South by Southwest 2012 was an amazing experience. It was my first trip to SXSW, so I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect, but I was thoroughly blown away. That’s one of the reasons that this post is coming more than a week after leaving SXSW– I’ve been working on projects for my clients generated by SXSW inspiration, and nurturing the new relationships I formed there.
One thing that made SXSW 2012 different from any of the previous editions was the increased presence of hip-hop artsits on the calendar.
There were major performances by big hip-hop acts like Lil’ Wayne, 50 Cent, Eminem and Nas, just to name a few. This doesn’t even take into account the seeming omnipresence of Kendrick Lamar, Machine Gun Kelly, and Dee-1. Needless to say, hip-hop was well represented.
While the significant presence of hip-hop artists at an event that has typically been for indie rock and folk acts might seem noteworthy (and it is), this was not the most significant development at SXSW 2012. The most significant development was the inclusion and success of Christian Hip-Hop artists.
I’ve always considered hip-hop to be a rather large musical tent, so to speak. There are many many iterations of what is commonly called “hip-hop,” and they all share the same roots. Its diversity is one of the things that makes hip-hop so appealing to people. There is a kind of hip-hop for every taste.
Despite the diversity of hip-hop, Christian Hip-Hop has gone largely ignored, and even ridiculed, by mainstream hip-hop. Despite the enormous commercial success (and obvious talent) of artists like Lecrae, mainstream hip-hop has been reluctant to acknowledge and embrace its faith-based brethren. This lack of inclusion comes largely from ignorance, in my estimation. It’s not that mainstream hip-hop has willfully excluded artists whose worldview is biblical and whose content is Christ-centered, it’s more that they just don’t know about it.
Well, if they didn’t know before SXSW 2012, now they know.
Saturday night, March 17th, was a historic night in hip-hop history. It was the night of the Reach Records Showcase at La Zona Rosa during SXSW 2012. It was the night that hip-hop let the saints in, and a it was a night that will change everything.
I am proud to be able to say that I was there, that I was a part of it, that I got to witness first hand the stellar performances. I got to experience the thrill of the hundreds of people who turned out that night to wildly support the artists from Reach Records, High Society, Full Ride Music, and Reflection Music Group. I was able to share in the backstage discussions about the music, the theology, where things stand, and where this movement is headed. (If you weren’t there, you owe it to yourself to check out some of the YouTube videos posted by folks who were there)
And make no mistake, this movement is headed forward.
Want proof of that? How about the fact that more people came out for the Reach Records Showcase than for any other hip-hop showcase at La Zona Rosa all week? How about the fact that I heard multiple stories from fans who drove for 8 or more hours just to come to this event? Or what about the fact that one SXSW event organizer called it, “the best hip-hop show I’ve seen all week?”
Those are significant facts.
SXSW 2012 gave Christian hip-hop artists something they haven’t had much of– a large platform in a secular context. Until now, large Christian hip-hop events weren’t necessarily rare, but they were centered around Christian events and a Christian audience. At SXSW, this changed. At SXSW, a lot of people who have likely never heard Christian hip-hop had the opportunity to experience the talent and entertainment in person for the very first time.
You might think, “so what? Christian hip-hop doesn’t need the approval of secular hip-hop to continue. We can do our own thing.” Maybe. But that is a very short-sighted view of things.
Every single Christian hip-hop artist that I met during SXSW (and there were dozens of them) has a missional heart.
Every Christian hip-hop artists wants to reach beyond believers to the non-believers who need to be exposed to the glory of Christ and the saving message of the Gospel. The only way this is going to happen is if those who carry the Gospel in their music are exposed to those who have yet to hear it.
Playing church shows and shows before hundreds or thousands of believers is great, and necessary, but it’s not enough. If Christian hip-hop is going to change the world, it must go out into the world. It can’t remain in its own little bubble.
Part of “going out into the world” means that Christian hip-hop is going to need exposure in traditionally secular areas. That’s why theBREAX headlining at the San Diego House of Blues means something. That’s why Lecrae being included in the BET Hip-Hop Awards 2011 cypher was so significant. That’s why Lecrae’s upcoming mixtape with Don Cannon, “Church Clothes,” is so important.
See, here’s the thing– hip-hop can’t ignore its Christian brethren anymore. The talent of the artists is too great, and the fan base is getting too large to be ignored. That means that secular hip-hop is going to want a piece of that action. Once secular hip-hop outlets, magazines, websites, and radio stations start including Christian hip-hop it, will be up to those who make the music to ensure that their message is heard, loud and clear.
After having many discussions at SXSW about that very topic, I have every confidence that artists will do exactly that, they just need an opportunity to do so. SXSW 2012 was proof of the fact that Christian hip-hop will succeed wherever and whenever it is given a platform; and that changes everything.
SXSW 2012 will mark the moment when “hip-hop let the saints in,” and I can’t wait to see what happens now. . .