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The Strange Phenomenon of White Middle-Aged Pastors Listening to Rap Music
January 20, 2011
There’s a strange phenomenon in the Christian world right now: middle-aged white pastors are talking about rap music and, even more strangely, actually listening to it and recommending it. Suddenly 65-year-old pastors who wear plaid jackets are interviewing dudes who wear their hats all funny and say things in their songs like, “They got ya head bobbin’ til ya lose ya necklace.” This may not be a long-lived phenomenon, but while it lasts, I thought it would be interesting to reflect on what exactly is going on here. (Update: You may also be interested in The Middle-Aged White Guy’s Guide to Christian Rap.)
Why are all these middle-aged white guys suddenly all excited about Christian rap music? Why is it that I am going to pastor’s conferences and hearing these guys talk about Flame and Trip Lee and Lecrae and Shai Linne?
Here are five factors I came up with.
The Copycat Factor
Not too many white middle-aged pastors were listening to any of this rap music before some of the prominent Reformed personalities began to endorse it. Then these rappers began to perform during worship services at big churches, they began to appear at the Reformed conferences, they were invited to sell their wares at the major events. There is definitely a bit of a copycat factor at play in which people are responding to a guy like John Piper and thinking, “If Piper likes him, he must be good.” Not that this copycat factor is in any way unusual when we observe a new phenomenon. When the leaders begin to endorse it, the rest of us tend to follow.
The Novelty Factor
For a lot of people there is a level of surprise and delight in discovering that there is such a thing as good Christian rap music. We’ve come a long way from D.C. Talk and “I love rap music / I always have and I always will / There ain’t no other kinda music in the world / That makes me feel quite as chill.” Today we are seeing a lot of artists who are releasing rap music that is theologically-rich, easily as much so as any other form of music, and that is also enjoyable to listen to. And so a lot of these white middle-aged guys are enjoying the surprise and the fun of exploring rap music, of listening to different kinds, of trying to figure out what it’s all about. For most of them, this is an entirely new genre—a whole new world ready to be explored.
The Cool Factor
Let’s face it—middle-aged white guys don’t know a whole lot about being cool. White middle-aged culture is not very hip (or hip-hop, for that). But rap music and the people who make that music, well, they are definitely cool. That’s the gimmick at the heart of this way-popular commerical from Toyota:
So I think some of these guys are enjoying something that they consider cool, something that is hip and fun and otherwise validating. I’m not cool at all; Lecrae is ridiculously cool; listening to his music allows some of that coolness to transfer to me.
The Depth Factor
I remember an old friend who used to tease me about the rock music I listened to, saying that every song is the same: verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus, done. Of course she listened to new country which really isn’t any different, but never mind that. One thing we find in rap music is that the word count tends to be much, much higher than in the average pop or rock or country song. Many of these rap songs have word counts in the hundreds. That kind of word count allows a kind of theological depth and engagement that simply cannot be squeezed into two verses a chorus and a bridge. And in this way a lot of these rappers are leading their listeners into deep theological waters. Many of them are theologically-Reformed, New Calvinists who are reading the same authors as these middle-aged pastors and responding to it within this very different medium.
The Quality Factor
Let’s face it: some of these Christians rappers are really good. So amidst all of the other factors, we cannot lose sight of this one—much of the rap music these middle-aged white guys are listening to is actually objectively good. Yes, it’s rap music; yes, it’s unexpected. But at the end of it all, it’s just plain good. And it’s always a joy to listen to music that combines high-quality music with high-quality lyrics. There is a lot of Christian rap that does just that.
And here is just one example (this is the non-official version of the video but it includes the lyrics which you’ll probably need…especially if you’re white and middle-aged):