Has my time passed? (Is it too late for me?)
Over the last few days I've asked myself this question over and over again; concerning music, career, ministry, and life in general. I know that sounds bleak but the truth is, when I was younger, I remember feeling unique in my gifts and talents; particularly in communicating the gospel to my peers through rap. Back in the day, rapping on behalf of the Kingdom of God wasn't an option, it was a necessity. If I didn't do it, who would? Looking back, I figured that rap would provide a career in ministry that would validate and support my need to press on and "fight the good fight" through hip hop.
Fast forward...it's been over 10 years. Hip hop fads have come and gone. CHH (Christian Hip Hop) has been elevated to a new plateau to where artists are seemingly better than ever before and the internet has also made it easier for artists to be heard, which mitigates the prior excuse, "There are no good Christian hip hop artists". That one excuse kept me and my crew relevant in our hometown back in the day. Now, our "competition" is right in our backyard via Rapzilla, Soundcloud, Dat Piff, etc....
No more exclusivity; no more uniqueness; no guaranteed that this will materialize into a lasting career. What's the point? I mean, really?
After Lecrae's "Anomaly” became the number 1 album in the country in 2014, elevating CHH to a height it had not previously experienced, the ambition to "become the best" started to dwindle as we cheered on our much more successful counterparts. What's the aim now? What's the goal? "Christians can rap well?" The world knows that now. "We believe in the Bible and have been transformed by its worldview and thus rap from that perspective?" Check! How about, "It's possible to build a successful career in the music industry and still maintain a Christian worldview?" Oh yea, they know it's possible. So why continue to do it?
I recently watched my favorite rap group, Cross Movement, at the Legacy conference via FB Live and noticed something that I had not noticed before. Yes, I had memorized practically all of their songs from listening to their albums back to back but it wasn't until I checked out their reunion concert that I realized their focus has always been on what is eternal and never on what is temporal. From Heaven's Mentality to HIStory, the primary focus has always been on a Supernatural God and the work of His Son. This is the reason they were able to rap songs written and performed 20+ years ago and the lyrics remain as true today as they did in the past. I remember loving that about them when I was younger, although I had not identified it as such. I recall rapping from that perspective and acknowledging its superiority over the temporal songs that I heard on mainstream radio.
Had I lost my focus? Had I become the type of rapper that only focuses on the things of this earth like: career, likes, replays, retweets, shares, sales, respect, and prestige? True, I rapped about God and His kingdom but from what perspective? One that expressed I wanted my reward now (here on earth) or one that expressed my belief that my true reward is in heaven?
I recall noticing when the flavor of CHH had shifted (in my humble opinion) as impactful groups such as The Cross Movement had been seemingly copied so often by others that the mentality and perspective started to feel unoriginal and unauthentic. In hip hop that's a sign that we have to take a new approach to express the same idea. Also, as the culture evolved stylistically, it appeared that our overall message was slightly changing as well. The focus was shifting more towards earthly things like social issues, injustices, past worldly experiences, honoring our spouses, etc…. (Not bad messages by any means). Obviously, this was not to water down our message, but to relate to either the listener who may not had been interested in our heavenly hope or to the listener who heard plenty of theology rap and was interested in hearing songs that helped him apply his theology into everyday situations. Either way, in my effort to accommodate my listeners, I believe my passion and enthusiasm for spiritual and heavenly things had diminished. Ever since this discovery, my prayer and fight became to get my heavenly focus BACK!
It's exciting because I believe that it is God's grace that has helped me identify this opportunity. My current desire is to seek God more fervently and dive into His word as He reveals its treasures. The sheer joy that I get from Him inspires me to share those treasures with others...even through rap! In this light, it doesn't matter if rap pays the bills or leads to a grand stage or tour; or if I'm categorized amongst thousands of artists writing and performing the same types of songs. What matters is my faithfulness and joy in the Lord's calling and mission. Even if I'm never successful in the eyes of this world, I know where my true reward lies.
There's nothing wrong with discussing social or conscious issues in rap. We are not of this world although we live in it. My prayer is as I'm discussing these trivial topics pertaining to this temporary time here on earth, I do not forget that my ultimate focus needs to be on the life after.
Colossians 3:2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.
-PhilipAnthony (Dat Phella)