In a city known for street-oriented rap, influencing listeners to embrace hip-hop with a Christian message is a massive task.
Despite the disadvantage, several hip-hop artists in Memphis have decided to take on the challenge.
Terence June Gray is among the group of lyricists that have chosen to exhibit a Christian worldview in their music. Although not as popular as secular rap, Gray said there’s a substantial market for Christian rap in the Bible belt.
“Initially, I saw a little bit of hesitation of people wanting to hear it but the culture has warmed up to it more,” Gray said. “By hearing a lot of the negative, it makes you want something positive. We have so much pain, trials and so many issues [in the city]. We have a significant amount of crime. We have a significant gang issue. It’s a lot of hurting, a lot fatherlessness. I think a lot of young people are looking for some hope, and I think my message of the gospel speaks right into that desire for hope. When I share a song or a new CD, people tell me that there’s certain songs they listen to when they’re struggling with something, or certain songs encourage them, or certain songs give them hope.”
While a senior in high school, Gray gave his life to Christ and subsequently tapped into the world of Christian hip-hop. He’s currently prepping the release of his mixtape, Mission Muzic Vol. 1. The musical installment, which will be available for download late January, is being released through his Mission Muzic imprint.
Gray recently released a video for a track off the mixtape titled “One Million Views.”
Christian rap was introduced in the 1980s—a few years after secular rap made its mark. The first full-length Christian rap album was Bible Break (1985) by Stephen Wiley.
Nearly three decades later, artists such as Lecrae, GRITS, Trip Lee, the 116 Clique, and Flame have helped the movement obtain worldwide appeal.
It’s introduction in Memphis dates back to the cusp of the new millennium. One of the founding fathers of the city’s Christian rap movement is Delmar “Mr. Del” Lawrence.
On Easter Sunday of 2000, Mr. Del returned to the Bluff City to visit his family and church home. At the time, he was a member of Three 6 Mafia’s Hypnotize Camp Posse collective.
“I was on tour. Living the rap life. I came home [with plans] to surprise the church and the family, and that’s when I heard God speak to me,” Mr. Del said.
Prior to experiencing God’ presence, Mr. Del had signed a contract with Hypnotize Minds, and was featured on the album, Three 6 Mafia Presents: Hypnotize Camp Posse (2000).
However, his interest for the secular rap world changed when he accepted Jesus Christ as his savior. Stepping out on faith, he left Hypnotize Minds and pursued a profession with Christian hip-hop.
More than a decade after transitioning into what he calls “holy hip-hop,” Mr. Del is prepping the release of his seventh solo offering Faith Walka. He’s owns the record label Dedicated Music Group, has been featured on B.E.T., and nominated for a Grammy.
“It was no way I would have known that Holy hip-hop would get to the level where people are making millions off of it,” Mr. Del said. “Now, we’re in the same circles as mainstream rap artists and that’s a blessing, because it started out as a joke. It’s making an impact now more than ever, because of the time put in and just the message in the music. People want a message of hope. They want to hear something other than murder music, trap or dope music.”
The market for Christian hip-hop in Memphis continues to blossom as time progresses. Throughout the years, more rap artists have followed in Mr. Del's footsteps, making a transition from jotting rhymes about worldly topics to being more Christian-oriented in their songs.
Among other Christian rap artists within the Bluff City, Adrian “Fro” Johnson has made a notable name for himself. He managed to sell more than 30,000 records independently with his debut album, Highway to Heaven. Since then, he’s released three more albums and created the label, Gods Wheel Records.
“With my music, I talk about real things. I talk about how life is a struggle. Everyday you’re tempted to do something that you might not want to do,” Fro said. “I want people to know that you can change. Jesus loves you and He wants you to change and He’s waiting on you. Christian rap is the new way of getting the gospel out.”
To the average individual that listens to underground or mainstream secular rap, Christian rap is something that may take some time adjusting to. Although it doesn’t focus on uplifting sinful practices, it does acknowledge them, the adversity they can bring forth, and how to overcome them through Jesus Christ.
“Sin is fun. People living in their flesh like to hear people rap about drugs and sex and all that," said Christian rapper Latrell “Yung Titan” Freeman. "That’s why Christian rap is hard to get into, because a lot of folks don’t want to let go of what they’re doing. When I was listening to [secular] hip-hop, it was kind of difficult for me to listen to Christian music, because it wasn’t what I was used to. I just want to encourage everybody to give us Christian rappers a chance, because we’re not doing it for the fame, we’re doing it actually to help people and build the kingdom.”
Follow Mr. Del: @mrdel
Follow Terence June Gray: @missionmuzic
Follow Fro: @Froministries
Follow Yung Titan: @Titan_Flash
Follow me: @Lou4President