Rapper NF boldly proclaims in one of his songs, “When I die, put my ashes in a trash bag. I don’t care where they go. Don’t waste your money on my gravestone. I’m more concerned about my soul.” This is a message one could call atypical of the rap genre, but starkly characteristic of the Christian music industry.
The rapper Nathan Feuerstein, better known for his stage name NF, had his newest album Therapy Session reach the top of the rap charts this spring. The growing integration of Christian rap into the secular music industry is an important step towards the refinement of the rap industry as a whole into a more respectable music genre.
Artists like NF who reach secular success often find themselves having to make distinctions of where their faith comes to play and where it doesn’t. The simple explanation is that these people are simply musicians who just so happen to be Christians. But this is unfortunately where they lose most of the crowd.
The paradox that Christian musicians can find themselves in is: non-Christians don’t want to listen to Christian themed music and Christians don’t want to support artists who refuse to brand themselves explicitly as “Christians.” For rap in particular, there is the added struggle of trying to find acceptance in two starkly different cultures.
“Being an outspoken Christian in the music industry means always feeling out of place,” according to Lecrae Moore in his autobiography Unashamed. He goes on to recount a visit to a mainstream radio station where he was told “we just don’t play Gospel here,” but it just got worse as he was informed that their sister station that did play Gospel music “don’t want to hear rap.” Lecrae is the biggest name in the Christian rap industry today, but even throughout his rise to fame and now, he is still faced with this challenge.
Despite the heavy culture collision, it is undeniable that artists like NF and Lecrae are breaking through to the secular divide. The truth is that the Gospel has been influencing the rap industry for a while now, most recently with Kanye West. Now having Gospel influences in music does not a Christian artist make, but rather, it is the faith the artist professes off and on stage.
A niche within a niche, the Christian rap industry is not losing ground yet. In fact, the entire Christian music industry as a whole has made huge strides since its inception amidst the Jesus Movement. For talented musicians, why should it matter if their message is founded in their faith? Besides making good trivia for gossip magazines, the motivation behind the music shouldn’t limit the acceptance.
So why does your favorite music matter to you? Does it resonate with your life story, or is the beat easy to dance to? Christian rap is one side of a broad category of Christian music that covers everything you could think of. Maybe with the growth of Christian rap, people can expect to see the growth of respect for rap itself as medium of expression. These artist are unashamed and here to stay, so there’s only one question I have left for you — what do you think about Jesus music?