The Hip-Hop Youth Movement

Originally published March 2004.

"There's a huge movement of young people getting involved in Christianity. The culture that those young people are up in is hip-hop. Yet in their creative art forms, they want to express their faith in God." --Ken Pennell, president of EMI Gospel, Vibe, December 2003

Did this guy say there is a Christian youth movement going on? Are you seeing any form of this youth movement going on?

In Mark Senter's book, The Coming Revolution in Youth Ministry, he briefly outlines the seed plots of a youth movement as being the increase of secularization, times of social unrest, and the birth starting in the middle class. Current events like the Ten Commandments debate (secularization), the fear of terrorism (social unrest), and the soccer mom phenomenon slowly taking a turn where families are saying no to overscheduling (middle class) can be the set ups for a youth movement. The changing high school system (see The Changing High School) is certainly a bright red flag. Now this president of EMI Gospel identifies a youth movement in the hip-hop culture.


As I'm sure you have become aware of, the hip-hop culture has invaded everywhere. McDonald's is now advertising "I'm Lovin' It" to hip-hop tunes. Reebok and Nike now have shoe lines which are not endorsed by athletes but by hip-hop stars. Hollywood has embraced as many hip-hop stars as it can. There is a hip-hop show on Broadway. P. Diddy will be starring on Broadway. Most of today's top fashions come straight out of the hip-hop world. For some reason, a vitamin company is talking to 50 Cent to have his own vitamin. Like 50 Cent is a role model of good health. Somehow, someway, no matter where you live, you have been affected by hip-hop and you probably know it.

The Source, the magazine which prides itself as being the only true source of hip-hop news, said this about hip-hop: "The hood we know is love...for your family, and for your man who holds you down. The hood is loyalty. The hood is faith. The hood is struggle. The hood is standing up for what you believe in, and not being scared. The hood is keeping it real with yourself, while still using game to get over. All these elements of the hood are woven into the fabric of Hip-Hop. So in other words, the hood is at the heart of Hip-Hop.

"...You see, true Hip-Hop is much more than just music or entertainment. Hip-Hop is a culture. It's the way we live, the way we see the world, the way we deal with each other as people. It's a culture so powerful, that it has touched and changed the lives of millions of human beings across the entire globe." (The Source, December 2003).

I believe, The Source has given us the best definition of hip-hop that I have ever found--and I've been looking. However, in real ‘hood life or any other life there is no true love (monogamy is nonexistent). In real ‘hood life or any other real life there is no true loyalty (that ends when you are locked up). In real ‘hood life or any other real life there is no true faith (faith is only a convenience). In real ‘hood life or any other real life there is no getting real with yourself. If anyone did, they would realize they are sinners destined to hell and would cry out for True Love, True Loyalty and True Faith.

Youth ministry fits into ‘hood thinking, right?

This editorializing from the founders of The Source, Ray Benzino and Dave Mays, is from a rant they are on about the direction of hip-hop. Here is the center part of their editorial: "In the new millennium, Hip-Hop's heart is being ripped out. A large part of the products and images that are being marketed to millions of young minds today under the title of ‘hop-hop' are heartless, false gimmicks. Like the horrible TV series ‘Platinum,' produced by the UPN network earlier this year, right on down to 50 Cent's Get Rich or Die Trying CDs found in record stores everywhere--these products deliver distorted and misguided representatives of true Hip-Hop. And it's no coincidence that they are ultimately being controlled by those who have no stake in our lives, our kids' lives, or the well-being of our community. In truth, we believe that most of the people who now control ‘hip-hop' want to be as far away as possible from any kind of contact with people from the hood, not to mention the serious and continuing problems of the hood. It is these people--executives at the major record companies, radio, TV and cable conglomerates, newspapers and magazines--who are f-----g up true Hip-Hop for all of us. And right along with them are the ‘Uncle Toms' they keep close by their side--the mostly Black artists and music executives that will go along with the program so long as there is personal financial gain involved. Bottom line, these people at the top are not doing the job of protecting the culture and are not looking out for the hood."

In The Source's view, they want to contain hip-hop and "keep it real" for their streets. In an interesting picture with this editorial, Benzino and Mays are shown burning the "Uncle Toms" XXL, Rolling Stone and Vibe. Yet the biggest guy in the rap game today is Jay-Z and he gave his retirement story to Vibe (January 2004). To add more interest to this, Jay-Z said he is bored with rap. To Time Jay-Z said, "There's not a bunch of hip-hop artists that you can relate to once you hit 30. I think, unfortunately, rap music is made to destroy itself. You have to be fresh and sell to an audience that's 16 to 25. They demand that you ‘keep it hood, ‘keep it real.'" (Time, November 24, 2003). Curiously, he claims responsibility for this problem of keeping it real. The Source obviously has a problem with this. I also find it curious that hip-hop has grown old once you hit 30. Sounds like youth ministry to me.

Doesn't The Source's rant sound very similar with what is happening to the church as a whole today? Some churches want to emerge and become more real and some want to keep the faith only within their walls. One large Christian voice we have today is P.O.D. They are sought after by those outside the Christian ‘hood yet Christian bookstores won't stock their latest album. Part of the church as a whole and parts of hip-hop are trying desperately to keep what is theirs theirs meanwhile both have what the world is hungry for and it cannot be contained.

And now someone says there is a Christian youth movement coming out of the hip-hop culture.

How does this hip-hop drama apply to you when you could care less about who is feuding with who in hip-hop when you are busy and tired with putting out fires between Sally and Arianna. Truthfully, I'm really not sure. But from my national and cultural perspective, the entire thought has me curious. We are praying for revival. We are looking for a youth movement. But I wonder, due to our expectations, if we could miss it and God is doing an entirely new thing where we are not looking or expecting.

The same can be said about Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. This is not coming from within our church ‘hood but out of "evil" Hollywood yet it has the potential to impact more lives than any large city crusade put on by the church as we know and function. Yet the Christian kingdom is doing its best to own it by merchandising it.
My pulling these different thoughts together could be a reach or prophetic. The future will tell. And hopefully I have you looking.