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Saturday, July 25, 2009

Is holy hip hop the new religion that will transform youth culture?

They wear baggy outfits without showing their drawers and use slang but avoid the ‘F’ word and other profanities , writes Dennis D. Muhumuza

In a moving song, Glory 2 U Jesus, Renee, MC of The Levite Clan, mourns his “hommie” dying of HIV/Aids even after using condoms. Since the condom cannot be wholly trusted, he suggests C in the ABC strategy against HIV/Aid should represent Christ, who gives us the grace to remain faithful and to abstain.

He’s one example of many Ugandan Christian rap artists turning to holy hip hop to sing the truth about the world primarily to share the love of God and spread Jesus’ fame. The online encyclopaedia, Wikipaedia, defines holy hip hop, also known as Christian hip hop or gospel rap, as “a form of hip hop music which uses Christian themes to express the songwriter’s faith,” and is used for evangelisation.

It’s largely because of the youths’ affection for rap music that holy rappers have retained the positive elements of hip hop like fashion, b-boying (break dance) and graffiti to appeal to their core audience. In fact, there’s little difference between a local holy hip artiste and a gangsta rapper like 50 Cent, at least in outlook.

They look thuggish and rugged without being indecent; cornrows, bandanas, baseball caps and bling is their style. They wear baggy outfits without showing their drawers and use slang but avoid the F word and other profanities.

Interesting is seeing a guy with that “bad boy look” dripping Biblical verses and a message that brings life so much that a listener returns home feeling this joy and excitement and a conviction that the artiste has an intimate relationship with God. “We become all things to all men so that we may win some souls for Jesus,” says Renee. “What you see on the outside is our designer shell but our souls are very well.”

According to a feature film simply titled Holy Hip Hop (2006), produced and directed by American Christian rapper and actor Christopher “Play” Martin, holy hip hop movement began in the US in the late 1980s but is one of the fastest growing music genres today, with over 2000 active emcees and countless fans worldwide.

The exclusive video features several Christian rappers sharing personal testimonies of how God delivered them from the life of addictions (drugs, alcohol, sex, materialism etc.), and rearranged their thinking and lives. With the knowledge that hip hop is a more comprehensive way of expressing oneself, they turned to holy hip hop by which they share God’s love through spiritually-enlightening rhymes (songs).

Indeed those who were hooked to secular hip hop have after getting saved found in holy hip hop a perfect antidote to the likes of Snoop Dogg or Eminem that used to play in their CD Changers. The holy hip hop movement in Uganda, as it is, may be a crawling baby but it’s right on time considering the high number of young people that make the vibrant community of savadees.
The Levite Clan, Shalom Rapperz, Holy Rhapsody and Pure Souls, among others, comprise some of the local holy hip hop’s trailblazing artistes.

They got the much needed psychological and spiritual boost in 2007 when Sean Slaughter, the son of renowned worship leader, Alvin Slaughter, while in Uganda, said the greatest decision he made was quitting the fame and money as a producer of Wu-Tang Clan (an American hardcore rap group) and turning to holy hip hop after accepting Jesus Christ as his personal saviour.
Convinced that the global holy hip hop movement will change the youth culture profoundly, these soldiers of Christ have since become the local voices of holy hip hop who move to schools and universities, and are often spotted at crusades, Bible in one hand, microphone in the other, swaggering across the stage with a powerful message delivered behind heavy and infectious beats.

Gospel Night at Speke Hotel on Tuesdays, and during Change at Thursdays on JP Plaza – about the only spots that give Ugandan holy hip hop pre-eminence, these young energetic rappers continue to spit bars (slang for rap) to advertise the name of Jesus, and in so doing have blessed a number of souls.

“Holy hip hoppers rap and the sick get healed and the spiritually dead come to life” says Ivan “No Hell 01” Wobusobozi of The Levite Clan. He then tells the testimony of a Canadian lady who was changed by their song, Is God Really Good, off their debut album Christ in da Youth Culture (2007).

The woman’s son was in jail, and she was in rehab wrestling with drug addiction. But watching the song on U-tube, its message convicted her to repent. The song tries to answer the question we all pose as to whether God is fair, especially when we see good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people.

It’s one of the beauties about holy hip hop that while pastors are more confined to the church; holy hip hoppers see the world as their parish and try as much to reach as many people as they can.“We are called by God to change the face of hip hop music and the whole industry at large,” says Ivan “Brokim” Mujere of the Shalom Rapperz.

“However, it has become very hard for the world to understand that this genre of music can be used without having to be vulgar or explicit, that it can be used to bring change and hope.”

Without mincing words, Jonah “Eloquent” Ahimbisibwe of the holy hip hop duo Holy Rhapsody accuses gangsta rap of idolising sex, guns, material wealth, power and violence.

“But holy hip is a ministry on a mission to save urban youth from the highly poisonous songs of secular rap and help them refocus their attention on the cross of Jesus, so that they can live life to the fullest for the One that created us all.
--Sunday Monitor, April 26, 2009