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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

soundoff (203 Responses)
  1. Darryl Guarini

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    October 27, 2013 at 3:36 am |
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    June 19, 2013 at 4:07 am |
  3. mskaydailey61

    Reblogged this on daileytalks.

    May 6, 2013 at 1:14 am |
  4. John

    cant wait till we have the first Muslim rapper. They make the front of CNN opinion only news outlet.

    May 5, 2013 at 10:41 am |
    • Guest

      does the name freeway or benie sigle...both are or were muslim...im sure there are more...

      May 8, 2013 at 9:17 pm |
  5. Science

    Free speech helps educate the masses

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    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130425142250.htm

    Hey James Madison................religion has none it looks like.............with the comments on this blog.

    The Big question is ETHICS ! does religion have any ?

    The Ethics of Resurrecting Extinct Species

    Apr. 8, 2013 — At some point, scientists may be able to bring back extinct animals, and perhaps early humans, raising questions of ethics and environmental disruption.

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    the wrong path is Adam and Eve !

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    Mar. 4, 2013 — The discovery and analysis of an extremely rare African American Y chromosome pushes back the time of the most recent common ancestor for the Y chromosome lineage tree to 338,000 years ago. This time predates the age of the oldest known anatomically modern human fossils.

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    No god(s) needed or required to graduate from public schools in the US

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    May 3, 2013 at 9:40 am |
  6. Geoffrey

    Music has influence. If 'Sho Baraka' can reach others with his music for Christ. That is great.

    May 2, 2013 at 8:27 am |
  7. Hip Hop Music

    Hello friends, nice post and nice urging commented at this place, I am in fact enjoying by these.

    April 27, 2013 at 9:27 am |
    • Steve

      I guarantee Christ has nothing to do with "Christian Rap" which is truly C-R-A-P!!!

      April 29, 2013 at 8:20 am |
  8. Peshwar

    Blacks and liberals are the greatest perpettrators of racism in or country. We are trying too heal the wounds, not rip them open!

    April 15, 2013 at 9:14 pm |
    • Nice

      I always thought the perpetrators of racism were the ones classifying everyone into groups like "blacks", "liberals", "conservatives", "whites" and so on.

      April 17, 2013 at 7:00 am |
    • John Mann

      Peshwar,

      Your statement itself is a racist statement. You have met the enemy and it is you. Get a clue.

      April 18, 2013 at 4:09 pm |
  9. chhkc

    Peep my debut Official Music Video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NxKyLDTQ69s

    you can download the single on itunes:

    https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/for-mercy-feat.-young-fatha/id635373840

    April 13, 2013 at 9:41 pm |
  10. lakeyiabell

    There is always going to be controversy when it comes to religion. Period, Point, Blank. Why should I have to defend what I believe in? Why should any of us? In my opinion the argument of religion does not just come from scientific proving of rather Jesus is or is not real, I think deep down we are looking for self glorification, a feeling of security, and a because our minds are so amazing, we feel as if we need to know everything. I know it's hard to believe that a man would go to the cross to die for people who commit sin, but that is the thing that I love about God for myself! Not for what anyone else tells me but a sense of personal fulfillment within myself. We can agree to disagree but hey at the end of the day does it matter? Nope! At the end of the day we lay down and die the same, just as we were born the same. At the end of the day WE have a freedom to choose! Shalom peeps!

    April 8, 2013 at 5:58 am |
  11. Kari

    people know we belong to Jesus when we love like He did. Which is impossible without having had Him love US. Why is the "church" so afraid of reality?? Jesus was real. He wasn't afraid of the world. The christian leaders of the time are the ones who hated Him. Really, the reality of Jesus is not an issue once you know Him and let Him love you.... Gospel is good news.... it's sad that so many bearing the name of Jesus has made it anything but...

    April 2, 2013 at 9:44 am |
    • Aaron

      Um, "Christian" leaders at the time LOVED Christ. After all, he (and possibly John the Baptist) were the only Christian "leaders" at the time of his life. The religious leaders of the time were mostly Jewish and pagan.

      April 2, 2013 at 9:39 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.