While some argue about the 1st Amendment rights of rappers like Shawn Thomas, others question the negative influence that rap music has on young people. Almost two years ago, Minister Bryan L. Oakley and his wife, Monica, started "Tha Chozen," a gospel rap duo. Oakley spoke with MARY REESE BOYKIN about reaching youths through gospel rap.
The 1st Amendment is important to me. But it is a tricky dilemma to judge between exercising one person's right to freedom of speech and another's right not to hear things that are morally and ethically wrong. Being African American, I realize the frustrations we face and the need to have some way to express that frustration.
We sing gospel rap. When we performed at the Miles McPherson Pre-Rally, about 250 kids accepted Jesus as their savior. On April 17, we begin our 'Righteouz Ruckus Movement.' We will go into high-risk, low-income neighborhoods like Jordan Downs, Nickerson Gardens, Imperial Courts, Baldwin Village. I grew up in a similar neighborhood in Pittsburgh, so I can understand the people I minister to.
One of the concerns of "Tha Chozen" is the gang problem. So many younger kids like to emulate gang members. Yet in my conversations with gang members, some of them say they would like to take a new route, giving up the hatred and bitterness.
Through gospel rap, I encourage power through financial solidarity. I want young people to think about putting money back in the neighborhood, to think about staying in the neighborhood when they become successful. Children don't see a black doctor in the neighborhood, so being a doctor seems unrealistic to many of them. When black professionals do not live in the community, children emulate those who should not be role models.
One problem is that we think the neighborhood--the 'hood--does not have anything good about it. We focus on the blight, the poverty, the drive-by shootings. We overlook the positive--the family camaraderie, a strong sense of self, the beauty of South Central. We seem to miss that.
I want to use gospel rap to help young people change their lives. Rap has such a stigma. But after a performance, young people have said to me, "Man, I never thought of doing this." It changes their mind about rap as a medium ofgetting a message across. I, too, am a member of Generation X, and I simply want to hear the gospel spoken in the language of young people. Traditionalists need to understand that if we are to reach our young, we can tell the same message but in a different form.