Kurtis Blow, Worshipping Through Hip-Hop

Hip-hop pioneer Kurtis Blow is channeling his energies in a new direction. He's leading "hip-hop" worship services in communities across the country. Producer E.V. Tait, Jr. visited a service recently in Harlem.

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

Hip-hop has long moved off the streets and into fashion, business, academia, even the church. EVT Educational Productions is releasing a documentary series called “Every Voice, and Sing.” Producer E.V. Tait Jr. reports on a new way to deliver the word.

Unidentified Man: (Rapping) But I know a God that's better than all of them put together - because you know who I'm talking about. I'm talking about…

E.V. TAIT JR.: It's the regular Thursday evening service at the Greater Hood Memorial AME Zion Church on the west of 146th Street in Harlem, New York. The almost 200 congregants move strongly to the music as rap artists and hip-hop pioneer Kurtis Blow and the Reverend Stephen Pogue once again reach out to a new generation using their unique 3-year-old hip-hop church service.

Unidentified Man: (Rapping) Come on, bounce with me. Come one. I'm with Jesus…

TAIT JR.: We recently covered a hip-hop service and spoke with both Reverend Pogue and Kurtis Blow.

Mr. KURTIS BLOW (Musician): The hip-hop church is a format for any church designed to reel in or be fishers of men, young men and women.

TAIT JR.: Reverend Stephen Pogue.

Revered STEPHEN POGUE (Greater Hood Memorial AME Zion Church) Hip-hop is a culture, and we needed to reach people in that culture with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. So that's what we're really trying to do to reach a people and a culture that the church had really just overlooked. It gives the young people an opportunity to take ownership of a worship experience.

Unidentified Man: (Rapping) (Unintelligible)

TAIT JR.: Among the young people in the hip-hop choir attracted by this musical style of approach is the group that calls itself HMDub(ph) for short.

Mr. DONOVAN BRATTON (Member, Hell's Most Wanted): My name is Donovan Bratton aka Don.

Mr. MICHAEL SIMS (Member, Hell's Most Wanted): My name is Michael Sims aka MIC. HMDub stands for Hell's Most Wanted, and the reason that we chose the name Hell's Most Wanted because we're most wanted by hell for giving the Lord too much praise.

Mr. BRATTON: It's just a group that we just praise God in through hip-hop and, you know what I'm saying. We're letting the kids know that it is an alternative to people, you know, people stripping and taking off their clothes (unintelligible) and videos and all that.

(Soundbite of rap music)

Unidentified Group: (Rapping) (Unintelligible) The devil can't get it.

TAIT JR.: For those who still worry about the negative images commonly associated with hip-hop, Reverend Pogue had these words.

Rev. POGUE: In the beginning, God created music. The enemy has stole the music and done some corrupt things to the music. And we're just taking it back and giving God glory with it.

TAIT JR.: Kurtis Blow's take on it is just as strong.

Mr. BLOW: As far as I'm concerned, I always knew that there was a spirituality in hip-hop. And thank God that I really, really, can bring it home and deliver that message to the youth today.

TAIT JR.: And is it working? Just ask Reverend Pogue.

Rev. POGUE: You can take a traditional hymn, Love Lifted Me, and put some hip-hop to it and some people in the congregation don't even know that that's a hymn out of the handbook. But it's something that grabs their attention, that's catchy, that - you know, if you look around the hip-hop church, there aren't too many people asleep in church.

TAIT: Kurtis Blow summed it up in true hip-hop style.

Mr. BLOW: If Jesus was around today, he probably would be a rapper. Could you see Jesus battling Eminem? And Eminem needs help. He needs Jay-Z and 50 Cent. And just line them all up and Jesus is going to start speaking in tongues and it's a rap, it's all over.

Unidentified Man: (Rapping) I'm with Jesus. I'm with Christ. Come on.

TAIT JR.: For NPR News, I am E.V. Tait Jr. in New York City.

CHIDEYA: E.V. Tait Junior heads EVT Educational Productions. The 13-part series “Every Voices, and Sing” covers black choral music. It begins airing on public radio stations nationally in late January.

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