Why Christians and non-Christians love Chance’s music - Christian Hip-Hop Blog |Most Trusted CHH Blog

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Friday, March 10, 2017

Why Christians and non-Christians love Chance’s music

There are a number of factors that play into what, at the moment, feels like nearly universal acclaim for Chance the Rapper. What immediately strikes me as an observer watching the recent convos is that this all feels familiar, like we’ve been here before. And that’s because we have. The older I get, the more the words of Solomon ring true:

“What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. Is there a thing of which it is said, “See, this is new?” It has been already in the ages before us.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9-10)

This is not the first time a popular artist has used either subtle or overt Christian references in their music. It’s also not the first time that Christians have been divided over how to interpret those references. We’ve seen it in pop music with Bob Dylan, U2, Mumford and Sons, Beyonce and many others. We’ve seen it in hip-hop with DMX, Bone Thugs N Harmony, Lauryn Hill, Kanye West (who was actually once paid a lot of money to perform “Jesus Walks” at a church) and Kendrick Lamar, just to name a few.

So how are we to understand what seems to be universal appeal for Chance? This is where it becomes important to look at his music style, his associations and the content of his lyrics.

1. Music Style

One of the worst-kept secrets in the world of R&B music is that many of its artists grew up in the church, specifically the black church. It seemed like there was an unwritten rule at one time for R&B singers to include at least one “gospel” song on their albums, no matter how much “bumping and grinding” appeared on the rest of the album. Regardless of whatever else they sang about, they always felt the need to “give it up to God” and pay homage to their roots with a song.

If you ever watch the BET Awards, you’ll often see some of the most well-known singers (known for lyrics dripping with lust, sensuality and just about everything else mentioned in lists like Galatians 5:19-21) begin to stand up in the audience and lift their hands to the sky during the “gospel” section of the show. The connection between the black church and R&B is well-documented.

Chance also has a connection to the black church that bleeds through his music in ways that appeal to lovers of the gospel genre — Christian and non-Christian.

Musically, the creative combination of live instrumentation, hip-hop drums, choirs and soulful singing make Coloring Book sound really good. Not only that, it feels good. From the joyful, refreshing vibes of “All We Got” that open the album to the gospel chords and choir samples of “Angels” and “No Problems”, Coloring Book feels uplifting from a musical standpoint. Chance hints at this being intentional with his line from “Blessings (Reprise)”:

“I speak of wondrous unfamiliar lessons from childhood /
Make you remember how to smile good”

Even the melodic melancholy of “Same Drugs”, a brilliantly executed and touching tale of reminiscence and loss, leaves the listener feeling hopeful as the last minute or so of the song ascends with harmonic “ooohs” from a choir, vibrant strings and colorful keys as Chance begins that part of the song by singing, “Don’t forget the happy thoughts/ All you need is happy thoughts.”

The strength of Coloring Book, in my opinion, is Chance’s ability to convey common human emotions in a way that feels effortless, youthful and free. Musically, it’s easy to see why it’s enjoyed by Christians and non-Christians alike. Part of being made in God’s image is the ability to appreciate art and beauty, as well as the capacity to reflect on and relate to the deep emotional expressions of artists. Coloring Book taps into these things in powerful ways at times.

2. Associations

One of the other things that explains Chance’s embrace by the world at large is his associations. The guests on Coloring Book read like a “who’s who” of pop, hip-hop and R&B music in 2017. As far as mainstream music is concerned, there’s something for everybody.

And herein lies some of the concerns I have with Coloring Book receiving unqualified praise from Christians. It’s also why I would categorize it as a secular album. When the unbelieving world hears Coloring Book, it recognizes its own heroes who share the world’s attitudes, agenda and appetites.

As one example, Young Thug and Lil’ Yachty, who are featured on “Mixtape”, produce some of the most godless and explicitly wicked music out today. Their music is characterized by the glorification of violence, materialism, misogyny and vulgarity. If you were to read the lyrics to a song such as Lil Yachty’s “Minnesota Remix” (which features Young Thug), you would see that it fulfills just about every negative preconception a person could have about the evils of hip-hop. Worse than that, it fulfills the very things that Scripture warns us about in passages like 1 John 2:15-17:

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world — the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life — is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.”

When that passage says “Do not love the world,” it’s not saying “Do not love people.” The “world” refers to a system or patterns of human behavior directed by Satan (“the god of this world” in 2 Cor. 4:4 and “prince of the power of the air” in Eph. 2:2), which stands in opposition to God’s law, God’s purposes and God’s kingdom. That’s why John qualifies what he means by “world” in verse 16.

“The desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes and pride of life” could literally be an album description for Young Thug and Lil’ Yachty’s works. And it’s not just them. They are only following in the footsteps of older artists also featured on Coloring Book, like Kanye West (“All We Got”), Lil’ Wayne, 2 Chainz (“No Problem”) and Future (“Smoke Break”).

Many of the featured artists on Coloring Book are right in step with an unbelieving world that is opposed to the ways of God. The featured artists on Coloring Book scream to the world about Chance, “He’s one of us.” Once that is established, it makes it much easier for the world to see Chance’s overt “God-talk” as “inspirational” and “hope-giving,” rather than “preachy” and “closed-minded.”
3. Lyrical Content

The final reason for Chance’s universal appeal is his lyrical content. Christian commentators have been quick to point out the explicit references to God on Coloring Book. For instance, on “All We Got”, the first full song on the album, he has lines such as:

“This for the kids of the king of all kings /
This is the holiest thing /
This is the beat that played under the Word /
This is the sheep that ain't like what it herd…”

He says this later on in the song:

“I get my word from the sermon /
I do not talk to the serpent /
That’s the holistic discernment /
Daddy said I'm so determined /
Told me these goofies can't hurt me /
Just might make me some earl tea /
I was baptized like real early /
I might give Satan a swirly”

His song “Summer Friends”, which reflects on Chance’s life growing up in Chicago, opens up with guest feature Francis and the Lights crooning,

“Incredible /
My Lord…Incredible”

“Summer Friends” also includes an interlude mid-song with a woman praying:

“May the Lord give your journey mercy /
May you be successful, grant you favor /
And bring you back safely, I love you”

On “Blessings”, the song from Coloring Book that has received perhaps the most exposure, it opens with this on the hook:

“I'm gon' praise Him, praise Him 'til I'm gone /
I'm gon' praise Him, praise Him 'til I'm gone /
When the praises go up, the blessings come down /
When the praises go up, the blessings come down /
It seems like blessings keep falling in my lap”

At the end of “Blessings”, Chance says a line that is repeated many times later in the album on “Blessings (Reprise)”:

“Are you ready for your blessing? /
Are you ready for your miracle?”

This line is a re-working of the hook from the popular Fred Hammond song “Let the Praise Begin” off his 1998 album “Pages of Life”, which is regarded as a classic in gospel music circles. This particular line (along with the “praises go up/ blessings come down” line) has become something of a cliché, repeated so often in gospel music and its associated churches that it is immediately recognizable to anyone familiar with the genre.

There are a number of other songs on Coloring Book that contain explicit Christian references, but “Blessings” and “How Great” are the songs that Christians have referenced the most as evidence that Chance/his music is Christian.

So what’s the problem? Leaving the theology communicated in those songs aside, the problem is that “How Great”, “Blessings” and “Blessings (Reprise)” are just three songs on a 14-song project. The rest of the album is basically spent hanging up thick, dark drapes to cover whatever light is peeking through the mini-blinds on those songs. What you find as you listen to the rest of Coloring Book are many problematic lyrics from both Chance and his featured artists.

Here’s a quick test for you. First, read this passage from the Bible:

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.” (Ephesians 5:1-8)

Now read this verse from Lil’ Wayne, one of the featured artists on “No Problems”:

“Lord, free the Carter, n****s need the Carter /
Sacrificin' everything, I feel like Jesus Carter /
Hold up, I got this sewed up, my soda poured up /
My woes up, I'm flippin' those bucks, they doing toe tucks /
I rolled up and let the smoke puff… /
…Move on, put my goons on, they kidnap newborns /
In the streets my face a coupon /
Her p***y too warm /
All these b*****s come to do harm /
Just bought a new charm /
F**k the watch, I buy a new arm, you lukewarm /
I'm Uncle Luke with the hoes /
Pretty b*****s, centerfolds /
Tippy toes around my crib in they robes, just their robes /
Half a milli' in the safe, another in the pillowcase /
Codeine got me movin' slower than a caterpillar race /
F**k wrong with you? What you were thinkin'? /
What you thought it was? /
I just popped five Percocets and only caught a buzz…”

What can we say about the lyrical content here? On this verse, Lil’ Wayne embodies a living, breathing, rapping stereotype. Where to begin? Blasphemy? Check. Misogyny? Yup. Glorifying drug abuse? Absolutely. Glorifying Violence? For sure. Prideful boasting and materialism? Of course.

That’s just one verse from one of the features. Others could be mentioned. Some might say, “Well that’s Lil’ Wayne. He’s not a Christian. What do you expect?” My response would be, “Okay. So you’re acknowledging that Lil’ Wayne’s lyrics are characteristic of a ‘son of disobedience’ from Eph. 5:6. What does the very next verse say? Verse 7 says ‘Do not become partners with them.’”

At the very least, by featuring godless, sin-glorifying verses from Lil’ Wayne, 2 Chainz, Lil’ Yachty, Young Thug and others, Chance is sending the message that righteousness does, in fact, have partnership with lawlessness, light does have fellowship with darkness, the temple of God does have agreement with idols, etc. (2 Cor. 6:14-16).

But it’s not just the features. It’s the things that Chance himself says. To Chance’s credit, his verses aren’t as foul as his guests, but there’s plenty of profanity and much of what he says should not be encouraged or recommended by Christians.

Here’s Chance’s verse on “No Problems”:

“Ooh, watch me come and put the hinges in their hands /
Countin' Benjis while we meetin', make 'em shake my other hand /
Milly rockin', scoopin' all the blessings out my lap /
B***h I know you tried to cheat, you shoulda never took a nap, hey /
F**k wrong with you? What you were thinkin'? /
F**k you thought it was? /
You talk that talk that make a lame a** n***a fall in love /
Not me, though, b***h you can keep those /
Bruh, I'm at your head like Craig did Deebo /
Don't tweak, bro, it's never sweet, hoe /
My shooters come for free, so… /
If one more label try to stop me /
It's gon' be some dreadhead n***s in ya lobby, huh huh”

I understand that “No Problems” is a playful song directed toward record labels. But there’s nothing playful or fun about referencing “my shooters” and “dreadhead n***s in ya lobby,” especially in the context of all that’s going on in Chicago. These kind of lyrics help perpetuate mindsets that are not only devastating to urban black youths, but first and foremost, dishonoring to the God who made those youths in His image.

Another problematic and, honestly, disappointing aspect to the lyrics on Coloring Book is the misogyny evident in the repeated referencing of women as “b*****s” and “hoes,” by both Chance and his guests. (Check the lyrics to “Mixtape” and “All Night” for examples). To be fair, Chance does show respect for his grandmother, mother and girlfriend at different points on the album. But this only makes the misogyny stand out that much more.

Not only that, but the use of drugs is glorified throughout the album by both Chance and his guests. On the hook to “Smoke Break”, Chance says:

“Let me crack this blunt /
Slow it down for a second /
Break it down, ooh /
She said, "Let me lick this blunt" /
Slow it down for a second /
Break it down, ooh /
We deserve, we deserve /
We deserve, a smoke break”

Chance has publicly said that this song is an allegory about a relationship where he substitutes weed for the things they used to do together. Whether that’s the case or not, it’s still a song that glorifies drug use, and the average listener is not looking for the deeper meaning behind it.

My final example may be the most dangerous. It comes from “How Great”, but it’s not Chance’s verse. It’s the verse of his guest, Jay Electronica, who says:

“O' son of man, O' son of man /
Who was the angel in Revelations with a foot on water and a foot on land? /
Who was the angel that rode a Harley from the project to the house of Parliament /
And opened the book in the Devil's chamber and put the true name of the Lord in it? /
Old Jerusalem, New Jerusalem /
Comes like this beast with a ball of fire /
They poisoned the Scriptures and gave us the pictures of false messiahs /
It was all a lie”

This song is an example of syncretism, which is the attempt to harmonize two different religions. Jay Electronica is a Muslim who is associated with the Nation of Islam. On a song that Chance is using to praise God, Jay Electronica is talking about the Scriptures being poisoned. Also, the Lord/Christ he’s talking about is not the Jesus of the Scriptures — who is God in the flesh (John 1:14), who laid down His life as a sacrifice for sinners — but the Jesus of Islam, who is merely another prophet.

Those are just some of the issues with the lyrical content of Coloring Book. So the question remains: Why are so many Christians so eager to co-sign Chance and endorse Coloring Book?

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