LINK MAGAZINE ARTICLE- Holy Hip-Hop: In Hampton Roads….



Holy Hip-Hop: In Hampton Roads, Christian rappers are on a mission to speak the rhythm of their religion. Will the stigmass surrounding the hip-hop culture stifle their speech?

In Hampton Roads, holy hip-hop artists want people to get a taste of culture, but not of sagging and low-rise jeans, diamonds, guns and half-naked dancers. These artists are all about the culture of salvation. For them, hip-hop is the vehicle to reassure that the Messiah lives and Jesus saves.

Holy hip-hop

Lutheran, The, Jul 2003 by Pedrotti, Kay S


Every other Saturday " night, St. Stephen Lutheran Church in Decatur, Ga., follows a successful recipe for evangelizing young people: Play the music they already listen to and add the "good news."

While many churches struggle to attract young people to worship, St. Stephen's leaders jumped (literally) into holy hip-hop about three years ago. In an area of metro Atlanta that has long been multicultural and now is predominantly African American, St. Stephen departed from traditional outreach methods with ease, says church council member Andre Joseph.

A native New Yorker, Joseph is one of the major supporters of Holdin' Down Da Spot, a name chosen for the concert atmosphere that combines hip-hop, urban gospel, poetry and spoken word into a spiritual experience for "people who are uncomfortable in a traditional worship setting," Joseph says.

Ramon Montgomery, better known as Ray-Ski, hosts the bimonthly event in the nave at St. Stephen. He explains that Holdin' Down Da Spot translates into "a place to hold down your faith, to speak it out, to renew your spirit." It's a spot to interact with other young people who are excited about Jesus Christ, he adds, "and the adults who care about them."

James Capers, interim pastor, continues to support the ministry started by Cliff Bahlinger, who now serves St. Luke Lutheran Church, Cordova, Ternn. Bahlinger says the idea of using hip-hop music originally came from Alcuin Johnson, a St. Stephen member who saw a similar ministry in another city, "where the young people were lined up to get in. ... None of us had ever heard of something that would bring them in like that."

Believing it could work in Atlanta, Bahlinger and other leaders sought performers "who would bring the message in the language of the people," he says.

There is no lack of holy hip-hop performers in Atlanta, says Bahlinger, and it wasn't difficult to get them to come and play. After all, he notes, "the average church doesn't want that kind of music and the average bar doesn't want them, so where would they find a place to tell about God in their music?"

An ELCA In the City for Good grant and help from the Southeastern Synod furnished equipment, small stipends for performers and other necessities for the ministry. In the City for Good is a program that funds urban ministry initiatives that illustrate a potential for transforming lives, congregations and communities.

Recently a group called JAADE (first initial of the members' names) played to a smaller-than-normal crowd at the church. Ray-Ski also invited the fledgling group from his congregation, Body of Christ Church International in College Park, Ga.

In a blend of high and low voices, the teens (all aged 16 or 17) raised the blood pressures and bounce levels of listeners as they danced out such lyrics as, "I will keep my head up in Jesus Christ's name; the devil tries to bring me down but I will dodge his flame ...."

Montgomery says he loves doing the ministry at St. Stephen because "it's so uplifting to see the kids not just entertained but fed spiritually." He has witnessed turnarounds in the lives of kids as young as 11, as they come to realize God's love and the gift of Christ and salvation, he says.

"There is not enough paper" to write down all the names of those who have helped Holdin' Down Da Spot, Montgomery adds, but he cites Billy "Blaze" Davidson, first host Denique Alexander, a DJ named EDoubleU, and musicians clay and K-Bizzy.

If those names aren't enough to denote a nontraditional ministry, Bahlinger provides an anecdote that proves the willingness of St. Stephen to reach out to the young people. He says the congregation's altar guild changed its usual practice of setting up communion and preparing the altar on Saturday nights- just to accommodate the holy hip-hop ministry.

Pedrotti is a free-lance writer living in Jonesboro, Ga.

Gospel Rappin'

by Wil LaVeist | Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Wil LaVeist Wil LaVeist Many Christians believe rap music has ruined a generation of young people. And when they hear gospel songs over a secular track, they raise hell. Well, I admit it. About 8 years ago I turned my two youngest children into rappers at only 9 and 7 years old.

Being a hip hop head, having come of age in middle and high school during the late 1970s to mid-80s, my generation of Xers drove rap music into the worldwide cultural and commercial phenomenon it has become. But with all the “pimpin’,”  “thuggin’” and “ho-in” that’s glorified in the music today, it would seem that a godly parent wouldn’t want to proudly admit to such a thing.

I had an ulterior motive when I began writing rhymes for my son, Josh (a.k.a. Jericho) and daughter, Coryn (a.k.a. CeeCee). To reach people, you have to speak their language. If they’re talking in code to lock you out (which is what young people do), you have to infiltrate the code to help them rightly interpret their conversation. So instead of stressing over whether they were soaking up adult values from secular rappers such as Trick Daddy, Ludacris and Jay Z, I countered with Cross Movement and Corey Red & Precise, ministers who have been grindin’ for years as alternative rappers. Right, I turned my kids onto Gospel rap.

Several hip hop churches in major cities such as New York and Chicago have applied the same strategy. In Virginia Beach, Pastor Moses David Jr. a.k.a “Snowman” is taking things a step further through his 12 Strings Audio & Video Network. With his wife, Angel, who is a choreographer, and a crew of about 10 multicultural artists, Snowman travels to cities during the summer putting on concerts featuring Christian and positive rappers.

“I started about two years ago and it just kept going,” he said during a tour stop in Norfolk before heading to Baltimore. “I actually modeled it after the And 1 (Mixtape) Tour.”

The street basketball event rose from the grassroots to a big-time following and corporate success. Snowman envisions big crowds of young people in stadiums listening to rap, rock and R&B that contains positive life-building lyrical content.

“That’s what God laid on my heart, to do it grassroots and to continue to push and that the sponsors would come because the message is to inner-city youth,” he said. “The kids are victims of their surroundings because of all the negativity including the music that pushes the glorification of sex, drugs and ice. We’re coming contrary to that, promoting the value of education, being an entrepreneur, having good credit, waiting on sex until marriage as well as presenting the Gospel and saving souls.”

Infiltrating the code.

With the frequent horror stories of Black youths killing each other and filling prisons because of bad choices, it’s sad that many believers waste time debating the merits of Christian rap. If the Word gets into a person via a rap song, and leads them to make better life decisions, what is there to debate? Support these righteous emcees instead. Doing so helped me and my wife with our kids.

Rapping to learn the Bible and become tight with God has worked for Josh and CeeCee, so far. They’re 17 and 15 now (Lord give us faith, please?) and getting their own lyrics directly from God.
Holy hip-hop!
'The Takeover' in Inglewood is one of many nationwide worship-worthy rap services.

» PHOTOS: Church with rhythm

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In the beginning, there is only a drum beat. Then a keyboard.

Together, their rhythm rumbles through the floors and off the walls of Inglewood's Faithful Central Bible Church auditorium, where hip-hop gospel star Kirk Franklin stands on stage leading the congregation.

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"I need to see everybody get their booty up," Franklin says, bobbing his body to the beat as a flock of teenage churchgoers rush toward the stage. He's wearing a blue zip-up jacket with the words "HAND OF GOD" emblazoned on the back.

"I need to see you get your glory on," he says. "Can I get a witness?"

A disc jockey lays a record down and a flood of music pulses through the room, driving the crowd to dance. They chant:

"Ain't no party like a Holy Ghost party 'cuz a Holy Ghost party don't stop."

View "The Takeover" at Faithful Central Bible Church

In a style that's more reminiscent of a dance club than a church, Faithful Central's biweekly "The Takeover" service mixes traditional Christian messages with a hip-hop sound.

The goal is to reach a generation -- in Faithful Central's case of primarily black youths -- that relates better to hip-hop than to hymns.

"The mind-set and the values of this generation are in many ways so far from times past that there is a need for a unique sensitivity," said Faithful Central's head pastor, Bishop Kenneth Ulmer, who runs the church's traditional Sunday morning gospel service at the Forum and whose idea it was to start the hip-hop ministry. "And part of that is to ask, 'How do we reach this generation? How do we reach them while maintaining the balance between being authentic and attractive?' "

The answer: "Holy hip-hop," a new genre of music that takes hip-hop -- the rapping, the DJ-ing, the pumping rhythms -- and makes it worship-worthy.

At Faithful Central, this is achieved with the help of Franklin, a Grammy Award-winning hip-hop gospel artist who flies in from Dallas, Texas, twice a month to serve as a youth pastor.

"This has been one of the most incredible things that has happened in my life," said Franklin, who has sold more than 10 million hip-hop gospel albums since 1992 and has been with The Takeover since it started nearly two years ago. "Being a part of what has happened to these kids -- it's incredible."

The Takeover isn't the only service to use rap music religiously.

Hip-hop churches are being established nationwide as church leaders look for innovative ways to reach a generation that seems less and less interested in God.

"Hip-hop is the most influential music genre there is," said Efrem Smith, a Minnesota pastor and author of The Hip-Hop Church: Connecting With the Movement Shaping Our Culture (InterVarsity Press, 2005).

"I think the church should take advantage of the opportunity so they could be better connected to young people. ... Without that, the church risks becoming disconnected from the emerging generation."

It's big business. According to the Recording Industry Association of America, hip-hop music is the second-biggest selling genre in the U.S., accounting for 13.3 percent of record sales in 2005 (rock is No. 1, with 31 percent of sales).

Holy hip-hop proponents say if rhyming, rhythm and break dance is what the younger generation wants -- God can give it to them.

"In the same way that Jesus identified with the poor and the oppressed, the church can do that today by engaging elements of hip-hop," Smith said. "If the church is serious about engaging young people then it can't paint hip-hop as an enemy of the church."

Helping through hip-hop

Located in the middle of one of Los Angeles' most crime-ridden neighborhoods, Faithful Central is a sanctuary for many of the kids who go there.

Just ask Steven Johnson. An outgoing 20-year-old with bright green eyes and caramel-colored skin, Johnson was a gang member by age 16.

"When I started coming here I was just in this place where I had been going to jail for possession of firearms, drugs, stuff like that," said Johnson, known at the church as "Stev-O." "I always knew what was right but I didn't care."

He is now enrolled at El Camino College near Torrance and works part time at the church. He also has given up sex and drugs, and has vowed to remain abstinent until marriage -- lessons strongly ingrained into the Sunday morning services.

"Honestly, my passion is making God look cool," he said. "In today's society, whatever cool is, that's what I want God to look like."

His story is one of many. According to Ulmer, who has seen The Takeover congregation go from a few dozen to a few hundred, many of the kids have been literally (as well as spiritually) "saved."

"There are kids in that room who should be dead. There are kids in that room who know what it's like to hit the ground and run because there are bullets over their heads," Ulmer said. "And now they will grow up to become positive influences in society.

"We cannot save them all," he added. "But we'll save some."

What is hip-hop?

For the record, hip-hop isn't just about the music. It consists of four parts: rapping, DJ-ing (audio mixing and scratching), break dancing and graffiti.

Originated in the early 1970s by mostly black inner-city youths in New York City, hip-hop has grown to become a mainstay in popular culture, influencing everything from clothing and slang to music and television.

"Hip-hop isn't just music; it's the culture," said Franklin, 36, whose album "Kirk Franklin & the Family" was the first gospel debut to go platinum. "It's the braids, it's the sneaks, it's your swagger."

He paused, adding: "But you can be saved and still have your swagger."

But Franklin's Christian-based hip-hop isn't the norm. On a mainstream level, hip-hop has a bad reputation due in part to rappers such as Snoop Dogg and 50 Cent, who in their music videos and lyrics have glorified sex, drugs and gangs.

Outside of their music, many mainstream hip-hop artists have themselves been victims of gang warfare and violence. In 1994, 50 Cent was incarcerated for drug charges; he's also publicly claimed to have been shot nine times.

Rapper Tupac Shakur was murdered in a 1996 gang-related shooting. The following year, Notorious B.I.G., aka Christopher Wallace, was killed in what also was believed to be a gang-related shooting.

"Some of the reputation of hip-hop is warranted ... its glamorizing of gang-banging, the abuse of illegal drugs and alcohol. I can understand why church folks would not want to deal with hip-hop culture," Smith said. "There are elements that are negative and degrading that would be antithetical to the church, but at the same time there are some common themes."

Reputation notwithstanding, rapper Kurtis Blow, considered one of the founders of the hip-hop church movement, has recorded more than 150 songs since the early 1980s, none containing profanity.

"When we started the old-school hip-hop, we had a code of ethics that we never really broke," said Blow, who now works as a pastor at the Greater Hood Memorial Church in Harlem, N.Y.

"I'm from a different hip-hop world. I really feel that hip-hop is created by God."

A former Los Angeles resident, Blow flies into town once a month to perform services at the Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Inglewood.

"We as ministers and reverends need to embrace the community and the culture of our youth so that God can transform the culture according to His will," he said. "The church can save hip-hop and hip-hop can change the church."

It just might. By early next year, Blow's hip-hop services will be broadcast nationwide on an MTV-style TV show tentatively titled "Hip-Hop Church America."

The show is being produced by Michael Nason, who for 30 years produced Robert Schuller's nationally syndicated "Hour of Power" from the Crystal Cathedral.

"Going to this next cultural level for me is pretty darn exciting," Nason said. "I really see a new audience for Christian television, using hip-hop as a vehicle in the message."

While some more c



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Holy Hip Hop


"Gangsta rap, yeah, it do influence our teens," said rapper The Disciple. "Some of our teens to go out and do things that they shouldn't."

The solution: Take back the music. The Disciple and partner Hawthorne are out to flood the inner city with a positive message. They call it "Holy hip-hop" and their current song, "Stop the Violence" could not be more timely.

"I really don't want to call it a song, said producer John Watts. "I call it a PSA because it is a public service announcement." They are trying to counter-act the current hip-hop culture. "They see the young folks with the bling-bling, the big automobiles and they saying, man, this guy doesn't even work. I wanna be just like him."

But, The Disciple says, it is short lived. "I know," he remembered. "I had to find my way up out the gangs...I was doing jail time...and actually was facing up to like ten years. And then, in `99, God came into my life and changed me. And now, when I walk around, people be like, 'Man, that's you? I can't believe it,' you know. I be like, 'you can do the same.'"

That is why they are giving this song away.

"We want to go into the neighborhoods, the parks, anywhere our young folks are at and give them a positive message," said Wat



Hip Hop Delivers Holy Message

Ministry Uses Music To Help At-Risk Youth


Maria Arita

(CBS 11 News) Most people agree Hip Hop is no longer just a form of music it's a culture.

It attracts a following from all races, age groups and socio-economic status. Still, teens are especially affected by various forms of rap. Now, they are being moved and inspired by it with a spiritual movement.

One example was the Holy Hip Hop Convertcation held recently in Carrollton at Covenant Church's Neotropolis Youth Center. Among the many messages on that day were rhymes like "you druggin out, you'll get convicted maybe ... I could die tonight."

Some say these are strong messages in the language of a new generation.

Carolyn Robinson, coordinator of the event, began her journey after a suicidal experience.

"One day I was just sitting at the lake and I wanted to take my life but God said there was a destiny and purpose for me," she said.

Destiny and Purpose Ministries, a ministry for at-risk youth, then was born.

Its sole purpose, Robinson says, is to introduce youth from single parent homes or negative home environments to the word of God and a new way of life.

"You don't have to rob, kill, steal, sell dope,” she explains.

Instead, teens can could perform in places like the Neotropolis at Covenant, which acts as an escape for kids.

The event attracted about 800 attendees and more than 20 participants.

D.A.P ministries sends out a mass email to school districts and organizations looking for talent.

Entrants must submit everything they can from DVDs and CDs to home video, along with a written essay.

Robinson adds entrants don't have to be "saved" as a Christian necessarily, but their work must be clean and serve to enlighten and uplift the younger listeners who may follow.

The artists seem to look forward to the responsibility and add for them this is much more than a performance.

Glenn Harris, who also goes by the alias P.C says, "whatever you say you're held accountable for …you gotta speak the right things in people's spirit."

P.C. is an acronym for Problem Child.

In his rhymes he screams all-out war against sin and oppressive behaviors and victory for the righteous, while the crowd roars back: “war path … trouble for the gates of hell.”

He began years ago with Gangsta Rap until he witnessed the shooting of a friend in a drive-by.

When a friend introduced him to Holy Hip Hop, Harris realized he could put his rhymes to better use.

"Hip Hop moves the world,” he says. “We all know that and it's a big influence."

It's an influence Robinson uses to attract teens, keeping them busy rapping and breaking a thinking pattern she says has held them down.

She says she's seen the impact Holy Hip Hop has had on youth, pointing to one particular young woman who was basically raising herself because her parents were both drug addicts.

After taking part in a D.A.P event she made a 360-degree turn.

Robinson proudly contends the young woman is working full-time, child-free and able to pursue her academic and career dreams.

Despite the success stories though, Robinson says getting corporate sponsorship has been tough.

"They say if it's not a secular event they don't want to sponsor it."

It took a year to put this event together and $5,000 of Robinson's own money — for someone living paycheck-to-paycheck, that's a lot.

Robinson says if allowing teens to be themselves keeps them off the streets, it's all worth it.

The organization desperately needs financial help. Robinson adds that participants often perform for exposure and a second chance, without which many might end up just another statistic everyone ends up paying for in one way or another.


Holy hip-hop makes waves in churches

Posted by the Asbury Park Press on 03/7/07


While thirtysomething rap stars complain hip-hop is dead, holy hip-hop is growing.

Since Christian rap began two decades ago, the genre has improved in quality and quantity while gaining acceptance among churches and the music industry.

For the first time, the Grammy Awards included a category for best rock or rap gospel album (won by Jonny Lang for "Turn Around").

And in January, 125 Christian rap artists from around the country performed during a music-and-worship fest in Atlanta called Holy Hip Hop Week. Organized by Holy Hip Hop Inc., the event highlighted performers from dozens of cities and aired nationally on the cable network i-Lifetv.

Still, gospel rap rarely gets radio play.

"The primary reason gospel radio doesn't play Christian hip-hop is because the phrase "Hip Hop' is in the term," says Kris "Doc Sizzle" Bell, a holy hip-hop producer. "Gospel announcers attend church and most churches still feel hip hop is worldly."

He adds that some Christian Hip Hop isn't embraced because "the music isn't competitive. From the bass drum to the snare drum, a lot of Christian producers are just getting by with what they can to make their music. Going all the way back to Afrika Bambaataa, there's been a certain standard in hip hop. If you aren't at that industry standard, then you aren't taken seriously."

Bell is known for his beats, which is why Gospel rap pioneer, B.B. Jay, brought Bell in to produce half the tracks on his forthcoming "Unlimited" (Jizfat Global Music) disc.

"He brought me in to get that platinum sound," Bell says.

Here, then, are answers to questions you never knew you had about hip-hop's holy rollers.

Q: Why is the music getting more attention now?

A: "The . . . reason the music is getting more attention is that the artists are just better," says Christian rapper Bingo Kenoly, 28. "Now, we have Cross Movement, Da Truth and myself raising the standard and making authentic Christian rap." He adds that "hip-hop has been knocking on the door of gospel music for a long time but gospel music was ignoring it. But, now hip-hop has like taken over secular music and dominated it for a decade now and you can't get away from it."

Q: What are the lyrics about?

A: "They rap about their relationship with God, about being holy," says Caresa Northern, a Christian nightclub operator in Atlanta. "They rap about (treating) their body as a temple, about not having premarital sex . . . about how the devil is trying to attack them, how God saved them . . . just what pertains to their life."

Q: That can't possibly be cool. These guys sound like nerds, not "gangstas" who know anything about the 'hood or the "real" music industry.

A: Not true. A number of gospel rap artists were once secular stars. Mr. Del (aka Delmar Lawrence) from Memphis, Tenn., left the controversial and platinum-selling rap group Three 6 Mafia to become a Christian rapper. Christopher Martin, formerly "Play" in the 1980s-early '90s group Kid n' Play, is hip-deep into holy hip-hop.

Gospel rap now claims as its own Kurtis Blow, the first rap artist accepted by the mainstream (remember 1980's "The Breaks?").

Q: What are sales like?

A: Not huge, but it's getting better, says Danny Wilson, founder and CEO of Holy Hip Hop Inc. (The organization's first compilation CD was nominated for a Grammy in 2004.)

"We're still dealing with the fact that people don't know anything about it," Wilson says.

The Gospel Music Association reports Christian rock and hip-hop music accounts for about 25 percent of all gospel music sales. Gospel music recently posted double-digit sales growth and is expected to increase as churches diversify their music ministries.

Q: Hip-hop doesn't belong in church. Aren't Christians supposed to be singing hymns and praise-and-worship music?

A: Holy hip hoppers are using their music to reach people who are turned off by traditional church. The genre slowly is being accepted by churches as an outreach tool for youth. However, "there have been some holy hip hoppers who have made it bad for the genuine Christian rappers," says Bell. "They come into the church dressing like Tupac and grabbing themselves the way secular rappers do. Your mannerisms and the content of your rap is scrutinized when they rap in the church. To a lot of people in the church, that is Satan's way of sneaking into the church," he adds.


'Holy hip-hop'

Black History Month: Calvinism meets thumping baselines in a new breed of Christian rap | Mark Bergin


Bethlehem Baptist pastor John Piper took the podium at a Saturday evening service in downtown Minneapolis last fall and introduced Curtis "Voice" Allen, a hip-hop artist. After warning the largely white congregation that his music would "thump" a bit more than typical Bethlehem fare, Allen launched into a lyrical testimony about the unstoppable power of God's irresistible grace: "I been exposed to bright lights, the doctrines of grace, I'm elected, imputed perfected, becuz of the power of God resurrected and his gift of faith, that when we see his face we're not rejected."

Allen repeated the rap at two subsequent Sunday morning services, enough to ignite a full-scale firestorm within the Christian fundamentalist blogosphere. The internet churned with volatile reactions, one blogger labeling all rap as "rape set to music" while others denounced Piper's entire ministry.

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"I felt bad for them," Allen said of his critics. "They were so emphatic and so sure about something that Scripture really doesn't clearly define. There's no verse saying this particular music is good or bad."

But many verses examine human frailty and divine sovereignty, topics Allen tackles from a distinctly Reformed perspective. Even the harshest online attackers had no ill words for the theology of his rap, a departure from the shallowness that has characterized much of Christian hip-hop since its commercial inception in the mid-1990s. Allen is part of a small but growing cadre of artists who lace their stylized rhymes with orthodox Calvinism.

For many white, middle-class Christians, hip-hop represents a culture of drug use, violence, and promiscuity—something parents must fight to expel from their children's iPods, never mind their church services. But attitudes may be changing. For all the condemnations of Allen's presence at Bethlehem Baptist, a chorus of counterbalancing voices has come to his defense.

Supporters cite the fruit of Allen's ministry, his unique conduit for taking biblical teaching into places it might otherwise never tread. He knows well the desperately depraved lifestyle of many urban hip-hop fans, having once roamed the streets of Washington, D.C., packing guns and dropping drug deals. His music narrates departure from that scene and calls others to follow.

Allen's path led him to a pastoral internship at Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Md., a large, suburban congregation connected to Sovereign Grace Ministries. Covenant Life pastor Joshua Harris encouraged Allen to redeem the musical genre of his past, an idea the former thug initially resisted. Upon his conversion to Christianity, Allen had discarded rap along with his old identity.

His debut album, Progression, maintains such animosity for hip-hop culture even while employing that very musical form. On a track titled "All Rap IS," Allen condemns the lifestyle he once idolized: "All rap is, is the lust of the flesh that is easily seen through drugs and sex. All rap is, is the lust of the eyes, almost any video can help you realize that all rap is, is the boasting of what he has and does from how we live to MTV cribs. I ain't hatin' but to me rap's the glorification of what led Christ to propitiation."

On Allen's latest cut, Crucible, he teams up with fellow Reformed rappers from the group Christcentric for a return to classic East Coast flow. A song titled "Contribution" asks introspective questions about hip-hop's place in the church: "So God do you accept my contribution? Does hip-hop not get props with your son? . . . Lord let me know, is the flow inherently evil?"

Like Allen, the members of Christcentric belong to conservative, Bible-believing churches. Quincy A. Jones, aka Q-D.O.G, is an elder candidate at Hope Bible Church in Columbia, Md., where he lives with his wife and five children. Chege Njoroge, aka Evangel, is a father of two and a small group leader at Gaithersburg Community Church. Will Mendoza, aka Apologist, has one son and serves as an elder at Shady Grove Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Derwood, Md.

Christcentric came into existence in the late 1990s and began rapping Reformed theology several years later as its members grew in doctrinal understanding. They released Reformation in September of 2004, an album emphasizing what are commonly referred to as the five solas—Scripture alone, Christ alone, faith alone, grace alone, and the glory of God alone. Their latest CD, City of God, features such tracks as "Redemptive History," "Didactic Music," and "TULIP," an acronym for the five points of Calvinism.

Such titles might help explain why Christcentric and other Reformed rappers have struggled to generate much commercial success. Jones, Njoroge, and Mendoza all hold down other jobs and develop their hip-hop projects on the side, an arrangement they expected when first starting out. "We didn't know if our goal of really having our music saturated with the Scriptures and with theology would even be marketable," Jones said.

The whole of Christian rap represents a marginalized minority within the broader multi-billion-dollar industry of hip-hop. Reformed rap carves out a minority within that minority. Allen doubts whether Christian hip-hop—especially the Reformed variety—will ever make a significant commercial dent in a culture defined by narcissistic materialism and disrespect for women.

But he hopes the musical genre can serve as an evangelistic tool outside the church and a ministerial one within it. So far, Allen's opportunities to perform in church services have come almost exclusively in white churches. Many African-American Christians are wary of welcoming what they view as a destructive force in their communities. Christcentric, on the other hand, has found opportunities in black churches, though the group's overtly Reformed lyrics are not always well-received.

Allen does not view his music as appropriate for the group-singing portion of church services, and the members of Christcentric also do not expect to substitute rap for the Sunday morning hymns of their respective churches. But in the proper cultural context, they say, the form might serve well in a corporate setting. "As long as the music is not glorifying the culture and putting the focus on the artist that is performing it and as long as it is God-glorifying and Christ-focused and causes the listeners to reflect upon the goodness and graciousness of the Lord, then there's a place for it," Njoroge said. "The danger of hip-hop is that it's a pride-driven culture and that can carry over into the church."

Epiphany Fellowship in Philadelphia has drawn attention for its use of Bible-based hip-hop to reach out in an urban setting. Associate pastor William "Duce" Branch is a nationally known producer for Cross Movement, one of the first Christian rap groups. Philadelphia is widely considered the center of the so-called "holy hip-hop" scene, home to Lamp Mode Recording with such Reformed artists as Shai Linne and Timothy Brindle.

The movement has also stretched west with acts like Flame and J'son in St. Louis. Dishon Knox, a divinity student at Covenant Seminary in St. Louis, counts such performers as mentors and friends. His exposure to Flame led him to Reformed theology, the focus of his debut album scheduled for release later this year. Knox, aka Born2Di, believes hip-hop can become a force for doctrinal correction. "The black church suffers a lot from theological malnutrition, for lack of better words," he said. "That's what drives me to go to seminary."

Knox is not shy with his musical styling on campus, recently performing during a chapel service. The song "True to Reformed Faith" chronicles his view of his own Presbyterian denomination: "Faithful to Holy Scriptures, true to Reformed faith. Presbyterian Church in America, grow in grace. Obedient to the 'Great Commission,' that's the mission. History ain't perfect, but the goal is gradual submission."