More than 1,800 youth and their parents overfilled the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center in Oakland, to celebrate the day of Christ’s resurrection with prayer, worship and a “Holy Hip Hop” experience, April 11, 2004. Hosted by the Greater St. Paul Baptist Church in Oakland, the enlivened Hip Hop Sunday worship was part of a nationwide effort to turnaround the outflow of youth from the pews through a new spiritual genre and culture.
"By taking our service to the Kaiser Center, we hope to create space for everyone who wants to come and celebrate Jesus with us," said the Rev. Joseph Simmons. "The service will feature hip-hop flavored elements such as special music and dance as well as traditional congregational singing and dancing.
"We want the kids to come as they are, wearing their favorite hip-hop clothing. We're sending a message that society may look at their exterior and judge them, but God looks at their hearts. As a church family we want to embrace the youth and help them become people who love God, love themselves and love their community,” continued Simmons.
Holy hip-hop, also known as “gospel rap,” has been a powerful impetus to bring youth back into the church. Several Christian hip-hop record labels have sprouted out in the past few years and have rapidly grown into a marketable industry via internet, radio, music, video and musicals.
Reflecting that growth, New World Music, Urban Gospel Alliance and HolyHipHop.com – three leading gospel rap companies – formed an alliance with NEMO and the International Songwriting Competition on April 8, in Atlanta Georgia. NEMO, running in its eight year, is one of North America’s premier music industry events features three nights of music from some 250 artists worldwide. The ISC, now in its third year, awards $100,000 in cash and merchandise, and gives publicity and promotion to all its finalists and winners. Both events are scheduled for the fall.
“Since we implemented our partnership to advance the Gospel, opportunities for collaboration with well-known organizations outside of the 4-walls of the Church have significantly increased, in line with Billboard Magazine’s recent article discussing ‘Gospel’s Big Steps into Mainstream,’” said Curtis Jeremy, CEO of Urban Gospel Alliance, Abe Manear of HolyHipHop.com and DJ Lace, CEO of New World Music in a statement. “We believe that these opportunities represent a positive trend and foreshadows doors opening, where once before unimaginable and unfathomable, for the Global Rhythm and Praise, Dance, Gospel and Holy Hip Hop communities.”
In Oakland, where the upcoming Easter production will take place, yet another gospel rap record label is mounting a full-fledged effort to win the hearts of youth for the church. Named, Gospel Village, the record label is part of the Flock Entertainment Complex, which features Christian-based talent shows and movies as well as music.
Derrick Mann, CEO and president of the Flock Complex said the company’s next venture is called “Rev. Rap” – a movie that will feature gospel rappers Coz, Larry Austin and Vecepia Towery-Robinson, the Hayward resident who won an episode on "Survivor," the popular TV reality program.
"Rap is more than just 'bling-bling' and gangsta rap," said Mann, who is also a minister. His recording studio at 1036 E. Eighth St. is a magnet for young people and aspiring artists.
"You have a lot of young people who are also getting to know Jesus Christ through rap music, and that's positive,” said Mann.
At the Kaiser Convention Center, the teenagers and youngsters seemed more than enthusiastic about the new wave of hip-hop culture. Shouting, “amen” throughout the worship service, the enlivened crowd cheered on their Pastor, the Rev. Joseph Simmons, and the dance performers with wholehearted passion.
According to Tive Scott, marketing director at Greater St. Paul, much of the event’s success was due to the evangelistic efforts of the church’s youth.
“The kids really made this happen,” said Scott. “The main thing we did to advertise the event was to give post cards to youth to give to their friends. They took the cards to school and to their neighbors and they really pushed it.”
Compared to the oft-corrupt and negative popular culture that the youth encounter everyday, the newly formed Holy Hip Hop culture is more than welcomed at St. Paul’s.
“We’ll do it again for sure. We don’t know when, but it’s definitely something we’ll do again.” Said Scott. “Dr. Simmons is so exited to see young people coming to church.
“With everything that’s happening in Oakland, we need to create some different values from what they’re getting on the street.”