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Why Most Christian Music And Entertainment Stinks


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Why Most Christian Music and Entertainment Stinks

by Bill Barnwell

 

I suppose it's not a good move for an Evangelical pastor to suggest Christian music and movies typically aren't that great, and often are quite terrible, but it needs to be said anyway, and I'm hardly the first to point this out. In the battle for the "hearts and minds" of the young in particular, few things are more influential than movies and music, and the broader pop culture in general. Most Christian parents are even oblivious to this fact. They are unaware that their sweet innocent child, whom they brought up in the church and in whom they have tried so hard to instill good values within, can much easier quote the lyrics to pop songs than they can recite Scripture. The typical kid can also certainly articulate their views of music and their favorite artists much more easily than they can any sort of elementary theology.

 

For decades Christianity has been retreatest from the realm of popular culture and the arts. There was a day when Christianity was on the cutting edge of the arts (and despite what you've been led to believe, science) but now have reputations for being hostile to these same cultural realms. Instead, the obsession has almost solely been on political activism. We all know that the average 15-year-old is far more interested in politics than movies and that they are much better at quoting House speeches from Nancy Pelosi than they are at quoting from movies like The Dark Night.

 

The options of many parents, many churches, and vast segments of fundamentalism and Evangelicalism have been these: (1) Wall off ourselves, and particularly our kids, from popular culture. It's bad, it can't be competed with, and only leads to trouble, goes the thinking. And then (2) Create an alternative "Christian culture." We'll only expose Jr. to movies and music from "our own" kind.

 

Now, the majority of Evangelicals actually go for some sort of hybrid approach where they take in the least objectionable stuff from the secular realm and supplement it (or get their primary cultural fix) with Christian media. But the problem for these third-wayers, and those who insist on option 2, is that most Christians are disproportionately consuming from the secular realm and largely ignoring "Christian" media.

 

Many believers realize that they are losing the culture value, and they have the various targets that they blame: The media, the falling standards of the church, liberals, liberal interest groups, or whatever else. But while some blame can be pointed in these directions, the primary problem is not any of these things. The problem is the product. To put it bluntly, the product, in this case Christian alternative media, is simply not that good, and where there are exceptions to this, it's really not stuff that appeals to young people.

 

This is why when most young Christians are given the option between "Christian music" and stuff on the secular radio stations, they go with the secular stuff. Why? Because it's better, plain and simple. By "better" I don't mean I think the message is better or the values are better. But the secular artists are more talented. The production value is supremely better than the Christian stuff. And even many believers are put off by the cheesy aura that much Christian music has to it.

 

While some would just like to say the big issue is money, I'd like to point out that a number of low-budget films have made waves over the years. Christian colleges are filled with gifted people in their music departments, but their talents never see the light of day in the professional arts, and if they do, they are screwed up by the horrible production artists in the recording studio and the crummy business decisions by those in the "Christian media." Nevertheless, people will listen to and watch what is good. Right now, however, Christian entertainment isn't on many people's artistic Top 10 list of "what is good."

 

The average teenage kid does not have that big of an ideological ax to grind that they will refuse a "Christian music" or "Christian song" because of its message. They will listen to it, even if at their core they disagree with it, if a song is quality. Just like many Christian kids put their values on the backburner and listen to popular stuff because it is objectively better from an artistic standpoint than the wholesome stuff clogging up the 88 and 89FM dials of radios across the country. People are largely economic actors, and will consume what they like or want. The reason people aren't consuming Christian media, including many Christians, is not because they want to further the cause of Satan, they aren't buying it because it just isn't that good. Put out a quality product, and people will buy it.

 

The last sentence will send many Christians into a frenzy. "You mean to tell me that we should be catering to what people want? No, we need to give them what they need, not pander to their base desires!" That's swell, but a couple points: (1) You're officially irrelevant if you seriously think teenagers are going to be blaring hymns, or the Gaither Reunions, or whatever other type of stuff you think everyone else should be listening to, in their cars on a Friday night. (2) Rather than think that talent and God-honoring contemporary appeal are mutually exclusive, let's stop making excuses that "our" stuff is more often than not just plain embarrassing.

 

There's all sorts of music that isn't my type, but I can still label it objectively good or bad. Even if one don't like country music, there is country music that is objectively better than other country music. Same with any other genre of movies or music you can think of. Regarding Christian music, the argument people are making isn't "I don't like it because it isn't my type" they primarily don't like it because much of it is objectively a poor product.

 

And poor teenagers. Let's take a group like Casting Crowns. I would say that Casting Crowns is objectively a pretty good group and most of the critiques I've made above do not apply towards them. But their niche market is adult contemporary, and most kids – shocker – don't primarily favor adult contemporary music. Even when Mercy Me broke onto Top 40 charts a few years back with the song I Can Only Imagine it was not kids that were fueling their success, it was a totally different market.

 

Throughout most of the 90's, and this entire decade, hip-hop music has dominated the popular market. It's what is most resonating with most of the younger culture today. But when you turn on 88.3, or whatever 88 or 89 this or that station your Christian radio broadcasts on, how much hip-hop music do you hear? Hardly any, or none at all, because it would annoy their niche market of 40-something white Evangelicals who really don't want their kids listening to "urban" music. There is a "Christian rap" movement that's been around for a long time. Some of it is good, some of it is terrible, but the better stuff you won't be hearing on most Christian radio stations anytime soon, unless you actually count DC Talk's earlier stuff as "rap" or "hip-hop."

 

In the secular music world, musical capitalists long ago realized that the culture was filled with diverse people and catered to different interests. Typical metro radio markets have two to three (and sometimes more!) Christian music stations and the style of music is typically the same on all stations. The only place the "urban" Christian music gets a hearing is on R & B stations early Sunday mornings, when some of them play gospel and Christian hip-hop music that caters to the diverse interests of their base. But the actual Christian music stations pretty much pander to 45-year-old women. There's nothing wrong with being a 45-year-old woman, but primarily pandering to this base is not exactly the key to winning over teenagers from the "secular culture."

 

Even in the average Evangelical church with functioning youth groups, whenever musical groups are brought in (for churches that allow non-gospel team groups), their focus is always on Christian rock bands. Churches apparently haven't got the memo that hip-hop replaced rock music as the dominant force, even amongst white kids, about 17 years ago. Alternative music is still around but its heyday was in the mid 90's, but even then it played second fiddle to hip-hop. Today there is an "emo" subculture, with some "Emo Christian" groups out there but it is hardly dominant and only appeals to a relatively small group. But if you want to put out rock music, at least let's make it good rock music.

 

On Christian radio stations, the focus is on stuff you'd sing in your churches on Sunday morning, or cheap knock-offs of secular love songs using Christ as the object of our affections rather than a male or female. Some cross-over bands like Relient K have realized this can sound cheesy, but instead of attempting to invoke the name of Christ and not sound silly in their mainstream singles, they've chosen to just say "You" instead of "God" in most of their songs, particularly the ones that got mainstream radio play. Yet Kanye West's profanity laced Jesus Walks single ironically was bolder than anything Relient K has put out, and has much more of a "real" feel to it. If West was not trying to pander to his audience, the song's profanity could have easily been removed and replaced with non-profane words and would theoretically been acceptable to Christian radio. But it's basically a moot issue because even if West was a positive role model from a Christian standpoint (he's not), they still would never play "that kind" of music.

 

The issue is not whether or not God or Christ should be directly mentioned. The bigger issue is that most Christian music simply isn't relatable to the average person, including many Christians. Most Christians who appreciate the arts, don't feel like blaring the music throughout the week that they sing on Sunday mornings in sacred settings. Nor do they want each and every little thing they listen to on the radio to sound like some cheap imitation of a church song. This isn't meant to sound disrespectful towards God at all: But the typical person does more than just sit around and sing worship songs all day. I agree that for the believer, Christ should be the center of all we do. But where Christian music falls short is that it rarely ever addresses the loss of a job, the heartache of a loss of love, a battle with addiction, depression, and any other sort of "real life" issues. Instead it's mostly a bunch of happy go lucky love songs towards God or "Jesus is my girlfriend/boyfriend" type stuff.

 

Kids like artists such as Eminem because they feel his music relates to "real life." It does sometimes speak to some people's version of "real life," but certainly not the one Christians want to encourage. But people will choose (1) a better produced product and (2) something that seems to be connected to real life over something that (1a) is a cheap and poorly produced product and (2a) seems totally disconnected and unconcerned with "real life." Rather than being an affront to God, I think it would be quite honoring to God if "Christian music" produced music that was Christocentric in flavor or values while dealing with the day-to-day issues beyond just "God is cool" type stuff.

 

So basically, believers can (1) wall themselves and their kids off from the rest of civilized world (but don't be shocked when it produces socially awkward people who can't function outside of their narrow circles), or (2) Continue with the status quo and lose the battle of the arts to the world, a battle that is far more influential than most of our churches, or (3) As members of the Christian community put a renewed emphasis on the arts, its importance, and the new "high calling" it would be to put out quality products that not only appeal to "the base" but that can be recognized as a good and quality entertainment by the outside world.

 

While movies and music are mainly "entertainment," a relevant Christian role in these areas would ironically be more influential than those whose main focus is on "worship" (i.e. reaching the unchurched through Christian worship songs). I guarantee you it would do more to further the gospel today than all the Christian TV stations combined, all the televised sermons by grey-haired preachers, all the tracts that well-meaning seniors leave on restaurant tables, all the "door to door" pamphlets being dropped off at peoples houses, and most of the other ineffective "evangelism" techniques employed by Christians today.

 

Speaking of Christian television stations, how many of you can name a single person under the age of 30 who actually watches TBN?

 

And I also guarantee that if Christians put out something good, people will consume it, including non-Christians. Instead of blaming the market economy and saying "we can't compete" with the financial giants, learn to put out something good on a modest budget and the funds will come rolling in.

 

The first step, however, for my own subculture is stopping the denial that we have a problem in the arts. Second, we need to understand that "success" and "quality" doesn't mean "something that wasn't completely embarrassing." Christians need to get with the program and realize that the arts are in fact a "high calling" and have the potential to reach far many more people than any modern generation of "evangelists" or youth pastors can accomplish. Fireproof is a decent enough start I suppose, but there's still a long, long, long way to go.

March 16, 2009

 

Bill Barnwell [send him mail] is a pastor and freelance writer from Michigan. He holds both a Master of Ministry degree and a Master of Arts in Theological Studies degree from Bethel College in Mishawaka, Indiana. Prior to entering the ministry he studied Political Science and Social Science at Michigan State University and Wayne State University and was actively involved in local and state campaigns and consulting.

 

Copyright © 2009 by LewRockwell.com. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is gladly granted, provided full credit is given.

 

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It is easy to see why christian contemporary music and movies are becoming more and more irrelevant to modern young teens and adults. The message and premise of christianity is just so out-dated for modern young freethinkers. However I do disagree somewhat with the author concerning the quality of musicianship within at least the genre of "Christian Hardcore/Rapcore". When I was still a believer I taught young teens and I always stressed the importance of being culturally relevant. I pushed the hardcore stuff because of the quality (Project 86, Living Sacrifice comes to mind and a few others) of musicianship. And a lot of those bands did stress life issues and spiritual angst without overtly mentioning jesus every third line. Maybe that's why many older christians didn't like them very much. Too loud and they dress like "The World".

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This made me luaghf for a number of reasons, manily because its so ture!

 

 

However I wish he would talk more about why Christian films (and Books) suck. I would of related to that one more since for a short Time I was thinking about becoming a Christian fiction writer. I am glad to say I did not go with the idea. I only have one story from that time that I still think is actully really good and every one shared it to like it. However that becasue I did I what wanted and I did not shy away from things that Christian writers like to keep them selves from doing. After awhile I hated being a Christian themed writer becasue I was not allowed to fully explore anything. I was not allowed to write horror (Unless you count things that would scare people in to beliving, which I hated even as a Christian) I had to censored my own work and I hated that the message they always wanted was God is Great. I think that why I still like the one story I did. Its actully betraying religious radical views as evil and is actully based on a darker time in my life being told as a grim brothers fary tail.The finaly message was not not a "God is great!" but how I saw myself and how I felt with people and God at the time. Also it was the one time I did not let other Christian tell me what to do with my work soI gaved in myown R rating(And it was not made scare people into beliving or talk down on anyone). There no freedom in Christian arts. You have to write about how great God is and life is great with him. Thats it. Betray life is like the Brady Bunch as a Christian and life is Married with Childerin as a non-Christian. However between the two shows which one was actully funny?

 

I aslo found that Christians arts stink when it comes to things like sex,blood and gore. You either get A. Christian movies that should be R and filled with lots of violcences becasue there talking about Adult Thems but instead censore it down to a G rating to make it easyer for for people to watch. Ofucse its only makes the adults feel like there being treated like kids. Example, movies made by Clouldten. Or B. They will Use blood and gore but its made to make people afraids of hell or try to guilt you into God. Example Hell House's, heaven Gates, Hells Flames) I love darker them storys but not when its made to insult, spread bigotry to others or to scare people in gving up there lives.

 

I also find Christian films/books to be to in your face with there message. A Good Example is Left Behind both the books and movies. Every two seconed I felt like I was being lecuterd by the Charaters about how great God is to point that I Felt like I was in sundy school. You need to be sudtle in your message no matter what it is.

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Please, please, no making xtian rap music. The last time I heard a xtian rap song was that horrible Jesus Freaks crap. It was incredibly paranoid and the lyrics were just the same lines being repeated over and over again. Those xtian pop songs singing about how much they want to make love to Jesus are bad enough as it is but the idea of Jesus being funky or whatever makes me want to gouge my eyes out. But people who pretend to be gangsta when they aren't annoy me in general and it'll just be even more cheesy with a xtian twist to it. I just don't get why they don't just let kids listen to the worldly secular music. The messages in the worldly secular music are far better than the crap morals in their holy book but do most kids even take the messages in most mainstream pop-rock seriously anyway? At least for me listening to Marilyn Manson hasn't caused me to go out and start slaughtering people. And rock will always pwn rap in my view.

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Most xian music is incurably cheesy, especially the pop music. I don't even know where to start with that. Something I've never understood is xian death metal. What's the point of that? You can't understand what they're saying anyhow, so how can you derive any kind of message from it?

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I was a total death metal fanatic at age 15 when I got saved, so I was absolutely overjoyed when I stumbled across Living Sacrifice about a year and a half later. They were straight up death metal before they went all nu metal, and they were actually quite good.

 

At the time I was thrilled. I had to give up death metal after getting saved because most the lyrics were along the lines of "YEEEEEAAAAAAAARRRRRRGHHHH!!!!!! Satan's going to rape you up the ass with his fire-heated five-pronged pitchfork after he gets done violating your mother's

you really don't want to know

WOOOOOARRRRRGHHH YEAAARRRRRGHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!" And I really fucking missed it because to me at the time, extreme death metal/grindcore was like the ultimate form of music.

 

I was absolutely jumping for joy for a solid month when someone finally gave me a Living Sacrifice tape. Finally I could have the visceral thrill of extreme metal in my life again, without every other song being about nuns getting gang-raped by demon-possessed cannibal serial killers or some shit like that.

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Most xian music is incurably cheesy, especially the pop music. I don't even know where to start with that. Something I've never understood is xian death metal. What's the point of that? You can't understand what they're saying anyhow, so how can you derive any kind of message from it?

 

But I love cheesy pop music! I can't get enough of the stuff. But Christian pop music makes me want to take an immersion blender to my inner ear, yet I can stomach the gooiest of Japanese pop, and I even have a great deal of it on my iPod. I'm listening to Nami Tamaki right now!

 

But yes. Being someone who was once immersed in Christian pop culture, I have at least a humble guess as to why Christian entertainment sucks a whole lot of the time.

 

One is because, simply, the producers and the people selling it don't give two fucks about their audience and they think that said audience is made of blind idiots who will swallow it up because it has Jesus or the Bible slapped all over it. Having set foot in a fair share of Christian bookstores, I know that this is sadly true, though this is not entirely the fault of their audience. I think it's because Christians are told by pastors that if they touch "worldly" entertainment, it'll drag them STRAIGHT TO HELL and so they had to make their own, Godly things that come pastor-approved.

 

Unfortunately, a lot of people who are probably really talented people involved in the Christian music industry are having that talent gutted and violated in particularly delicate places with an immersion blender set to the highest speed.

 

But that's my opinion, I could be wrong. But hey, your mileage may vary.

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That first list on the first link makes no fucking sense, Avril Lavigne and Jennifer Knapp? Black Eyed Peas and Toby Mac? Rage Against the Machine and Spoken? Really?

 

I always hated it though how 6 months after a "new sound" would come on the top 40 there would be some cheap, horrid Christian imitation while genuinely good bands like Stavesacre and Project 86 were having problems finding a label and stuff. But all us good Christian kids would get guilt tripped into supported that horrid tripe that was being billed as "the next big thing" by CCM or Relevant Magazine.

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I always hated it though how 6 months after a "new sound" would come on the top 40 there would be some cheap, horrid Christian imitation while genuinely good bands like Stavesacre and Project 86 were having problems finding a label and stuff. But all us good Christian kids would get guilt tripped into supported that horrid tripe that was being billed as "the next big thing" by CCM or Relevant Magazine.

 

Oh, totally.

 

Stavesacre was incredible. Are they still around? I saw them live once. They were just a great band, period.

 

Also, were you ever into Starflyer 59 and Fold Zandura? They were great, too. Some of Prayer Chain's stuff was pretty decent, too. Wow, talk about back in the day... Those were the days when Christianity wasn't sucking for me. Just a few years in, youth group was still fun, etc. etc.

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But I love cheesy pop music! I can't get enough of the stuff. But Christian pop music makes me want to take an immersion blender to my inner ear, yet I can stomach the gooiest of Japanese pop, and I even have a great deal of it on my iPod. I'm listening to Nami Tamaki right now!

 

Hey Rubyfruit,

 

Being a heavy duty anime fan, I've got a liking for some J-pop, so I know where you're coming from. Now you know what'd be downright frightening? If someone tried to do a christian answer to Malice Mizer or other visual kei bands.

 

remoteImage-4.jpg

 

 

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the style of music, here's a wiki link that explains it better than I can. Wikipedia-Malice Mizer

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I never liked Christian music, so I never listened to it (I tried once but I couldn't withstand it). I couldn't tell any of the songs apart because they all sounded the same--same message and same styling. I was sometimes made to fee guilty because I didn't like Christian music, but then I would just plug in Cradle of Filth and ignore them.

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Yikes! Didn't listening to Cradle while a Christian cause all sorts of cognitive dissonance and whatnot? I remember not being able to touch anything resembling secular death/black metal with a ten foot pole more or less the whole time I was a Christian, it would just freak me out and make me think the demons were gonna get me. However, I was able to continue listening to Napalm Death and other political crust/grindcore type stuff as long as they weren't badmouthing Christianity.

 

Or were you one of those Christian youth that was just pretending all along, biding your time until you could leave home, and never taking that shit seriously?

 

I remember back in 1996 or so I couldn't take it anymore, and I caved in and went and bought the latest Cannibal Corpse album. It was after rewatching "Ace Ventura", as the band makes a bad-ass cameo in it, and it reminded me of how awesome they were. (They were Jim Carey's favorite band and he insisted on having them in the movie.) And then a few weeks later I broke the CD with my bare hands, case and all, in front of the pastor.

 

For anyone not familiar with Cannibal Corpse (warning: not for the faint of heart)

 

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I always hated it though how 6 months after a "new sound" would come on the top 40 there would be some cheap, horrid Christian imitation while genuinely good bands like Stavesacre and Project 86 were having problems finding a label and stuff. But all us good Christian kids would get guilt tripped into supported that horrid tripe that was being billed as "the next big thing" by CCM or Relevant Magazine.

 

Oh, totally.

 

Stavesacre was incredible. Are they still around? I saw them live once. They were just a great band, period.

 

Also, were you ever into Starflyer 59 and Fold Zandura? They were great, too. Some of Prayer Chain's stuff was pretty decent, too. Wow, talk about back in the day... Those were the days when Christianity wasn't sucking for me. Just a few years in, youth group was still fun, etc. etc.

 

Stavesacre officially broke up last year (which broke my heart, I laid on a couch in my friend's apt and screamed "WHY?" for a couple of hours until Dr. Who distracted me) but Mark Solomon is in Neon Horse now, which has some just really fun songs. I only got into Starflyer a few years back but I like them and I haven't really listened to any more than one song by Fold Zandura.

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But I love cheesy pop music! I can't get enough of the stuff. But Christian pop music makes me want to take an immersion blender to my inner ear, yet I can stomach the gooiest of Japanese pop, and I even have a great deal of it on my iPod. I'm listening to Nami Tamaki right now!

 

Hey Rubyfruit,

 

Being a heavy duty anime fan, I've got a liking for some J-pop, so I know where you're coming from. Now you know what'd be downright frightening? If someone tried to do a christian answer to Malice Mizer or other visual kei bands.

 

remoteImage-4.jpg

 

 

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the style of music, here's a wiki link that explains it better than I can. Wikipedia-Malice Mizer

 

Yay! A fellow anime fan! Hi there!

 

Actually, that'd be fucking hilarious for them to even try. And then it'd be scary. Especially if they tried to do a Christian answer to Dir en Grey. That just has so much wrong with it that I can't even imagine anyone trying to do it. There's like a spiraling hierarchy of wrong with the very idea.

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Yay! A fellow anime fan!

He's far from the only one, though he and Neon are easily the most otaku (does that work as an adjective?) of everyone here. Myself, I love the stuff, but I've not been exposed to terribly much of it yet.

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The only christian music I like is the song Walk With You by Della Reese you guys might remember it from Touched by an Angel? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xb_4wMiJq38 you might not like it so I'll say in my defence is that my music taste can be a bit dodgy :P

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Interesting topic and have thought about it from time to time myself over the years. Back when I was a Xian, I used to feel guilty for not listening enough to those Xian radio stations in the 79.9 to 88.9 range on the radio. I'd try, but simply could not tolerate to listen to it over a couple of days and that was back when I was a hardcore Xian. Quality just wasn't there. In all fairness, there are in my opinion some artists that have decent talent musicially such as Rich Mullins or Michael W. Smith perhaps, but the majority of the music is just soooo cheezy and painful to listen too. Same thing with Xian movies/shows. I used to just cringe in total embarassment after seeing shows like Bibleman or Left Behind. In all honesty, I'm shocked that those producing such material don't notice that. The WWJD braclets, fish stickers on cars, Xian TV stations and multitude of bookstores don't help matters much either. Hell, I remember going to a baptist church one sunday evening to watch the superbowl and they actually would block out the commercials and show cheezy Xian shows like Veggie Tales or something like that instead. It just seemed so awkward and strange. Such things probably do more harm to the Xian cause from a cultural standpoint as far as portraying their movement as cheap and commercial, like they are in their own bubble, almost non-relevant to society. I think the problem for the Xian entertainment industry began when it tried to put labels on what it was doing like "family friendly", "wholesome", "bible based", etc... That shit pisses people off more than anything!

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Please, please, no making xtian rap music. The last time I heard a xtian rap song was that horrible Jesus Freaks crap. It was incredibly paranoid and the lyrics were just the same lines being repeated over and over again.

 

How is that any different from non-xian rap?

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Guest QuidEstCaritas?

Zao:

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N70PPesfwn0...feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hYXVFmyscug...feature=related

 

I really wasn't supposed to listen to that stuff way back when, but I think I sneaked it in for awhile before I got caught and was incessantly disuaded from listening to it. And Zao was Christian...

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Zao is another incredible band that rose far and above the Christian scene. They're actually considered one of the founding fathers of the metalcore genre, which is the latest "modern" subgenre in metal that's pissing off the old school headbangers. They have been highly influential in the hard music scene.

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Please, please, no making xtian rap music. The last time I heard a xtian rap song was that horrible Jesus Freaks crap. It was incredibly paranoid and the lyrics were just the same lines being repeated over and over again.

 

How is that any different from non-xian rap?

 

Not all rap/hip hop is like the Top 40 garbage that most Americans are exposed to.

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