Should Secular Rap Music Be Used to Evangelize and Engage Youth?

Kevin Durant took his Pastor Carl Lentz to sign a sports management deal with rapper Jay-Z. | (Photograph: Instagram/Kevin Durant)

Secular hip-hop music sometimes features strong sexual language, cursing, misogyny and murder. So why are some churches using it to engage the youth?

"Misfit the Conference," a youth and young adult event that took place in New York City this month used Iggy Azalea's summer smash "Fancy" to engage the crowd. The song features braggadocios lyrics, a bit of foul language and a bridge that talks about getting drunk at the mini bar.

The band at Misfits chose to leave out the lyrics and played the instrumental from the song. The DJs spun beats from some classic hip-hop and EDM records that also featured questionable content in their original forms. The event's coordinator, Christ Tabernacle Church's Pastor Chris Durso explained the decision to play these records during Misfits.

"I will take something that was meant for bad, and I will use it for good," said Durso to The Christian Post. "I think one of the most disrespectful things you can do in hip-hop is if you take someone else's beat and you rap over it. I feel like that's what we're doing to the enemy. We're taking what he meant for bad, we're turning around and putting our own lyrics and images over it. Saying we're going to take this beat, rebrand it and give it a new sense of value."

Music producer Chris Belmont of JahRock'n productions runs a recording studio that caters to both Christian and secular artists. It is located in the basement of Park Slope Christian Tabernacle Church in Brooklyn, New York. Even though the studio is inside a Christian sanctuary, Belmont still allows artists to have complete creative freedom. He sees the business as an opportunity to connect with those who do not subscribe to the Christian faith and would never step foot inside a church otherwise.

"When we're in community, and [non-believers] are in our studio, there's a relationship that is formed," Belmont told CP. "There's been tons of times the topic of God has come up, where I have some hardcore rappers from the street that I've worked with for many years and I was able to be a seed planter with the Gospel. Yes, I cringe sometimes when [artists] use foul language when we're in the church building, but to be honest it's a double standard, I think people feel in their minds the walls of the church are holy, but the church is the people."

Though their methods are a bit different, both Durso and Belmont see non-Christian or secular music as a vehicle to connect with unbelievers. Both of them do not agree with the messages in certain songs, but feel the music itself can create a bridge to them.

Durso claims Christians recognized the music during the conference because they've heard the records before. Some circles of believers would steer clear of songs such as "Fancy" due to its lyrical content. But do words with un-Christian values directly affect believers when they listen?

Grammy award winning rapper and Christian performer Lecrae weighed in on believers listening to secular hip-hop music in a 2012 interview with The Christian Post and if it would have any negative or positive effect on them.

"I don't think it's a sin [for everyone who listens]. It may be a sin for some and not for others," said Lecrae to CP. I know for those of us who are critical listeners, and we can listen to [music] without being washed over, than we may just appreciate the art. [It's like as if] I was having a conversation with a non-believer. I can have a conversation with a non-believer and not be offended if they cuss every five minutes."

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