Words: Guvna B

Gospel music is the only genre I can think of that is defined by its content rather than its style. When you think of jazz, you think of saxophones and complex time signatures. When you think of rock, you think of electric guitars and catchy riffs. When it comes to gospel, though, some may think of black ladies in white robes singing classic hymns—but it’s much more than that.

Gospel music represents an uplifting sound and a holy message. Its roots run deep, too: the 17th century African-American Church would sing gospel songs as a way of looking to, and hoping that, God above would help them in their time of need. Fast forward to 2018, and we’re now witnessing the rise of a new genre—also more than just a style of music—called UK drill. Originally a slang term used for automatic weapons, drill was birthed out of Chicago in the midst of escalating violence and a homicide crisis in the early 2010s. And it makes sense: if that’s what you see on your doorstep, the music you make is going to be reflective of your reality.

Genres like grime and hip-hop were also birthed out of a certain type of culture, but the lyrics were never solely violent. For every Snoop Dogg there was an LL Cool J; for every Ice Cube there was a Will Smith; for every “God forgive me if I buss my nine”, there was a “Wifey Riddim”. There’s a plethora of subject matters that are touched upon in those genres, but you don’t really get that with UK drill. Unknown T’s “Homerton B” (Baby, bend the your back and then dig it) is probably the biggest step outside of the typically violent narrative that we’ve seen thus far.

Like gospel music, drill is also wrapped up in a message, but the two are complete opposites when it comes to subject matter. This is why “Trapmash”, Hope Dealers’ latest gospel drill offering, had my head spinning like a Beyblade. Before we get into the song, the term ‘gospel drill’ in itself is one that confuses me because of the cultural aspects of both genres. It’s oil and water, Arsenal and Tottenham—they just don’t mix.

2 Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”

In the era of Stormzy’s “Blinded By Your Grace”, Ghetts’ “Spiritual Warfare” and Chance The Rapper’s “Blessings”, it’s not uncommon for faith and rap to meet. What the Hope Dealers are trying to do is actually commendable. Using music as a vehicle to get young people off the streets and helping them to do something more productive with their lives, should always be applauded. Jesus changed their lives, and they believe that he can do the same for others.

The problem is, though, if you watch the new video, it looks as though nothing has changed. I know a few of the lads in Hope Dealers personally, and they’re pleasant and inspiring individuals with good intentions, but I still struggle with this video. We see young men on road in balaclavas, elite sports cars with personalised number plates (which belong to the Pastor of their church), and Bibles being used as ‘waps’ (guns) which is a very intriguing juxtaposition. Lyrics like, “We used to have guns but now we have Bibles” and “We used to make money from the trap but now we make legal P” are all well and good, but if Jesus is who we’re supposed to be representing—are we missing something?

Maybe Jesus did pull up, skrrr on an elite donkey with personalised hooves, but ultimately he was a humble man and the “Trapmash” vid is far from that. Maybe the Hope Dealers are the real deal and, underneath the surface, there’s incredible and impactful work going on. But the Church has long had a branding issue, widely seen as harnessing money-hungry leaders living lavishly while members of their congregation stay struggling. This is very different to what Jesus was known for. It’s the old Gandhi saying: ‘I like your Christ, but I don’t like your Christians. Your Christians are nothing like your Christ.’

This has caused people to write off church as a whole, which I understand but don’t agree with. It’s like me going to see Stoke City play footy and vowing to never go to another football match again. I just need to go and see a better team, that’s all (no offence, Stoke fans). And there are just as many good churches as there are suspect ones. One of the big reasons why young people live the street life is because, even though there are risks, it’s the best chance of them making substantial money and getting out. They rarely get out, though, and that’s why it’s called “the trap.” Most (authentic) drill rappers are products of their environment, through no fault of their own, and they document their reality through music—one of their only available outlets.

Hope Dealers are essentially saying: ‘Come over to this side. God is good, plus you can make the same amount you were making on road, but it’s legal over here.’ That’s a cool message and all, but I don’t think entrepreneurial success necessarily goes hand-in-hand with being a Christian. Jesus doesn’t guarantee a healthy bank account—he guarantees to save your soul. The notion that coming off the roads and going to church will make you rich, is not realistic. Not everyone will be wealthy and that’s just simple economics.

As a believer, and as a rapper myself, I think their message should be different. It should be one of peace and purpose. I, too, want to see our youngsters escape the trap and for God to change their lives, but I don’t think putting on ballies and flossin’ is the way to do it. I’ve been a Christian for ten years, and a huge part of what God gives me is peace. Peace that if I don’t ever own a Lamborghini or a pair of Louboutins, I’ll always be good because God’s got me and I’ve still got a purpose in this world. And if I do ever get to own these things, they won’t define me, because God defines me.

I guess my message to these faith-based drillers is that it’s sick that you want to get our young people away from a life of crime and sadness, and help them reach their full potential. There aren’t enough people doing that, so it’s absolutely needed. I do, however, think that mimicking people’s real-life situations is disrespectful, both to the rappers and to the man upstairs. To quote 2 Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”

Posted on October 30, 2018