(Photo: Jomo Johnson)
A Philadelphia church is charging platinum-selling rapper Lil Wayne of presenting a big problem for the spiritual welfare of America's teenagers.
Pastor Jomo Johnson of Philly Open Air Church said Wayne's influence over participants in his youth ministry inspired him to investigate the popular hip hop artist. Having grown up on the genre, the 31-year-old pastor said he was appalled at Wayne's lyrical war against morality and ethics.
"I believe Lil Wayne is popular as with him there's no sense of right or wrong," Johnson said. "There are no boundaries and no authority. Most rappers in the past wrestled with good and evil. With Wayne, nothing is sacred and nothing is holy."
Johnson decided to confront Wayne's popularity firsthand and has since published Deadest Rapper Alive: The Rise of Lil Wayne and the Fall of Urban Youth. The book criticizes Wayne – real name Dwayne Michael Carter, Jr. – and his music's negativity. Johnson said it also fights fire with fire by coming with Deadest Rapper Alive: In Memory of Dwayne Carter, a Christian rap album that counters Wayne's music with a biblical message.
"The Bible says we can use our words for curses or blessings," Johnson said. "The current trend among commercial hip hop is very dangerous, amoral and targeted at the most vulnerable inner city kids. It could be a great tool for God’s people instead."
Wayne remains one of the world's most popular rappers despite serving eight months in prison for criminal gun possession in 2010. His last album, this year's Tha Carter IV, was released last August and has sold over 1.5 million copies.
Johnson said his criticism of the controversial rapper comes from having walked many of the same roads as Wayne. He said his father was incarcerated most of his life, having shot his mother when Johnson was seven. Angry and without guidance, he turned to drugs and violence before serving jail time at 17 for aggravated assault. While there, Johnson said he discovered Jesus and found a way out of his despair.
"The thing that drew me to the Lord was how much I recognized my sinfulness," he said. "God did something about that with His son Jesus Christ."
Johnson said the result of this transformation was Philly Open Air, a church geared toward Philadelphia's urban communities. Emphasizing equal parts street preaching and traditional sermons, it's making a difference in Philadelphia neighborhoods beset by poverty and crime.
"Our kids are almost exclusively from single parent homes," said Curtis Jackson, a co-pastor at Philly Open Air. "There's a lot of hurt in their lives. We personally have been saved and want to pass on our hope to others."
Johnson said the fascination many of Philly Open Air's teenagers had with Wayne convinced him rap would reach them with Christ's message. He began writing Deadest Rapper Alive and then advertised online for rapper cameos on a potential soundtrack. The plea for help placed him on the path of Daniel Rosa and Taurel Davenport, two New Jersey rappers better known as Living Testament.
"Meeting Pastor Jomo was God's hand moving us," the 22-year-old Rosa said. "Our music helps people because it gives them a chance to see Christianity isn't only 'do this or do that.' It's taken from the hearts of people who've been there."
The rap duo drove to Philadelphia and helped Jomo – himself a Gospel artist – record 15 original tracks glorifying God and questioning mainstream hip hop's negativity. The result of those musical sessions will appear alongside Deadest Artist Alive when the project sees wide release through Amazon Nov. 11.
"Jesus died for Lil Wayne," Rosa said. "If he wanted to go to Heaven he could. Once you know God, the only thing you'll want to do is please Him."