Braggin' on Their King
- Wednesday, April 17, 2013
(WNS)--At the sound of the first few notes, the 4,000 fans packed into the Hollywood Palladium work themselves into a frenzy. The bass pounds, multicolored lights flash, and gospel rapper Trip Lee runs on stage with the rest of the 116 Clique, singing a rousing chorus about being unashamed of the gospel: “Look all I need is one sixteen, to brag on my king, Romans 1:16, We brag about Him daily ’cause He run this thing!” Fans jump and sing along as Lee raps, “I ain’t got no white collar, He made me a priest though.”
The lyrics aren’t just words: Lee, at 25 one of the most successful Christian rappers, is turning his focus from performing to pastoral ministry. That’s despite seeing his fourth album, The Good Life, hit No. 17 on the Billboard charts, the third-highest-charting Christian hip-hop album of all time. “I’m not retiring from music,” Lee says: “My desire has always been to show people God and His Word, I’m just expanding and shifting my priority into pastoral ministry.”
Another 25-year-old Christian rapper in the 116 Clique, Andy Mineo, is choosing a different route. His much-anticipated debut album, Heroes for Sale, with an April 16 release date, mixes rap with reggaeton, electric guitar riffs, and jazz, and reveals personal struggles with surprising candor. He says, “I don’t want to be a Bible preacher. I want to use my life experiences and my mistakes and the things I’ve learned from them as a means of creating common ground.”
The two 25-year-olds are part of a new wave of believers trying to reach young urban men who grew up in the culture of hip-hop, which idolizes fame, wealth, sex, violence, and drugs. They’re standing up against a culture with fatherlessness, abuse of women, and gangsters turned into role models. Through their separate journeys, Lee and Mineo are learning how God is calling them to fight, pastorally and musically.
Lee, originally William Lee Barefield III from Dallas, started rapping at age 12. Once he professed faith in Christ at youth group at 14, Lee said he had an “insatiable desire to know God and His Word.” He wanted to use his musical talents and love for hip-hop to show the bigness of God.
Lee met rapper Lecrae Moore at a concert in 2004, which he said was the first time he heard “Southern-style rap that was good for the soul.” Moore later mentored Lee, letting him write devotionals for the website of Moore’s label, Reach Records. Lee released his debut album, If They Only Knew, in 2006 soon after his high-school graduation.
Much of Lee’s music and teaching reflects Reformed theology, especially that of Minneapolis preacher John Piper, who has featured him on his Desiring God site.
Lee’s songs tackle the idolatry of fame, sex, money, technology, and hedonism and sing of the ultimate hope found in Christ. In “Beautiful Life” on The Good Life, Lee raps against abortion, “I agree that we should give women rights/That goes for unborn women, too/Give them life.”
As Lee’s unique voice and smooth flow caught the attention of audiences, he started traveling the world performing his music. His third album, Between Two Worlds, received two Dove award nominations and won the Stellar Award for Best Hip Hop Album in 2011. But even as Lee’s fan base grew and his music drew acclaim, he still felt called to teach the Bible more directly: Preaching, Lee says, is “my No. 1 passion,” so he enrolled in Boyce College to pursue a degree in Biblical and Theological Studies.
Lee sees what God has done through his music—fans often approach him after shows to share how his songs convicted them about issues like porn and forgiveness—but feels his main priority has shifted: “I love going places to proclaim the goodness of God; it’s a pleasure to share the gospel to folks, but I always leave. I don’t get to walk with them.” After eight years on the road he seeks the stability of a local church community with week in, week out consistency—but his tour schedule has become more demanding as Reach Record’s fame grew, making it hard for Lee to spend time with his wife and 8-month-old son.
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