Why I Gave Up on Hip-Hop
Maybe it was my daughter
Maybe it was my age (I can smell 40 from here)
Maybe it was when I moved out of Toronto last year
Nah, it’s none of those things.
You wanna know why I gave up on mainstream Hip-Hop? I can tell you in four simple words….
Garbage In/Garbage Out
Disclaimer: There’s no replacement for great parents or role models, and music is not a scapegoat. This starts at home and at church, where the adults; the flawed, sinful, Jesus-saved adults (like me), do their best to model Christ. They aren’t going to be perfect, heck, they may even be downright poor at the job sometimes, but let’s not blame music for bad adult leadership.
Now that I’ve got that out of the way:
This essay became a discussion when rapper Lil’ Peep was found dead on his tour bus last week. It’s a sad story that we’ve heard all too often. And one that doesn’t discriminate based on age, gender, skin colour or musical genre. My young nephew lost a similar battle less than two months ago, God rest his 20-year-old soul, so I feel compelled to speak.
I grew up on rap music. Coming from the Greater Toronto Area, I had the pleasure of going through my childhood with a true melting pot of ethnicities, races and religions. In fact, when I graduated 8th grade, from a class of 30 students, there were only 4 white students who had even one parent born in Canada. I was one, with my Mom being born in Denmark and my Dad on the Canadian east coast. And while many areas were represented, it was the Islands that set the tone.
The West Indies brought to my city the DJ culture that was so popular in New York, Los Angeles and Jamaica back then. By the time I was 13 I was fully versed in the likes of Public Enemy, Big Daddy Kane, Slick Rick, Vanilla Ice (we didn’t know any better), Candyman, NWA, MC Hammer, Young MC, Das Efx, EPMD, ATCQ and so many others that never left the Walkman.
For our 6th grade lipsync contest my friends Jason (Trinidad) and Justin (Jamaica), along with myself performed ‘911 is a Joke’ by Public Enemy. (We were like 10, we didn’t do it for the political message, we did it for the ‘get up, a get get a get down’). When I got my licence in January of 1997, I would roll the windows down in -1000000 degree weather and bump Reasonable Doubt like it was a personal mantra.
How about this one: On a school field trip to Washington as a 16 year old, I copied Biggie’s look from 1995 Source Awards which included covering my head and my 40 oz of Rum in white towels and running the halls of the hotel yelling “Brooklyn”. Needless to say, the subsequent vomiting and disregard for the rules got me sent home on a bus back to Toronto… by myself. I resigned from student council the next day.
Want more proof? Here’s some embarrassing information about myself that will hopefully allow the true message of this essay to penetrate. I wanted to be like Jay-Z. I went to Turks & Caicos on my honeymoon because of ‘What More Can I Say’. I only ordered bottles of Belvedere at the club. I use to tell girls that ‘Can I Live’ and ‘Song Cry’ were my life. I bought the same Phat Farm shirt that Jay wore in ‘Big Pimpin’. Jay preached the street gospel and I was in the front pew.
When I graduated school, I build my career in Hip-Hop. I was lucky enough to be a part of laying the foundation that has grown our city into the powerhouse it is today. My label, 13 Ronin, had one of the first independent rap songs to ever chart on a Toronto high signal FM radio station in 2002 and it just went from there.
I could go on and on and on and on with example after example, but for the sake of your time and mine, just know I was deep into the game… and the lifestyle. A lifestyle that had me a doctor appointed addiction counsellor by the time I was 21. While a lot of that is rooted in family history and insecurities, make no mistake about it, for me, rap music was the soundtrack that fuelled the fire.
I hadn’t even considered the Christian music business until 2010 when Stephen (The Overflow CEO) came to me with an idea that eventually morphed into The OF. In fact, I wasn’t particularly interested in the idea, even though I had wanted to work with Stephen on something for a long time. I thought the music was sub-par, weak even. I didn’t want to be a part of that. Eventually, I became engaged as the Lord softened my heart (while ordering my steps) and I realized Stephen was really on to something.
Can I be candid as we move towards the crux of the essay? As a fan and student of authentic, well-written, quality music, I still struggle with the Christian stuff sometimes. I find so much of it to be one-sided and behind pop culture. Even the biggest names in the game don’t take the risks they should for fear of losing their fan base or worse, being labelled as a traitor to God. So I understand the allure of mainstream music. While this can of worms will stay closed for this piece, there is a much larger can that no one seems to want to crack open.
Sidenote: For the sake of keeping this short, I will not be getting into the mental aspects of what draws your brain to certain sounds and repetitions. The mainstream market has this cornered and plays a significant role in why you’re pulled towards it. The same tools are available to Christian artists, but many either choose not to or don’t know how to execute. You’d do yourself a favour to read up on this… especially if you’re an artist/aspiring artist.
Now, where was I? Oh yes…
You see, today’s modern Christian isn’t about ‘safe and trusted’, like their predecessors. They are about ‘risk’ and ‘rights’, about ‘fairness’ and ‘acceptance’, about distancing themselves from the comedy of errors the Church had made when dealing with so many of the issues that face our world today. The truth is, for the most part, they do so behind their safe and trusted phones and computers in the comfort of their own <fill in the blank> where the death traps of the world seem so far away…..
In truth, as we all know, is that it has never been easier to find videos, music, articles and suggestions that cloud the Holy Spirit out of our minds as we subtly ingest it like a frog boiling itself in water. The number of believers that post lyrics from mainstream rappers like they’re scripture should have the Church concerned. And maybe it is, but no ones saying anything. It’s like the divorced Dad that remarries into a family with kids. “I see them doing wrong”, he says to himself, “but I’m not saying a thing cause I need these kids to like me.”
So many of us are polluting our minds with garbage much easier than ever before, and we don’t need any more cool older brothers/sisters who ‘get it’, they need Christ-centered leadership… NOW!
See, while I may sound like I’m on a pulpit, or being judgemental even, please heed my advice. I’ve played on the unsafest streets, met and done business with the unsafest people, dabbled in the unsafest practices and risked it all in the name of stimulation, ego and reputation. It’s guys like me who see both sides of the coin. I tell you this so that you listen carefully to what I’m about to say next.
Today’s rap music, yesterday’s rap music and tomorrow’s rap music is filling our minds with ideas. Some of them are great and motivational; most of them glorify dead-end personal gain at the expense of others, while using language that would make most adults blush. And the same goes for a lot of today’s music, even poppy pop on the radio. Or Rock. Or EDM. Or pick your poison
First things first, stop and pray for the artists. They are not called to live as we are if they don’t know Christ, so praying for their salvation is a top priority. They need Jesus as much as anyone and God loves them just like you.
Secondly, educate yourself. And if you have them, educate your children. As much as we want to build a fence around our lives covered in bubble wrap, the world is real and we’re called to be in there to help. Having media streaming apps that don’t provide content controls or actively promote questionable entertainment is like putting a child behind the wheel of a car and tossing them the keys. If you think that’s whack (because I used to) and think you’re strong enough to handle the dirt the devil is shovelling towards you, please pray for a change of heart, because you will lose that battle. You’re going to be faced with integrity decisions that will determine your life’s trajectory, this is one of them.
Thirdly, be easy with your friends who tell you, “this isn’t so bad, it’s just words” Or, “lighten up, you don’t want to be one of those weird type of Christian’s right?” While those sentiments are completely wrong, you should not judge your friends. Pray for them and help to educate them using God’s word. They are His sheep, just like you, and one day the shoe may be on the other foot.
Lastly, start pumping your brain, heart and mind full of Jesus centred music. I cannot tell you what it does for my soul when “Good Good Father” or “How He Loves” hits my ears. It’s like the adrenaline rush I would get at the club with girls and bottles all around, cept it’s real, lifts me up and is about 3 million times more fulfilling and joyful. God wasn’t kidding when He told us the world would be very enticing and look exciting, but from someone who has lived it, died to it, came back harder than ever and finally buried it, it’s a fart in the wind compared to the real joy that following Jesus can give.
So, why did I give up on Hip-Hop?
Cause my new life needed a new soundtrack. And I haven’t looked back since. Praise be to God!
Written by Chris Shaban The Overflow Co-Founder