I'm a massive hip-hop fan and being open about beliefs is something that American rappers have been doing for quite some time. Over 10 years ago, Kanye West's "Jesus Walks" was a bold statement of faith and more recently we've seen Chance The Rapper release Coloring Book, a project that is widely considered a gospel-rap album. I've always wondered why grime hasn't been as open about God through music. Those of us who have loved grime music from its early days will know that the excitement surrounding the genre has always been there. But there is no denying that the success of the standout acts have really catapulted the sound into a widely respected style of music.
Dizzee Rascal's Boy In Da Corner album covers street violence on "Sittin' Here", aspirations to be successful on "Brand New Day" and the effects of promiscuity on "Jezebel". On Kano's Home Sweet Home, he talks about social stereotypes on "Typical Me", self-doubt and insecurities on "Sometimes", and the realisation that he's falling in love on "Brown Eyes" and "Nite Nite". On a more recent success story, Skepta's Konnichiwa covers topics such as the perception of police on "Crime Riddim", a money-hungry industry on "Numbers" and the importance of true friendship on "Man". All amazing and groundbreaking projects, but there is little or no mention about their faith.
If faith is a big part of your life, don't be afraid to talk about it.
Not everyone has had an experience with God, but a lot of us have. And considering the broad range of subjects that artists touch on, I've always been surprised at how rare it is to hear your favourite MC talk about their belief. Being born to Ghanaian parents, I know that faith in a belief system is a really important thing culturally. When you think about how many grime artists there are of African and Caribbean decent, you'd think that quite a lot of them grew up having to go to Church with their parents.
I sometimes wonder why UK artists shy away from sharing more of these experiences and the effects that they have had. I've often thought that it could be a strategic thing; if you're openly representing your belief in God, atheists or people from other religions may not want to support your music. Or, maybe it's the fear of the music industry pigeonholing you as 'the Muslim MC' or 'the gospel rapper'? The latter has been a roadblock for me, at times.
But I do feel as though UK music is turning the page. Wretch 32's "Forgiveness" and Devlin's "Our Father" are the most vulnerable symbols of faith I have seen from our scene in the last few years, but more recently, it seems as though declarations of faith in music are becoming more and more common. Ghetts has adopted a habit of tweeting morning motivation and has spoken about how getting closer to God has been one of the best decisions he's made in recent times. Stormzy, too, makes a point of showing gratitude for everything he's achieved and consistently credits God for his successes.
I need God near me at all times— #MERKY (@Stormzy1) April 17, 2016
Nah I read the bible lol https://t.co/3w8LIcrDBU— #MERKY (@Stormzy1) May 19, 2016
Krept & Konan have made references to Islam through their lyrics, Skepta is regularly in touch with the forces, the spirits, and the powers, and last month I was at XOYO for Chip's headline show, where he closed the night off by proclaiming that it had been "one of the most Godly settings." But I am under no illusions. I'm not going to pretend like there's some kind of revival in the UK music scene where all of the artists want to positively influence their listeners.
It's always frustrating when an artist acknowledges their faith in God but the content of their music is against everything God stands for. Yes God is good, and he blesses us way more than we deserve, but I don't think he's up there bopping his head to expletive songs glorifying violence and misogyny. With that being said, personally, I think it's great that grime artists and UK rappers in general are increasingly opening up the conversation of faith via their various platforms.
TO THE LISTENER: Let's have respect for all belief systems and the experiences that make emcees the people they are. If you don't agree with what someone believes—fine. Just eat the meat and spit out the bones.
TO THE MC: Be true to yourself. If faith is a big part of your life, don't be afraid to talk about it. You don't need to be perfect to find faith; you just need to allow God to work on your imperfections.