Does gospel get a bad rap?
If you grew up in a “praying house,” as some call it, chances are you were required to go to church all the time – probably three times during the week and all day on Sunday. At home, the Bible may have been centrally located and the gospel music playing was a constant. Your parents and grandparents played all the goodies like Shirley Caesar, Mississippi Mass Choir, Mahalia Jackson (if you really want to take it back) and James Cleveland – they were the real music stars. So it was church and gospel music. That’s all there was back in the day. That’s it.
But that was then.
Today, gospel is a booming business that goes way beyond praising God in song. Many artists are doing reality shows, making songs that sound really close to secular music and other becoming involved in other business ventures that some may consider attempts to be more mainstream. It’s almost become a gift and a curse.
When it was first revealed that Mary Mary would be getting their own reality show early last year, I admit to being one of the people staunchly opposed to the entire idea. Like, of course, Mary Mary are really just two women who lead very regular lives outside of music but as they are gospel artists, I was nervous about how much they would show of their lives. I, like many others, were worried they’d be “ungodly” in their personal lives and it would turn me off. Sure, I was prejudging them and as judgment is a part of life (despite what many of us might say), I don’t really apologize for it. As it turns out, the show isn’t that bad (aside from the occasional very “angry” moment from one of the sisters) and I enjoy watching. They’ll be on season three soon so I guess so does everyone else.
The music is becoming a little more “interesting” as well. While many of us who know and sometimes enjoy gospel music may recall it being traditional – mostly slow and literally almost just like church – in its sound, a lot of today’s music is quite…hip. Kirk Franklin led that wave in the late 90s with “Stomp.” Artists like Mary Mary, Tye Tribbett and others are continuing the trend. While these artists are continuing to deliver “the word” in song, some feel they’ve gotten too secular (if you recall, “God In Me sounded a lot like “Blame It On The Alcohol”). New artist Lecrae (who actually won a Grammy earlier this year) is a young gospel rapper – and a great one, at that – who grew up with hip-hop music did not initially “know God.” He surrounded himself with a party lifestyle full of drugs, alcohol and women. He finally had an epiphany of sorts and decided to turn his life over to God. But he raps; should he not be allowed to perform his praise in the way he knows how?
The question becomes: Is today’s Gospel just getting bad rap? Are people too uptight and caught up in what gospel artists “should” be? If you think about it, a lot of these artists grew up in not only a hip hop era, but also a media based one. They’re gospel singers, not blind singers who don’t know what’s happening outside of their genre. Shouldn’t they have a right to express themselves in a way they see fit without being disrespectful to their message? It seems like many people who are familiar with gospel would like to see it stay in this “box” that’s full of choir robes and hymns. Admittedly, I’m a person who likes gospel music in spurts and am fairly conservative in what I like. But as I recently watched an episode of “The Sheards” while wondering why they would even bother with reality television, I thought, “They have a right to show their lives too. Stop being so critical.” It may not stop me in full from being critical but I’ll watch with more openness.
Gospel artists seemingly will never catch a break unless they stick to this mold of only singing and speaking about God, heaven and the like. Perhaps that’s too much responsibility and as we know, you can’t please everyone.
What do you think? Are people too hard on the gospel artists or should some gospel artists be more mindful of the product their releasing?