March 20th, 2013
04:54 PM ET

Christian rapper's raw lyrics about racism stir controversy

By Keith Lovely Jr., CNN

Atlanta (CNN) - Christian recording artists often shy away from controversial subjects in their music and cautiously avoid the use of harsh language, but Christian hip-hop artist Amisho “Sho Baraka” Lewis wanted to do just the opposite with his latest album.

The Atlanta-based 33-year-old’s latest album “Talented Xth” champions not just a picture of Christian salvation but also focuses on education, relationships and social change - all filtered through a biblical worldview.

He told CNN the goal of the album is to challenge listeners to “be exceptional for the benefit of others.”

The album’s title is based on a principle championed by activist, professor and sociologist W.E.B DuBois.

DuBois wrote in an essay titled "The Talented Tenth" the "best, or the talented tenth of the black community, must be elevated and cultivated, to in-turn guide the mass away from the contamination of the worst in their own race and other races.”

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Though DuBois used Christian principles in his calls to uplift the black community, he was widely considered to be either  agnostic or an atheist at the time of his death, as Brian L. Johnson writes in his biography "W.E.B. Du Bois: Toward Agnosticism, 1868-1934."

Lewis makes it clear it’s the Christian principles DuBois championed and not his beliefs about God that inspired his album.

Still, the DuBois connection isn't what has ruffled feathers among some Christian listeners, but the subject matter of his song “Jim Crow” aka “N*gga Island.”

On the song, Lewis addresses the negative effects of racism and ignorance. He uses the "N" word and profanity to get his point across, a move too close to secular hip-hop for some Christian rap enthusiasts.

Fans have flooded the comments sections of Christian hip-hop blogs saying they won’t listen to the rapper anymore because of the harsh language and what they believe are divisive lyrics. One blogger has even questioned whether the song “harmed the gospel.”

A common argument in Christian circles centers around the idea of Christians separating themselves from the world as Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians, “Therefore, come out from among unbelievers, and separate yourselves from them, says the LORD...”

Lewis agrees with the scripture but doesn’t believe it means Christians have to totally shut themselves off from the world.

He doesn't think it matters that his album gains inspiration from those outside the Christian faith. In the end he said, “Wisdom is wisdom and…that all wisdom comes from the Lord” and that “creativity, education, and all things good are not monopolized by Christians.”

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Lewis says the goal of the album is to create an urban revolution. He said he wants to go beyond just pointing people to Jesus in his music and remind them that "Jesus stood for more than keeping people out of hell; he wanted to change their lives here on earth."

The controversy certainly hasn't had a negative effect on sales. The album debuted on the top of Billboard’s Gospel Album charts in February.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Christianity • Georgia • Music • United States

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