An Interview with A Christian Hip Hop Artist?
A Brief History of Hip Hop
Becky Blanchard writes this about Hip Hops beginnings.
“Hip-hop music is generally considered to have been pioneered in New York’s South Bronx in 1973 by Jamaican-born Kool DJ Herc. At a Halloween dance party thrown by his younger sister, Herc used an innovative turntable technique to stretch a song’s drum break by playing the break portion of two identical records consecutively. The popularity of the extended break lent its name to “breakdancing”–a style specific to hip-hop culture, which was facilitated by extended drum breaks played by DJs at New York dance parties. By the mid-1970s, New York’s hip-hop scene was dominated by seminal turntablists DJ Grandmaster Flash, Afrika Bambaataa, and Herc. The rappers of Sugarhill Gang produced hip-hop’s first commercially successful hit, “Rapper’s Delight,” in 1979′.”
Hip-hop has since evolved into a multi-million dollar industry. It has an influence on teens of all races and economic backgrounds. I may later delve into the influence or dangers of hip-hop on the psyche of young impressionable minds. In this post, I want to focus on how one young white Lutheran teacher is using this music to connect teens to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Below is an edited transcript of my meeting and interview with Josh Atkinson, a teacher at Milwaukee Lutheran High School.
Keith: So, Josh, when we talked you told me what motivated you to introduce hip-hop to chapel, was that the mostly black population at Milwaukee Lutheran was falling asleep and bored in chapel. As we know any change in an institution comes with much difficulty. So, how did you go about making a change to the way chapel was being conducted?
Josh: Different cultures have different languages. Sounds obvious, but what we don’t realize sometimes is that these different cultures could be right around the corner, or in our own backyards. I wanted to speak the language of teens through music, and that genre today is hip-hop. So, then the challenge was combining Jesus and hip hop. As a Lutheran school leader, sharing Jesus is our mission. So that is always the number one focus. And really it should be that in all that we do in ministry. But we must connect to get the message across. So, I did a few things to make Jesus the center. First, I found a cross that I wanted to use as the backdrop for the stage. This same cross is now a staple for all our chapel services. (I’ll put a picture of it at the bottom, it was covered in an inch of dust in our storage at school.)
I always have the lyrics of the song displayed on our screens. The message is number one and in rap music, it can be tough to understand or keep up with the lyrics. So, I always introduce songs by describing the lessons or teaching of the song.
I also wanted to create a concert type atmosphere. Lights, shows, and smoke machines are a major part of each performance.
Finally, I intentionally work to stay current with the lingo and language of hip-hop. It truly is an entirely different language. And if you can speak it, the kids will listen.
Keith: Why is hip-hop so popular with teens?
Josh: I could go on and on about this, but it’s extremely catchy and creates a ton of internal feelings. It creates adrenaline and excitement! It’s also cool! Hip-hop artists are some of the most famous people in the world. So, our youth look up these people as special. The problem with that is teens are exposed to extremely inappropriate lyrics and themes. Christian hip-hop is just as catchy and adrenaline boosting, but with the message of the Gospel!
Keith: You mention that hip-hop has some very inappropriate lyrics and themes how do those negative things effect our youth?
Josh: Hip-hop is cool and most kids are listing to it, of all backgrounds. It has transcended race and has become the voice of younger generations. But there are 4 themes of the majority of mainstream hip hop. Drugs, sex, money, and self. Listen to any mainstream hip-hop radio station and that’s what you will hear. So, these messages are numbing the souls of those that listen to it over and over again. And to the minds of teens, it can easily become reality. Causing them to dress like them, talk like them, and act like these stars of hip-hop who only care about their bank accounts, not the souls of their listeners.
Keith: Now that you are producing and performing hip-hop what do you hope to accomplish with a positive message through your music?
Josh: Engage, engage, engage! If you can engage your audience, they will be listening with more intent. Focusing on your words and message way more than a traditional hymn or praise song. It’s your classic attention grabber. Leads perfectly into sharing the gospel with my students.
The other objective is to give my students who perform with me a positive outlet for their gifts. I have found students who are extremely talented rappers and singers who otherwise would be singing or rapping about sex, drugs, or money without this outlet. I have a crew of students that perform with me every show.
Every generation has music that their parents dislike or just don’t understand. It is the allure of that something new. The question for the church is how do you use that musical medium to connect with the heart language of that generation. Josh is doing that by taking what can be negative and adapting it to a Christ-centered alternative. A lesson for the church possibly?
You can follow Josh on his youtube channel. Here is a link that will lead you the page.