Daring plans to bounce holy hip hop up a notch
NASHVILLE: Terverius Black believes in hip hop gospel so much he sold his first home to get the money needed to start his Christian-themed entertainment company.
It was a risky move, but the 34-year-old entrepreneur believes the company’s diversity, which is producing music, a film, a reality television show and a gospel cruise, will help boost a struggling genre of Christian music.
Secular hip hop used radio as a launching pad, but holy hip hop gets little play on regular hip hop stations and nearly none on gospel or Christian radio.
“It’s tough, but we’ve got to get a little more creative,” says Black, who started Alabama-based Xist (pronounced “exist”) Worldwide Record Label three years ago with partner Sean Simmonds.
Both men point to hip hop moguls like Sean “Diddy” Combs, Jay-Z and Russell Simmons, who succeeded branching outside the music industry. Even though their message is faith-based, Black and Simmonds believe they can find the same success.
So far this year, there have been more than 500 000 CD and digital sales of hip hop gospel, according to the Christian Music Trade Association, which operates Christian SoundScan.
“I think holy hip hop music is starting to make a move,” says Danny Wilson, a former road manager for rapper-actor LL Cool J and the main organiser of the Holy Hip Hop Awards in Atlanta.
“Look how long it took regular hip hop to take. You’re talking about 25 to 30 years for it to really make an impact to the point that it’s a driving culture that’s known all over the world.”
Wilson says better air play of hip hop gospel would make it a more effective tool in reaching the unchurched. He cites a syndicated two-hour radio show sponsored by Holy Hip Hop Awards that airs once a week in about 100 cities.
“We get letters from prison all the time,” Wilson says. “One man wrote: ‘I wish I had this music when I was out on the street; it might have saved my life.’ “
Joey Elwood, president of Gotee Records, agrees that hip hop gospel would benefit from more air play on both gospel and secular outlets, but he believes “a lot of the outlets are afraid of offending people”.
Xist could create more awareness and demand for its music with its other ventures, says Kymberlee Norsworthy, director of publicity for Verity Gospel Music Group, a subsidiary of Sony.
“I think only time will tell, but I have faith and confidence that it will be successful,” she says of the company.
Xist’s film, Stand, and its reality TV show focus on three young hip hop gospel artists struggling in the industry who refuse to trade their beliefs for fame.
Black says the gospel cruise, which allows fans to mingle with their favourite artists, is also an opportunity for people to enjoy themselves “and not… worry about compromising what they believe in”.
The key will be staying true to a Christian message, says Vassal Benford, a top record and movie producer. Xist needs to clearly distinguish the music from secular hip hop, whose reputation and lyrics are often “centred on a lot of darkness,” such as robbing and killing.
“Gospel music has a certain wholesomeness to it,” he said. “And whether it’s a hip hop beat or whatever it is under it, the underlying cause of it should always be about God and… creating a positive influence.”
Trey Williams is a Nashville gospel rapper starring in Xist Worldwide’s film. He believes the movie will provide valuable exposure for hip hop gospel.
“If people know we’re here and they know the level of quality we’re presenting then they’ll pay attention to it, but the trick is getting them to pay attention,” says Williams. “We have to get in their face, and a lot of times they just don’t know we exist. I think this film will help with that.” – Sapa-AP