Somewhere in the abyss that birthed the trend that saw Christian rappers throwing “Parental Advisory – Explicit Truth” stickers in the corner of their album covers came the idea that the hottest rap singles on that secular radio station you don’t listen to needed redemption. Why create an original piece of respectable art when you can rip the youtube beat and sprinkle a little sermon in it? It’s a recipe for instant relevance, plus a non-believer may stumble on the holy hip-hop remix of “I’m Different” while searching for the official version and have a revelation.
Satire aside, I do understand the listener’s struggle. When I started taking my relationship with God seriously during my freshman year of college, listening to below par raps was a trial I’d accept to hear some familiar production after I’d disavowed all of my secular hip-hop (That’s a whole other article). It’s not unlike those turrible christianized t-shirts that try their best to make pop culture references and slogans into spiritual epiphanies. You feel bold wearing them to church or bumping them in your christian college dorm but your hands stay wrapped around your chest or volume control when those who don’t share your beliefs walk in the room.
Let’s be honest, most of the time it’s not the message you’re ashamed of; it’s the quality of the messenger. That’s where these three Do’s and Don’ts when creating a “christian” remix of a song come in. Rappers, stop downvoting the comments that failed to compare you to Lecrae on your latest Dasouth post and listen up. Dont’s
1. Don’t Plagiarize – Do Play to your Strengths
This is as good a time as any to define what I mean when I say Christian Remix. I don’t mean an emcee who is a Christian spitting over a ‘secular’ beat. Plenty of rappers for Jesus are doing that with quality. Frontlynaz and Pro did their thing on their “Thunderground” and “Jackin’ for Hits” mixtape series, respectively, made up mostly of remixes. Dee-1, Armond, Kambino, Bizzle, the Breax, Yaves and Bumps INF lead a list of emcees who have shredded borrowed beats, no lease. It’s the norm in the hip-hop and mixtape culture. What shouldn’t be the norm and what I’m referring to when I say don’t bite is when your rendition of the latest single has no distinction, besides lack of quality, from the original. Rappers guilty of this, you need to know: People laugh at you. Not (necessarily) because you can’t spit, but because of how corny you sound when you try your hand at jacking Kendrick’s “Now open your mind up and listen me Kendrick” flow off of “Swimming Pools.” If you get the dated idea to spit over “Mercy,” keeping the 2 Chainz flow is just going to remind me of his lines. I don’t care if you say your praying knees caused an earthquake…we all know what will immediately come to mind, and it isn’t your punchline.
On the positive side, freestyles and remixes are great and easy chances for you to work out your flow, get your name out there and show off your lyrical acrobats (For better or for worse). Choose beats that cater to your strengths to best show off your flow. Or push play on a radio favorite that will stretch you out of your box. Realize that your sound will need to fit the track and adjust accordingly. Just make sure that adjusting doesn’t only equal you microwaving the original cadence. And I’m aware that many classic hymns we have today were slightly altered renditions of popular songs of the day. The difference? They were good. You, the average rapper, probably have no such reputation to stand on. Yet.
2. Don’t Preach – Do Speak
Before you overdose on zeal and log into Disquss to release it, let’s break this down. What makes the majority of Christian remixes ooze struggle is that the messages of the original song has been flipped to ‘advance the kingdom.’ Drake’s “Started from the Bottom” is ripe for claiming for the winning side. You could flip Wayne’s “Love Me,” spit from God’s perspective, and get your homeboy from the choir to sing a new chorus (“I don’t care about the world as long as, God, you love me.” You’re welcome). Or go completely out of genre and dedicate a ballad to temptation with Taylor Swift’s help on “I Knew You Were Trouble.” Obviously I wouldn’t recommend any of the above. Christianizing popular culture is a 21st century fetish that we have, intensified by aging church’s attempts at staying relevant, but it isn’t beneficial for our art. So when I say don’t preach, I simply mean don’t use the original song’s message as a sermon illustration for the simple reason that it’s corny.
Like Lecrae is always saying, your faith is part of your life so of course that is going to come across in your rhymes and to water that down for broader appeal is a lie whose consequences will be felt the strongest by you. Spit your mind and deepest convictions. Bumps INF laid bars over Wayne’s “6 Foot 7 Foot” about how to address secular artists who spit lyrics in vain. Please don’t misunderstand this point to hear that compromising any portion of the glorious Gospel that hopefully motivates your verbal artistry in order to appeal to a wider audience. That Gospel is more glorious and inspiring than weak bars and forced song writing in any context. Make what you say meaningful, starting with it having meaning to yourself, and the quality will likely be enhanced. Plus, I don’t know many people who prefer stuffy recitation of familiar truths over first person conversation with someone whose conviction can be heard in their emotions and witnessed in their eyes.
3. Don’t Come Wack – Do Be Wise
This last point certainly isn’t limited to the freestyle or remixes. I hate cliches as much as the next cynic, but if people fought wackness with even half of the energy they claim to fight sin with on their songs, the subgenre would be a much more original place (My lawyer told me to say that fighting sin is paramount and music pales in comparison to holiness). As was mentioned earlier, spitting over a popular beat can potentially be a quick way to build some hype and, if you come correct, stoke some flames for your benefit. But, since it is such an ‘easy’ revolving door of an entrance, it’s open season on novice emcees and veterans that haven’t read any of those quality “You Shouldn’t Rap Anymore” articles. Take your time before you upload that lyric video to your youtube page and start nagging your followers about it for the next month to make sure it’s something you’re proud of letting other people hear. Letting people outside of your circle hear it beforehand is the litmus test the most courageous of rappers submit their music to.
The underlying theme in this article has been wisdom. Wisdom in being original and playing to your strengths. Wisdom exercised in the best way to articulate and communicate the truths we’ve been graced with. Wisdom in song selection, understanding context and artistic creativity. Some of best lyrical displays on my iPhone come wrapped in the remix and/or freestyle format. The 48-Hour virus that comes with the side effect of wackness isn’t limited to Christian Hip-Hop…It’s obviously rampant in every genre in and outside of any kind of faith. But let artists like yourselves who possess beautiful, grace-infused truth create poetry, art and music that reflects the depth of the originality and creativity of the original creator.
Let’s be better.