“We’re all self-conscious I’m just the first to admit it.” This line from “All Falls Down,” Kanye West’s single from his debut album “College Dropout” was the first time I’ve ever heard a rapper be vulnerable. I was used to rappers being bragadocious, something I just couldn’t relate too. Being sensitive and guarded was something I understood completely, and Kanye’s “All Falls Down,” an anthem about contradictions and human nature, is one of my favorite songs.
There was a lull in venerable raps until Kanye put out the album “808s and Heartbreak.” The songs talked about the fear of being unloved and destructive relationships. This album changed how rap artists talked about love, paving the way for artists like Drake.
Rappers showing their vunerable side continued with the discussion of religion. Ironically, one of the first mainstream gospel rap songs was also off “College Dropout,” with “Jesus Walks.” Yet another reason that “College Dropout” is Kanye’s best album and I have lost respect for friends who have told me “Graduation” is the best, but I digress. The influence of God started coming back with artists like J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar. J. Cole’s second album “Born Sinner” was about dealing with temptation while trying to be a man of God. Kendrick Lamar’s music has always had religious undertones. On the 2010 song “Growing Apart (To Get Closer),” Kendrick talks about his relationship with God and how he has been lazy, and then he says “I promise to stay faithful, focused and sanctified.” Several skits in his debut album “Good Kid M.A.A.D. City” included prayers. The lead single from his last album, “i” was about his Christian faith.
Chance The Raper has further pushed gospel rap to the forefront. His profanity free song, 2015’s “Sunday Candy,” was about church and his relationship with his grandma. Chance made public declaration of his Christianity when he performed the song on Saturday Night Live, becoming the first independent artist to perform on that show. He also performed the song “Somewhere In Paradise” that included the lyric “I might give Satan a swirly.”
In 2016 he continued to bring his religion to the forefront. He again performed on SNL, this time with Kanye West, Kirk Franklin and Kelly Price on the gospel rap song “Ultra Light Beam” that he cowrote for Kanye. He referenced his previous gospel rap song, “Sunday Candy,” by pronouncing “I made Sunday Candy, I’m never going to hell.” The performance included a payer from Kirk Franklin and a gospel choir.
“Coloring Book,” the highly anticipated follow-up to his 2013 mixtape, “Acid Rap” which was heavily influenced by acid use, was influenced by the completely opposite subject matter, God. Songs included “Blessings” which featured the chorus “I’m gon’ praise Him, praise Him ’til I’m gone/I’m gon’ praise Him, praise Him ’til I’m gone/When the praises go up, the blessings come down/When the praises go up, the blessings come down/
It seems like blessings keep falling in my lap/It seems like blessings keep falling in my lap.” The song “How Great” opens with “How great is our God/Sing with me, how great is our God/All will see how great is our God”
The inclusion of God into rap shows a more vulnerable side to rappers. Showing any type of vulnerability makes rap songs more relatable. However, this inclusion of God shows a progression in rap. Rap, a genre is is often cricticised for not being progressive is showing growth by increasing its subject matter.
Listen to some Gospel Rap songs below: