Can a "secular beat" be sanctified?
Posted by Edward Shelton on Tuesday, April 24, 2012 at 11:40am EST
In the last few months I find myself looking at the core of Christian Hip-Hop (CHH). One thing that grabs me is that we constantly come back to the debate (or proverbial “dead horse” to some), of secular music’s place in our movement. More specifically, we argue about whether or not a CHH artist should use a secular beat at all. I've heard many points of view on the issue. I want to present an idea that might challenge a lot of people’s theology. I believe that a secular beat can be set apart for the work of the gospel. I will make it clear that I am not making a coverall statement nor a litmus test with which to judge projects. I'm just giving my take on the topic.
Let me start at the beginning of my journey into this position. If you have read my previous work, and even a few posts on Dasouth.com, you will know I am a fan of PRo. I'm not talking about being a fan since he was part of Reach Records. I go way back to the Blackout days. PRo put out a free mixtape called Jackin’ for Hits. My brother introduced me to the project. I remember several times we sat and listened to it and meditated on the words reflected in the music. The “Flashing Lights” and “Runaway Love” tracks hit hard. At no point did PRo try to “out-do” the secular artist nor did he glorify the secular artist’s original message. PRo offers a sideways attack by hitting the listener with biblical principles and disarms them using the beat. The artist, PRo, redefines the context of the hook and the beat to transform the original work into something new.
The second artist that made me reconsider this issue was Jin. In one album he taught me a lot about confession, openness, humility, and redemption. His Say Something mixtape features songs that use secular beats from very well known secular artists. For example, the song “I Tried” uses Jay-Z's “Run This Town” beat. Every time I listen to Jin on that track I feel life and the testimony of faith in him and the Holy Spirit. When I listen to “Run This Town” I can't even finish it because of all the vileness of spirit that comes out. I even listened to a version of the song with no cussing but the spirit of the two songs are completely opposite and enmity of each other. Although the beat is the same, one song curses the nature of order and the other glorifies God.
It seems that the beat is no different than the tongue. James 3: 8-10 talks about this and goes as follows...
8 But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; 10 from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way.
If there is a 1 Samuel 17:26 moment in Christian rap in the last two years it has to be Bizzle’s “Beware - Pt. 1”. Here, Bizzle attacks the theological presuppositions of Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church In the Wild” and reveals each artist’s history, and the face of the enemy of our souls in their song. He did it way clearer than some Christian rappers who are properly trained in apologetics and he does this all of this over their own beat. If you don't hear the righteous indignation and rebuke in Bizzle's rhymes then something is lacking. Let’s skip down to 1 Samuel 17:51...
51Therefore David ran, and stood upon the Philistine, and took his sword, and drew it out of the sheath thereof, and slew him, and cut off his head therewith. And when the Philistines saw their champion was dead, they fled.
I think Bizzle picked up the sword and murked it. So, can Christian rappers use secular beats? I would say “Yes.” If you’re not listening to secular music you wouldn't know anyway, but if an artist chooses to do so I would say there some good guidelines for that practice that can be gleaned from the examples I've given.
1) Do not warp the lyrics or delivery of the original artist for your work.
None of the artists I listed tried to sound like any of the original secular performers. They were not trying to “clean up” a song. They were simply presenting original content independent of the original recording.
2) Make it your goal to point people to correct biblical thinking or proper relationship.
In the case of Jin, his confession is an act of reconciliation with God and us as a body of believers.
3) Be led by the Holy Spirit and his purpose for the track.
With each example I gave in this article I can say the artist set apart his gifts for God's glory to redeem what was originally used for destruction. It is no different than a master craftsman who makes a sword for a warrior and that sword falls into the wrong hands before arriving to the intended patron. The warrior could use any sword, but that sword had a specific use for a specific battle.
Please note I am not justifying all uses of secular beats by CHH artists and I am not giving bad uses of secular beats a pass. Not all cases require the use of a secular track to correct or teach, but I do think there are times when it can be beneficial.
To paraphrase Bizzle, maybe we have been spending too much time inspecting secret handshakes instead of truly examining a person’s spiritual fruit.
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