Lesynem Junior [Photo: Courtesy]

“It’s time for war,” warns Lesynem Junior, a gospel rapper behind Kenya’s new-school gospel genre Christian Geng. She is here to introduce her new single Prayer. “The Bible says we are in a spiritual fight. We fight not through flesh and blood. We fight principalities. We fight through prayer,” she sings.

The group comprising of Lesynem Junior, LornaTheRapper, JOKJaro and 2Testifayaz, seeks to redefine urban gospel. The group that was nominated for Pulse Music Video Awards (PMVA) last year promises to revolutionise the gospel industry.

This is a bold move in an environment where gospel hip-hop has for long been stereotyped as a genre for western world gangs and gangsters. Artistes have been ostracised by some churches for adopting new styles that were deemed inappropriate. This, however, did not only apply to hip-hop but to other genres as well. Only a few Kenyans have embraced gospel hip-hop.

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First came the Gospel Fathers with soft hip-hop for their songs Fundi wa Mbao, Kiama and Sina Madeni, that gave a contemporary touch to local gospel. Then came Juliani and Eko Dydda with their Ghetto swag. Holy Dave also embraced rap gospel among other creatives.

Gospel Fathers [Photo: Courtesy]

Christian hip-hop (CHH) which borrows from the secular hip-hop was designed to attract masses to Christianity. CHH can be traced to the USA where it started in the late 1980s. This was just recorded music that falls in the category of hip-hop.

All through the 1990s to the early 2000’s CHH gained popularity. With the songs praising God, admonishing and at times dissing the devil and his agents and also aping what hip-hop is all about the promotion of ego and self-worth declaring you are the best in the game with some using violent lyrics.

The Cross Movement is one of the most famous rap groups that put CHH on the chart. The group also had a record label Cross Movement Records where they recorded and promoted artistes like Da Truth among others. Their music received positive reviews from mainly Christian based media organisations. After flying the CHH flag since 1996, the group became inactive in 2008 but are running their label.

By the time the Cross Movement was hanging boots, it had inspired CHH rappers with the most popular being the 116 Clique. The 116 Clique derives its name from Romans 1:16, which says “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.” The 116 Clique was formed by Lecrae and his label Reach Records.  

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The Clique by Lecrae, Sho Baraka, Tedashii and Trip Lee took the industry by storm and till today they are among the top rappers of CHH. When they came to the scene in 2005 their style of music was the same as the secular world but they followed closely in the footsteps of Cross Movement using lyrics that have their foundation in the Bible with top-notch production.

Lecrae [Photo: Courtesy]

When they began doing music their style of hardcore hip-hop was at the time popular. As the secular industry began to move towards crank, CHH stuck to their art by would at times borrow the style since most of their fans were listening to crank.

With the return to a better version of the old school hip-hop, CHH did not have to change their style since that is what they have been doing all along. The change however would be felt with the adoption of mumble rap and trap into CHH with 116’s new kids on the block 1KPhew and WHATUPRG being the perfect examples of such.

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Another change in hip-hop was felt with the growth of Latin music and for 116 this has been the biggest and most noticeable change. The signing of Gawvi who came on as a producer but would later grow into a rapper cum singer saw the Latin touch in the music released by 116 signees. Music from the Clique tends to cut across the different stages and transformation that hip-hop has gone through.