Rap vs. Rapture

Christian hip-hop is on the march, but some say it's the Devil's music

"We're trying to relate to the people we're trying to reach," Walker explains. "In fact, the times that we've announced it, it's caused an influx of young people to come. Whereas if we advertise on another level, we would probably just get the 'church folks' -- the older people that are traditional, and conservatives.

"Most of the church growth you're seeing today is transfer growth," the pastor continues. "If we keep doing what we keep doing, we gonna keep getting what we got. And it's those people that are willing to do cutting-edge stuff that's going to minister to that next generation."

Cho'zyn is Tanisha Foxworth and Dawndia Crump. They aren't afraid to get rich and famous, so long as it's OK with the Big Guy.
Jennifer Silverberg
Cho'zyn is Tanisha Foxworth and Dawndia Crump. They aren't afraid to get rich and famous, so long as it's OK with the Big Guy.
Flame's song "When Everybody Screaming Jesus" blasts at Busch Stadium before Albert Pujols bats.
Jennifer Silverberg
Flame's song "When Everybody Screaming Jesus" blasts at Busch Stadium before Albert Pujols bats.

I'm no young pepper," cracks Bishop John R. Johnson in his gravely, puttering drawl. "I'm not of the hip-hop generation."

In fact, the 63-year-old head of New Straightway Family Worship Center used to preach against Christian rap. So when a couple of his divinity students approached him a few years back about exploring a "hip-hop dissertation," he balked.

"I felt that rap music was an infiltration of the devil into the church," he says.

But his students were persistent, and Johnson believed that their hearts were in the right place. So he went out and did a little exploration, aided by a friend who worked at a Christian bookstore.

"She went and got six different gospel artists who were singing hip-hop, and she led me to a booth and I sat down and played these CDs with headphones," Johnson recalls.

As the bass picked up, inspiration from scripture washed over Johnson. "Saul was vexed of a demon spirit," he remembers thinking. "When he could get no relief from any other source, he called for David. And the Bible says David played cunningly on the harp, and Saul was delivered of the demonic spirit.

"The Lord let me know, 'As it was then, so it is now.' The Lord convinced me, per se, that these two young men were two of the many who the Lord is using to reach what we call 'Generation X.'"

Shortly thereafter, he stood up before his congregation and said he had an announcement.

"I told them that I had been wrong, the Lord had opened my understanding. I took the spiritual handcuffs off and began to allow the young people in the church to go forth in music."

One of the students was 26-year-old Antha Rodgers, who is also known as REdNOTE. ("There is no deity in me without Christ," he offers as way of explanation for the lowercase "d.") Last year the rapper launched his CROSS Breed Imprints label, and its first release was the debut album of the other student, 28-year-old Jeremiah Jackson, who goes by KRy. ("Jeremiah is the weeping prophet," explains Jackson.)

To promote that album, titled My Hope, Rodgers and Jackson decided to put on a giant roller-skating party.

And so that's why hundreds of people have come out tonight to the Treasure Island skating rink in unincorporated north county. Twenty bucks has bought them three copies of My Hope, three skate rentals and three glow sticks in their choice of assorted neon colors.

The joysticks on the facility's video games are mostly broken, the Pop-A-Shots are out of order, and the hot dogs appear to be from the Eisenhower era, but the folks here are having a blast anyway. By 8 p.m. the floor is jammed, and Jackson does backwards figure-eights around the brethren while Rodgers works the turntables, spinning holy hip-hop under the name of his DJ alter ego, WanablesU. The pace picks up a bit as he puts on a song off Jackson's album called "No L.I.T.C."

So many trying to find true love in the club

Lookin' for a hug in the club

Searchin' for a touch and rub

Ladies, show yourself some love

Before you get end up between a bed and a tub

You got played with a drink and dub

You much more than a rub

And you deserve much more than a club

"Are you praising Jesus?" asks a 'do-ragged teen kid skating by, pumping his arms in the air like he just don't care, as a spontaneous rhyme-circle forms just off the skating floor.

Now Rodgers comes down from his perch and mounts a concrete riser next to the DJ booth. When he is joined by Jonathan "fish.AMEN" Smith, the crowd digs it.

But they reserve their loudest cheers for Jackson, who comes up on stage with his wife, Christina, and their two-year-old son, Jeremiah Jr., who refuses to take his glow stick out of his mouth. A large woman in a neon-blue top is so excited that she unsuccessfully tries to propel herself over a three-foot-high concrete barrier into the rink, skates and all.

After a few songs, the music stops. Rodgers addresses the crowd directly: "Is there anybody who would like to accept the call of salvation? Is there anybody who would like to receive prayer?" They're more directives than questions, and two lines quickly form in front of the stage, one before Rodgers and the other before Jackson, halfway across the rink.

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