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Rap Gets Religion : So hyper fundi, don't be dismayed Check out the lyrics when the record is played : Not a borderline tune but I got a case : Of puttin' God's Word right up in your face : --"Time Ta Jam" by DC Talk

May 13, 1990|CHRIS WILLMAN

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Marvin Winans, a member of the most famous family act in contemporary gospel music, seemed a bit anxious as he spoke to a roomful of radio programmers and disc jockeys at the recent Gospel Music Assn. convention here.

"I can't rap to save my life, and I am neither an advocate nor a fan of rap," Winans confessed to the crowd at a luncheon sponsored by Warner Bros. Records' new gospel division.

"But our children are listening to it, so we as Christians can either sit where we are and let them be filled with negative, degrading songs which become a part of their spirit, or we can paraphrase what Paul said when he says 'I am become weak' and we can say 'I am become a rapper to the rappers that I might win the rappers.' "

The room broke into an ovation. And at that point, a video screen lit up with "It's Time," the Winans' new single in which their R&B vocal stylings and a hard-core dance beat are combined with a gritty spoken message rapped by Teddy Riley (who produced Bobby Brown's multi-platinum debut album as well as this effort).

The video clip pulled few punches either in its downbeat depiction of urban street life--complete with drug use and barely-dressed prostitutes--or in its up-to-date musical authenticity. If Winans was worried about the reaction from the religious radio programmers, he need not have been; at the video's end, he was rewarded with another ovation, this time a standing one.

Secular programmers have taken to the song as easily as their Christian counterparts: "It's Time" hit No. 12 with a bullet last week on Billboard magazine's black music charts.

And if the Winans--who record for Quincy Jones' Qwest label--are perhaps reluctantly adopting rap as a nod to changing times, a generation of acts raised on rap is rising up to swell the ranks of once-conservative Christian music labels.

In fact, rap--as seemingly unlikely a wrinkle in gospel now as heavy metal or punk were a few years ago--is the hottest new development in the $300 million-a-year Christian music industry.

Surprising, except that if, as Winans told the audience, "what makes it gospel is the words," then the appropriation of the ultimate lyric-oriented genre makes more sense.

"Metal is not considered the hot trend anymore" in the contemporary Christian pop world, said Mike Atkinson, the editor of Media Update, a publication that assesses current music trends for evangelical parents and teens. Sorry, Stryper. "Rap has certainly taken that over," he added.

Atkinson, along with Winans and more than 3,000 other registrants, was in Nashville for the simultaneous conventions of the Gospel Music Assn. and the National Christian Radio Seminar, where the influx of rap and speed-metal were the hot topics.

Ten years ago, the beyond-conservative GMA was almost exclusively the province of Southern gospel quartets; this year, traditional gospel music proved virtually invisible amid all the long-haired rockers and buzz-cut rappers.

The two most prominent newcomers in Christian rap--both with debut albums that have quickly passed 75,000 in sales with little airplay, publicity or promotion--are PID (which stands for Preachers in Disguise), a Dallas-based group that represents the "hard-core" end of the genre, and DC Talk, a teen-oriented trio that leans toward the whiter, lighter side.

Other evangelical rappers with record deals and substantial followings include D-Boy Rodriguez, a Puerto Rican with a special ministry toward gang members; Michael Peace, recognized as the pioneer of Christian hip-hop; and E.T.W. (End Time Warriors), Fresh Fish, SFC (Soldiers for Christ), JC & the Boyz and Transformation Crusade.

But is this brand of rap the real thing or just a pale, palatable, Puritan imitation?

"Most of it has been stuff white kids could swallow," Atkinson said. "The contemporary Christian music scene that most of this has come out of doesn't have much of a penetration within the black church or with black kids, and the black gospel market itself is very conservative. But there is some very good hard-core or street rap coming out, of which I'd say PID is the best."

Yo, it's Sunday morning

In the a. of m.

About 8 is when it begins

The most segregated time of the day

While everyone has it their own way . . .

Church, let's change our ways!

We're talkin' 'bout racism . . .

In the sanctuary

Is where it worries me

--"Racism," by PID

"Jesus called 'em vipers, you know what I'm saying? I just call 'em suckers, man, 'cause they don't know what's up."

PID's deejay, K-Mack the Knife, was speaking in an interview not of the great unwashed, but rather of the "so-called real churchy people" who have given them flak. Not everyone in the church community, it seems, is eager to welcome with open arms a group of unsmiling black men from a rough ghetto background performing an admittedly aggressive music associated in the popular media with illicit sex and gang warfare.

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