Rappin' the Word

The controversy over contemporary gospel music sounding “too secular” has existed since legendary singer Mahalia Jackson crossed traditional gospel lines in the 1930s. The Winans, among the world’s most popular gospel singers, have even endured verbal attacks from the conventional church world because their contemporary gospel sound bears a resemblance to R&B.

But as today’s churchgoing teens gravitate to hip hop, music ministers and artists have formed a new genre to reach the young demographic — they call it gospel rap. And just like the Winans and Mahalia Jackson, the relatively new form has been shunned by mainstream radio, recording companies and church leaders.

Terrell Lipsey, local music manager and owner of TSTY Recordings, says the gospel music industry is suffering because it hasn’t fully embraced gospel rap. “The powers that be want to keep gospel rap at bay,” he says. “Gospel rap has the power to reach a broader audience, but the major record labels aren’t pushing it.”

To provide an effective forum for the struggling genre, Lipsey has teamed with local rappers, journalists and parents to form Faith Move Productions. Lipsey says the organization assists local churches and secular youth organizations by providing free concerts and workshops. “Faith Move is needed because gospel rap artists understand and reach the hip-hop generation.”

Lipsey is a living example of a “born-again rapper.” As a performer in the ’80s, he quickly fell into the “gangsta rap” thing. Most of his songs had the obvious themes — sex, crime and fast money. But after finding Christianity, Lipsey says he needed to makes some changes. “After becoming a Christian, I no longer had the desire to live the same way.”

So he re-entered the rap scene, with a higher mission.

This week, Faith Move presents a gospel show featuring another much-loved Jackson, Lavel. It’s no surprise Lipsey booked him.

“Lavel Jackson is a thought-provoking singer,” he says. “His message encourages listeners to stay ‘on the safe.’” It’s a good message, whatever the religion, whatever the taste in music.


Lavel Jackson will perform at 7 p.m. on Friday, July 15, Mount Transfiguration Church, 13801 Fenkell St., Detroit; call Terrell Lipsey, 313-384-5490. Opening act, Sunny Day.

Kenneth L. Powers Jr. is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected]
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