget it, I was working at the front desk of a resident hall that was being rented out to an outside group, and this sweet old lady walks up to me. Now, while working at this desk, I was actually working on some of the lyrics for a rap song, and so as the beat played in the background, I was spittin’ bars about my passion for integrity, representing Christ in public, etc. But I guess I was talking too fast for her to understand, because after I finished my impromptu desk rehearsal, this adorable elderly woman walked up to me, smiled, and said, “you know, they have CHRISTIAN rap now.”
I facepalmed SO HARD.
Stephen Wiley is now pastor of Praise Center Family Church, in Tulsa, OK. But for many he was the first in a long lineage of artists that introduced people to the idea of doing … get this… CHRISTIAN rap.
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