Proving Rap is Sinful: A Quick Guide

If you’ve found the recent debate in some circles of Christianity about hip-hop to be a bit overwhelming, I’d recommend focusing here. I suspect that Scott Aniol represents some of the best arguments out there against the rap as a musical genre, while Shai Linne is not only a successful Christian rapper, but also a devote believer who has interned with pastors, and has released albums centered around theology (The Attributes of God was fantastic, and his most recent album, Lyrical Theology, Pt. 1: Theology is pretty solid, as well). It is always good practice to read and represent the best possible position, and I commend their thoughts to you.

I gave my thoughts on the topic shortly after the panel that sparked the whole thing. It’s a little odd to me to watch scholars who have spent very little time looking at hip-hop disregard it so quickly, especially when confronted with solid Christian brothers and sisters who so strongly disagree with them. This isn’t something like pornography, which can easily be dismissed as sinful; there aren’t huge groups of otherwise righteous people devoting their lives to it. But media, broadly speaking, has devotees among Christians–rap music is no different. While this is far from enough to conclude that rap is holy (after all, some cultural realities may be sinful), it should at least give us pause.

Here’s why you should care about the debate, no matter where you currently stand (and why I’m eager to follow along): if rap is inherently sinful, it ought to be avoided, plain and simple. At all times. Vigilantly. Let us not sin that grace may abound. If, however, rap is not intrinsically sinful, but only made sinful by some other quality (whether content, some particular style of beat, or something else), then we have to be careful about shutting out something that has apparently helped many people draw nearer to the face of God. There are reports of people who have been saved by rap music; I myself have been convicted and encouraged by Christian rappers, including Shai Linne.

If there were no good to be saved here, we could give it up. In fact, it might be wise to give it up, for the sake of our brothers and sisters.

From utility, it seems that we can’t quite discount rap on the suggestion that it might be sinful. After all, it is putting Scripture into the hearts of many listeners, both believers and skeptics. Even if sin plays a large part in rap music, isn’t the light worth preserving?

To convince me that hip-hop is not worth investing in, an opponent would need to address a number of issues: first, I’d need to see evidence that something about the musicality of hip-hop (the drum, the synths, the bass, the samples, or something else entirely?) is somehow universally going to result in sinfulness. If someone could genuinely explain how the beats of hip-hop universally encourages lust in people, or hatred, or any other sin, I’d be pretty quick to drop it (at least) in front of others, if not personally.

Second, if someone could prove that the the majority of those who are brought to Christ through rap music are somehow hindered by rap, rather than helped by it, then I’d be happy to sit and talk about other evangelistic tools. This is a bit of a utilitarian view, but if you can’t convince people that it is a sin, you could at least attempt to convince people that it is harmful.

Third, I think if someone actually spent time with an album recommended by a Christian fan of rap (might I recommend Shai Linne’s The Attributes of God?), listening to the album all the way through more than once, I’d be a lot more likely to listen to them. Perhaps this is asking much of those who think the music is sinful (though Scott Aniol did post a YouTube link for his argument from Christian “Death Metal”, suggesting that perhaps just listening for the sake of discussion is not a problem). But if it isn’t, I think this should really be a prerequisite.

Finally, I think those who wish to claim rap is sinful should provide some metric by which all music may be judged. How did rap (and death metal, apparently) end up on the short-list for sin, while many other genres have not (country, rock, folk, etc.)? Other than plain assertions, this hasn’t yet been demonstrated.

I don’t throw these challenges out to be trite, nor do I intend them to be rhetorical. I’ll listen to any responses, either sent to me personally or otherwise. My bias shows through, I’m sure, and I won’t pretend otherwise.

But I really do believe that the debate is important, and I wish to see it advanced. If the conclusion is one I don’t like (and, frankly, am skeptical we will be led there), so be it. May God be honored in all we say or do, whether we listen to hip-hop, debate hip-hop, or abstain from hip-hop. And may we all learn which way to best serve God.

Published by

J.F. Arnold

James received his MA in Philosophy of Religion at Talbot School of Theology in 2013. He holds a BA in Biblical Studies from Biola University, and is a graduate and perpetual member of the Torrey Honors Institute. James blogs on a number of subjects, including technology, theology, and hip-hop. He has written for Biola’s Center for Christianity, Culture, & the Arts, The Gospel Coalition, and he is an editor for Mere Orthodoxy. You can also keep up with him on Twitter (@jamesfarnold).

  • Andrew Watson

    this seem to be a spin off of the “Christian rock/praise songs/whatever music the youngsters listen to that I don’t understand” is of the devil argument. what is hilarious to me is if you study Christian History all of these same arguments were used against the singing of hims and many of the great composers when they first appeared. If it wasn’t from the book of psalms, it was of the devil.

  • Darwin E. Stanton

    Do any of us really have the definition of what is sinful or not? The answer is no. Our job is not to judge or to classify things as sinful but to love and live life. Anything else is just wasted words.

  • GBD

    As Aniol correctly points out, Christians are in pursuit of noble, pure, lovely, virtuous art. So rather than eating Doritos, eat vegetables. Rather than pursuing passions, pursue affections. Rather than putting sacred lyrics into a crude musical form, seek out music that enhances what is said with beauty. Find out from the scriptures and creation and history what beauty looks like and sounds like, thank God for these guides, and pursue them. “Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica”… doesn’t mean the Thessalonians were sinners, it means they were inferior in spiritual pursuits. Rap is an primitive form of musical expression with limited possibilities. The culture and attitude expressed in Rap music does not reflect the finer parts of our human spirit, including humilty, peace, gentleness, meekness, temperance.

  • jamesfarnold


    Thanks for the response. It is a noble aim to push us all towards that which is more beautiful and representative of the majesty of God. I agree with you on the motivation.

    “Rap is an primitive art form of musical expression with limited possibilities.”

    I’m not sure I agree with this particular point, however. Some rap is limited, certainly, by its adherence to strict rules about beat sampling (pick a drum beat, loop, add a sound effect, call it a day), but much of hip-hop pushes beyond that simplistic style and seeks to incorporate much more. We could say that the majority of music produced today, in any genre, is “primitive”–pop, country, rock, etc.–but to suggest that a genre is defined by its weakest examples is, frankly, lacking imagination.

    Additionally, I’m not sure that the simple beats of some songs is necessarily a hindrance: many times we are rest and to breathe deeply, to pray and to remember that God is God. Sometimes, simple music–whether a simple chord progression for a worship song or a simple beat to place lyrics over–can be beneficial.

    I’m actually open to being proved wrong on the subject of hip-hop and its ability to push us towards what is best, when utilized correctly. But to do so would, among other things, need to substantiate the claim that hip-hop is an expression with “limited possibilities.”