This article was originally published in the 2022 issue of the Beeson magazine.
Hip-hop itself is not a genre I like as much as it is a culture that I grew up in and a lens through which I see the world. I am hip-hop.
My mother loved children, but she was unable to have any of her own. Instead, she decided to start a foster home. I was the first child she adopted, and for the first seven years of my life I experienced many things that come with running a foster home. When I was 7 years old, my mother finalized the adoption of my other siblings, and her expectation was for each of us to have stability and to operate as a “normal” family. Sadly, that reality was crushed when her husband and our father left and started another family. My mother was disabled and thus unable to work. Our father did not pay child support, leaving us struggling as a family until my six siblings and I reached adulthood.
But my mother was a woman of faith, and she faithfully took us to church. God called me to preach at the age of 7. But, because I grew up in a culture of moralistic therapeutic deism, in a very traditional church background, I was subconsciously taught that you could not be authentically hip-hop and a devout Christian.I noticed at a young age that I did not listen to music the way my siblings or my peers did. I learned that although they liked or loved songs because of how it sounded or how it made them feel, I was more interested in how the songs were made and how different sounds were brought together to influence people. I often found that I would get excited about things in songs that others did not even hear or notice. It was the smallest as well as the most intricate of things that helped ignite my passion for music.
Although I knew God was calling me to preach throughout my preteen years, I did not answer the call because I did not believe that God could use someone who was unapologetically hip-hop. Growing up, there were many teachers at the school I attended who recognized my potential. However, it wasn’t until I was 16 that I had a student band teacher, who, like many of my other teachers before, saw within me a natural leader. He introduced me to Lecrae’s 2006 album, “After the Music Stops.” I was amazed because for the first time I saw a person who was authentically hip-hop but also a devout Christian who was involved in a biblical community of accountability, very well educated in theology and a positive role model to youth of all backgrounds.
I also learned that day, while listening to his album, that he owned a record label full of rappers who were just as passionate about the gospel as he was and as I desired to be. I spent the rest of that evening searching every artist on his label. I knew, while listening to each artist, that God could indeed use someone like me. That day I gave my life to Christ, accepted my call to preach and started rapping a few months afterwards.
At this point in my career, I have performed for around 40,000 people. Unbeknownst to many who have heard my music, I write all the lyrics of my songs including the songs that have pop, R&B, soul, gospel and contemporary Christian music influences. I pride myself in being a songwriter who also happens to be an extremely versatile rapper and not just a rapper who loves writing songs.
Many do not believe that gospel/Christian rap can be used for the glory of God. I often find myself being judged for something that I am passionate about. They do not understand that there are so many people, mostly children, who go to church regularly who believe that praise and worship music is boring. There are many people who listen solely to rap/hip-hop. Even more so, there are people who have ab- solutely no desire to listen to gospel/Christian music and have closed their ears to anything pertaining to praise and worship music. Gospel rap, Christian rap, and “holy hip-hop” are tactical tools that can be used to get the gospel to people whose ears are either not inclined or completely shut off to praise and worship music.
Gospel/Christian rap can be used as a precursor to worship or a tool to rejuvenate and revive worship in the hearts of those who already have knowledge of God. Gospel rap can be used as a precursor to worship for youth who believe that church and worship music are boring. It can be something for them to like and enjoy while keeping them close to the oracles of God until they grow in their understanding of true worship and mature into a faith-based relationship with God. It can also be used as a tool to break away from tradition, create excitement or simply do something new within our faith-based community. For example, at the church where I serve as pastor, we recently started doing what we call “Fab Five Sunday.” Every fifth Sunday, instead of doing a traditional worship service, I do a concert for the congregation, and I preach in between songs. This idea has brought so much excitement to our church, and it has blessed each of us simply because it is an opportunity to do something new and fresh. It keeps some of our youth, who have told me church is boring, close to the church, and it gives them something to be excited about. As a result, their excitement excites our seasoned saints.
As a rapper, educator, mentor and young pastor who is extremely popular among children of all ages in the districts I serve, whether in my denomination or the school system, it amazes me just how much many of these children look up to me. Thus, I wrote the song, “So Amazing,” as a reminder to myself and to the children I have the privilege of serving that I am not a superstar, but I serve a God who created the stars out of nothing and it is in him whom we should put all our trust.
Just for a minute
Can I be honest, I’m nothing special I’m in the hands of the potter
A work in progress, I am his vessel
I’m just a vessel, I’m nothing special, Nada I'm zero on each level (Repeat this line)
I’m not a superstar, I’m not the one you want
I’m not the one you need, Get your eyes off of me, put your eyes on the King
I’m on a new level, buy me a new shovel
Bury the old me, it’s time to shine like a new Bezel
I’m shining that light that is in me
It is the only good in me
I promise the old me you don’t want to know
Because he comes from bad folk just check out the history
They came from low levels
Literally came from the dirt
Heard from the serpent they the first
To become sinners, exiled and cursed
I’m just as bad, matter a fact
I might be worse should have been in a hearse
But thank God for his Spirit it gave me a burst
No credit to me it was His work
He is my everything yes I mean everything he is the reason I
sing I have no reason to brag because I did not do anything
I promise he is the only good in me it’s not what it seems it’s the Spirit who cleaned [me]
He’s what you see all that I have my car and my clothes are all gifts from the King
He is a beast he made the stars and galaxies and re-creation of me
So get your eyes off of me should not be on me
Should be on the one who made what you see He is so holy and I am so dirty
I am the servant and He is the King
Listen to an interview with DeVonta on the Beeson podcast.