"Yes God. We don't want no devils in the house God. We want the Lord. That's it!"
Every time I hear the adorable little voice of Vine sensation Natalie Green at the beginning of Kanye West's "Ultralight Beam," my burdens are instantly lifted. There's something about that 4-year-old baby praying like a hat wearing, peppermint packing, 67-year-old, certified church mother that just ignites my spirit. By the time Kelly Price, Chance the Rapper and Kirk Franklin bless the track, you can find me in my condo on a full praise break like…
This private worship has become my Sunday morning ritual. It's tracks like this from Kanye's Life of Pablo album, that replenish my soul as well as my tolerance for his periodic shenanigans. From "Jesus Walks" to "Stronger," Yeezy has provided several words of inspiration for my adult life. This kind of inspirational hip-hop has come to dominate my gospel playlist. I just relate more to this 'work-in-progress gospel' than the spiritual hymns of old.
Don't get me wrong, I have complete reverential respect for the tradition of gospel music rooted in a rich legacy of faith. It has delivered my ancestors from crisis, carried them through struggle and planted us stronger on the other side. Our worship is more than just obligatory ritual, it is REAL and necessary. That authenticity comes across in our praise. Hymns like, "Go Down Moses," "Wade in the Water," and ”Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" quite literally saved our lives with their coded messages guiding slaves along various routes through the Underground Railroad. Gospel music has been our therapy, our outlet and the vehicle of both our physical and spiritual freedom. I would never undermine that legacy. But my reality is different from that of my ancestors.
The struggle is still real, but the nature of my day-to-day craves a direct, practical, more current vernacular. Big Sean's "Blessings," Frank Ocean's "Godspeed" and Chance The Rapper's entire Coloring Book album, ministers more to my 21st century woes than the Mighty Clouds of Joy. No shade, just truth, and apparently, I'm not alone in this. With the success of hits like those aforementioned, this 'secular gospel' trend is catching on. So much that even traditional gospel artists are trying to get in on it.
I know ya'll remember Erica Campbell's 'trap gospel' bid. Never forget.
Kirk Franklin, the reigning king of new age urban contemporary gospel, has lent his raspy voiced brand of encouragement on several hip-hop cameos, and if you've ever seen one of his live performances, you know the energy he brings to the stage is nothing short of anointed. Franklin, like many of his fellow contemporary gospel artists (including Tye Tribbett and Kierra Sheard), speak to a generation whose worship, while different, still serves to inspire and encourage.
Of course there are critics and religious purist who don't see it for this brand of praise and worship. To those who can't digest 'the word' from artists who are so publically flawed, openly gay or any number of "fallibilities" that pundits might deem inadequate, I'd say — check your choir stand and your praise team, or the Bible for that matter. You know we can see you right?
It's precisely that kind of hypocrisy that makes secular inspiration so appealing. The authenticity that these artists bring, and their willingness to be as layered and complicated and imperfect as the rest of us, is the gospel. Whether it's trap, R&B, hip-hop or urban contemporary, I am here for joy, inspiration and communion, by any means necessary.
Got a problem with that? Feel free to take it up with my girl Natalie.