Throughout my 20-year radio career I have often found myself defending the validity of the music known as Holy Hip Hop or Gospel Rap to members of the gospel music community. Even from the pulpit, I cannot count the times I have heard, “When you really need a breakthrough you’re not gonna listen to that rap music. It’s not gonna work. You need Albertina or Shirley Caesar.” Not everyone shares that perspective but it has been an overwhelming sentiment of the African-American religious community.
Hip Hop as a culture and rap as a genre of music is a product of the Black community and, good or bad, has been a critical part of our evolution as a people yet it has never fully been accepted by the church as an expression of artists’ spiritual creativity or even as an outreach tool. Instead, just like in the secular world, rap music, of all types, has been embraced, copied, and financially supported by everyone (and race) except the people who God used to create it. Now the systems set up to monitor the Gospel rap format are unknowingly holding a mirror up to the African-American community to show us the reality we created.
In a letter recently written by Wade Jessen, Senior Chart Manager, to colleagues in the Gospel Music Industry, he writes:
“Billboard will discontinue flagging Christian Rap/Hip-Hop titles for our Gospel Albums, Gospel Digital Songs and Hot Gospel Songs charts starting next week (which is the first week of the 2015 Billboard chart year). Concurrently, all current Christian Rap/Hip-Hop titles that previously appeared on the Gospel charts will be removed from those charts.
Since Nielsen SoundScan, the CMTA and Billboard converted our Christian retail charts to point-of-sale data in 1995, most Christian Rap/Hip-Hop titles have been eligible for both Christian and Gospel album charts—and eventually, both digital genre charts and hybrid sales/airplay/streaming charts.
In an ongoing quest to make all of our charts a more meaningful and accurate reflection of the respective markets and consumers they represent, the industry urged us to reconsider eligibility for those titles on our Gospel charts, and we agree that our Christian charts are the most appropriate place for these songs and albums to compete. All Christian Rap/Hip-Hop titles will continue to be flagged for Christian Albums, Christian Digital songs and the multi-metric Hot Christian Songs.
That said, we will remain open to considering certain albums and songs by Christian Rap/Hip-Hop artists for our Gospel lists when genre-specific drivers (style, radio airplay, touring, collaborative works or other connective factors) are involved.”
The Christian format is traditionally dominated by Caucasian artists and the Gospel format by African-Americans. It is not simply racial. There are sound differences in the music helping the polarization. Understanding the differences between Christian and Gospel music, in short, this letter begs the question, is Gospel rap less relevant to the African-American religious community than its White counterparts? You may say, “But Denise, it is all Kingdom music and there should be no separation.” That is true. However, if it is all Kingdom music, than why is only a specific portion of the Kingdom body embracing it to the point that others can now formatively claim it from the community who created it? To me it is not a question of separation, but one of inclusion.