The Tulip Driven Life Podcast

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Reforming Reformed Rap

I love Shai Linne. His lyrics are incredible. His latest album seems to be of high quality musically as well. Lecrae lays it down every time, though I think he certainly mixes more entertainment in there, which is why he is so popular. And I am okay with that. What does concern me is trying to have it both ways- entertainment and worship, all at once. That can't be done. There's the rub.

I checked out Sam Guzman's article here. It's a few years old, but relevant to this discussion. Guzman argues that music itself has a message, not just the lyrics. With that I agree wholeheartedly. I used to deny that vehemently. But when you start going to St. Andrew's, Sproul's church, and get good teaching from the professors at RBC, you have a hard time denying there is something to music itself having a certain mood, and that some words, themes, concepts, and lyrics are more suited to a particular tune than others.

Having said that, I find reformed rap, stripped down to its musical and lyrical elements, just fine. It glorifies God. You may not like it, but it it does, plain and simple. It's specific sound does not have a culture- those who performed the music did. Meaning, you can't argue that the sound of a rap song, with its rhythmic beats and fast rhyming words, are in and of themselves conducive to violence or rape or gang banging, or can only exclusively be utilized to express that. The sound and particular flavor of rap produces such images in our heads because it has in the past always been associated with drugs and violence, since the secular rappers who performed the music were into that particular sinful lifestyle. True, they would build their music around such a lifestyle. But then again, didn't many of our hymns come from bar tunes too? What about rock and roll, is it really the devil's music? No. The world just happened to form the genre before we did. I've heard A Mighty Fortress Is Our God done with guitars and drums, a moderately heavy rock feel to it, that was incredibly tasteful and fit the theology the lyrics taught. Listen to this song by Shai Linne, called "The Glory of God," from his album The Attributes of God:

If you cannot recognize that the sound of this song reflects the theme of God's glory, you are simply being dishonest. It may not be what some are used to, but in its own way it reflects the glory of God. In heaven there will be more than the musical expressions of the era of Bach. Other genres besides classical music can aptly demonstrate the attributes of God and sundry theological and weighty issues. I love the classical stuff too, at St. Andrew's it's great, in fact I dare say I may even prefer it. Yet, I still love this stuff from Shai Linne as well. No doubt in heaven there will be beautiful, God exalting music from the particular styles of every tribe and tongue.

Shai understands that the medium has to fit the message, that the music has to accompany and support the lyrics, that there should not be dissonance. Lecrae, I believe, does to, although like I said I think he is also in it to entertain, which is fine, though the mixture of the two in the same song is at best difficult, at worst wrongheaded. So, apart from that (which I will not further address for this writing), where does my issue come in?

My problem is with the rap culture. It does have a stigma attached to it. We do associate it with drugs and thugs. And in this video with Lecrae and Flame, is there really a noticeable difference between it and the drugs and thugs mentality of secular rap videos? 

In many ways, no. You still have people bobbing around, you still have all the glitz and glamour of those on the stage, which is probably what bothers me the most, and you still have the girls dancing (somewhat more modestly than secular stuff, but not enough). Notice, though, how at the end Flame is talking and says that  it's"just a big celebration (of joy)." The song has a lot of energy he says, and the name of it is Joyful Noise. Now one may disagree that the imagery here of people in their rap attire throbbing about with their shades on (indoors) actually reflects the glory of God, but rather reflects the glory of man. That is certainly debatable. But what cannot be debated is that Flame and Lecrae attempted to capture the joyful noise that we are to make unto the Lord. That was the purpose of the music, the video, the lyrics, everything. Unless they are outright lying, and I do not think they are, we have to at least say their heart is in the right place. Further, Scripture does tell us to dance and shout for joy, does it not? When is the last time you've seen a Presbyterian do that in church? When is the last time classical music has elicited such a boisterous response that the Scriptures seem to encourage? That's not to say classical music can't elicit a powerful response, it does, but it usually isn't quite so intense. Is there not room for both?

So yes, let's adjust the attire, the get-up. I am not saying lose the culture altogether. I do think however there needs to be less emphasis on the bling (am I even using that word right?) and more on the King (clever eh?). Yes, Lecrae says he can play the background, and God can take the lead, but too often the approach can give the appearance that it's about Lecrae too. The blingLecrae particularly errs is in this area- but not with the lyrics, or the music, itself. Reform the attire and I think most of the disagreement would go away, to be honest.

One last point, that actually deserves a blog of its own, but will just be mentioned now in passing. Some would argue that rap isn't music, and thus is disqualified automatically. I argue that, even if it isn't music, it is a form of poetry. A third of the Bible is written in poetic form! So either way, it's biblical. Whether or not it could be used on Sunday morning in worship is another question altogether, and if it isn't actually music then I would think not, although I am not convinced that it isn't music and merely a form of poetry.

Anyways, that's my two cents. I'd be happy to hear everyone's feedback.

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