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Droppin’ Mics and Droppin’ Prayers

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Kanye West, Big Sean, Chance the Rapper. All three artists are names that most fans of modern rap music know and love, but they are also examples of the latest trend that can be found in rap music. The concept of ‘Gospel Rap’ is not new. Rappers have been praising some form of higher power for their fame, their accomplishments, and their success since the start of the genre (Disclaimer: Gospel Rap is its own genre of religious music, we are discussing the trend and not the genre in this article). Only recently has this phenomenon expanded beyond a line or two in one song on an album, to being a main theme that is present throughout the whole record.

Starting with Kanye, who has had the world listening to his music since the College Dropout days, talking about everything in his life, from his girls to his drugs to his lifestyle to his rags-to-riches story. His latest album, The Life of Pablo, brings another aspect of Kanye’s life into the light—his spirituality. In the opening portion of the album, we see three songs, “Ultralight Beam,” “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1,” and “Father Stretch My Hands Pt.2.” The refrain in Ultralight Beam is “this is a God Dream” and features Chance the Rapper, who will be discussed more later. Kanye minimizes his extreme success into the word ‘this,’ but that is enough for the listener to know what he is referring to. In the “Father Stretch My Hands” set, Parts 1 and 2 both use clips from a sermon given by Pastor T. L Barrett. We hear someone asking “How can I find you? Who do you turn to? How do I bind you?” to which the Pastor responds “If I don’t turn to you, No other help I know, I stretch my hands!” To use this within the same song that features Panda by Desiigner, one which talks about expensive cars and drugs, is quite the statement. To use a sermon of any sort, a form of worship alongside an appraisal of all things that could be considered sinful, is a controversial move, one that perhaps only Kanye could pull off.

In Big Sean’s album, I Decided, he makes the same play that Kanye did, but the placement of it throughout the album is perhaps a bit more strategic. The setup of the albums are different within themselves, Kanye’s was an avant-garde storytelling of the Life of Saint Pablo, whereas Big Sean is using his album as a narrative into ‘his decision’ to be more in touch with his spiritual side, to call his mom more, and to appreciate his girlfriend more. So we have songs like “Moves” and “Bounce Back” which discuss sex and making quick recoveries from various financial and substance-based endeavors. Then, there is the opening and the closing of the album, “Light,” “Sunday Morning Jetpack,” “Inspire Me,” “Sacrifices,” “Bigger Than Me,” which praise Sean’s grandmother for taking him to church, using lines like “Sent the prayers up and got blessed back,” and recognizes that no matter how big Big Sean gets, there will always be something bigger than him.

Out of the examples within this article, Chance the Rapper’s album, Coloring Book, is the one that comes closest to being a full-on Gospel Rap album. Many have responded to this album with choruses of ‘Chance found the Lord!’ since on a 14-track record, more than half are centered around “praises going up, so blessings can come down.” Chance’s take on being able to rap about his life and his faith is so unique and different than the previous two examples, because even though he follows a similar format, his faith and his life are incredibly intertwined, whereas the other rappers have a separation between being Godly and GOAT-ly. Instead of having a rap album that features a religious theme, Chance has created a religious album that has samples of his life intertwined within it. This album is revolutionary since it shows one of the most successful rappers of the current music scene, who has won a Grammy for his music, which he releases without a label, and he is still religious and maintains his faith. For so many who look up to the glamorous lifestyle of famous rappers in all negative aspects (substance abuse, polyamory, etc.), a rapper of this nature to look up to could be a positive influence. This album is also why he was asked to collaborate with Kanye for “Ultralight Beam.” Any fan could instantly tell the significance of Chance’s voice being used as the vehicle for Kanye’s praises.

Despite who is preaching and who is rapping, it is undeniable that the trend of Gospel rap has been making itself known in the recent years and we may be able to see this trend prevailing in coming albums from other rappers. The three mentioned here are barely scraping the surface of a whole legion of rappers that also include Logic, Travis Scott, and Blackbear. If some of the biggest names of the 2000s and 2010s support the trend, who is to say that we will not see more rappers following a similar chain of creative thought? Gospel rap is most definitely a trend to watch out for as we continue to listen to our favorite rappers and their personal journeys through their music.

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Droppin’ Mics and Droppin’ Prayers