Christian Hip Hop music isn't found on Pandora or Satellite radio. It's fairly new and found underground via studio mastered cds, free downloads, and live events.
Like the earliest, most conscientious hip hop of KRS-One, Public Enemy and NAS, Christian Hip Hop's purpose is as clear and as hard as its bass lines, chorus and hooks.
Where conscientious hip hop warned about the destructiveness of black life without knowledge of self, Christian hip hop warns that self destruction is a life that ignores Christ.
SaLt (Leroy Kitchen aka Hermano Lee and Darian Parks), the youngest Christian Hip Hop artists to perform last night at Little Rock’s 2013 Music Fest, devote their sound, image and music to evangelism. Lee is a graduate of UALR and Parks is enrolled at Pulaski Tech where he takes a full load of classes, even on weekends.
Before you click that link, be prepared. Christian Hip Hop isn't quiet or polite. It's loud and may recall the same thug image of the Dirty South's secular artists. The regional dialect (hurr, versus here for example) is the same, but the curses and derogatory names are largely absent.
SaLt’s music is a vivid compilation of stories about turning a life over to God. The beats are hard and the music is not a hip hop sell out because the lyrics are so unrelenting, forceful and hard.
It may be a long time before Christian rap music reaches those thirsty mass audiences that lost conscientious hip hop to exploitative and commercial rap.
Consequently, Christian rap music is more about evangelism than materialism.
"I killed my old self and grabbed a Bible off the shelf" is but one of SaLt's verses about reconciling a life with God and Christ. Furthermore, SaLt says the lyrics they're "spitting will"give you life" while secular hip hop lyrics, music that people play in their cars, will "get you life."
God as the Father, Daddy, or “Pops” is one of the more compelling metaphors in Christian Hip Hop (see Reconcile's video "Never Would Have Made It"). Hip Hop is a culture marked by single African American moms in low income housing and neighborhoods.
But Christian hip hop strongly suggests that no children are born out of wedlock, and even fewer are fatherless as long as they recognize God as their Father.
SaLt’s music, and the music of other Christian artists are salvation songs and much of this new music is out there in web spaces with free downloads or YouTube.
SaLt interviewed just before their 2013 Music Fest concert at Mosaic Temple in Little Rock, Saturday Sept. 21, 2013:
examiner.com: Good art takes time and a willingness to grind a song out and end up with a really good song. How hard is it for you to make a song, from the writing, to the beats, laying tracks and getting it mastered in the studio?
SALT: (Darian Parks and Leroy Kitchen aka Hermano Lee)
EP : It’s kind of crazy. God just gives us songs. For me whenever I’m cleaning up, driving, depressed, or in real deep thought, songs just come and it surprises me most of the time. That’s mostly for choruses but whenever we write verses we pray and write almost simultaneously.
Leroy Kitchen aka Hermano Lee: You’re definitely right that it’s a grind and it definitely takes time. There are so many small details that you literally go over one song dozens and dozens of times. I would say hundreds of times, but I don’t want to exaggerate. I wouldn’t say that making a song or making music for that matter is hard because it’s really not hard at all, it’s just a process and for SaLt there is really no method to it. Sometimes we create a beat first and then the song comes from the beat, but other times as EP said we come up with choruses randomly and we send each other the voice memos of our ideas. Then from there we can then make the beat to go with the chorus. The studio time is the least amount of time that we spend doing anything. Studio time is kind of like game time. We practice and prepare for countless hours to spend just minimal time in the studio, which is probably a couple of hours per song.
examiner.com: Darian, you are a college student and Hermano Lee (Leroy Kitchen) graduated UALR with a degree in international business in 2008. Are you guys "typical" of the Christian hip hop artists performing now?
EP: We all are different and God reveals himself to different people in many different ways. So I don’t think there is a typical Christian rapper. Some Christian rappers grew up as pastor’s sons, while others sold drugs and gang banged; I know Lee didn’t believe in God for 3 years. So there’s a brand of self-destructive.
Lee: I see the question of “are we typical of the Christian hip hop artists?” in a similar way that I would see the question “are we typical of Christians?” In one very important way, yes we are very typical Christian hip hop artists in the sense that we rap about Christ and our music glorifies his name, but of course on the flip side, I suppose we could be considered atypical Christian hip hop artists as well because we recognize that God has given us a special purpose and specific calling that is different from others just as it is with any Christian who truly follows Jesus.
examiner.com: Is there a 'brand', perhaps, of hip hop Christian artists whose lives before Christ were essentially suicidal? For example, is it fair to say that being involved in gang activity where there are guns and violence is more than self-destructive, but suicidal and that many Christian rap lyricists have led suicidal and destructive lives?
Lee: I’m not sure if there is necessarily a brand so to speak, but are there a number of Christian hip hop artists that lived essentially suicidal lives before Christ… I say absolutely. I believe that life before Christ for anybody is suicidal. Jesus teaches that there are only two paths. The narrow path that leads to eternal life which only few people find and the wide path that leads to destruction which a lot of people are on. That is the suicide path spiritually speaking and sometimes even physically or naturally speaking.
For example, I believe it is fair to say that being involved in gang activity where there are guns and violence is both self-destructive and suicidal. I’m not sure how many, but yes I believe many Christian hip hop artists led suicidal destructive lives. Maybe not necessarily in gangs or carrying guns like myself, but I drank and many times I drove my car after drinking, I had unprotected sex (which just for the record, still was sin with protection), and I went to many places where danger was very close whether at house parties or clubs where dangerous people were. Those three things alone could all be considered just as suicidal as any other self-destructive bad decision.
God bless you and thank you for allowing us to be a part of this interview.
examiner.com: Thank you.
For more on performing artists: CayeRio, Chase G, SaLt and Sean Michel click here.
For information on the Little Rock Music Fest go here.