Chad Gardner of Kings Kaleidoscope might have inadvertently explained a recent trend in Christian Rap.
The singer and producer appeared on the most recent episode of Tooth & Nail Records’ Labeled podcast, hosted by Matt Carter of Emery. Kings Kaleidoscope is known for having a unique approach for a Christian music act–not worship music, yet very explicitly Christian. On the show, Gardner talked about his mindset behind the group:
“I don’t want to be just Christians in a band. Because that’s sort of everyone. I mean, the amount of times I read that in articles from a teenager on is like infinite. ‘Oh, well, we don’t call ourselves a Christian band; we’re just Christians in a band’. It’s like, how unoriginal and boring is that.”
Carter, replied: “Right, at one point that was an edgy norm to break…”
“But you gotta understand, I grew up where that was what everyone said. So it’s not edgy to me at all. The edgy thing is can you maintain a worship attitude where you’re really spiritually trying to do this in a way that’s from a worshipful spirit and be more creative than… whatever… at the same time? Is that possible? And that was sort of the dichotomy I was trying to pull. Can I push beyond the limits of these other bands and have it–I don’t want to say ‘more Christian’, because that’s not a real thing. I just mean with the original intention of ‘I’m making this to work out faith or feed my faith, and that’s what it’ll do for other people’. Not just making fun songs because they’re fun.”
The generational aspect of what Gardner describes might also explain one recent trend in Christian hip-hop. At first, popular Christian rap was about explicitly Christian themes. Then, for a while, it was a little cooler to be a rapper who was a Christian–instead of a “Christian rapper”–and talk about nearly any topic. (Of course, this is a gross simplification of events, but that was the overall trend. And if you’re reading this you probably know this has actually been the subject of many a controversy. We’re not going to get into all that here!)
As I’ve argued before, the present era of Christian Hip-Hop is characterized by a lack of a definitive center: rather, talented artists thrive in many cross-pollinating lanes. One of the movements that we’ve seen in recent years, though, is towards explicitly Christian subjects being “in” again. One of the biggest albums of 2023 was supergroup HEAVENONEARTH’s debut self-titled project, which includes songs like “FREE MY SPIRIT” and refrains like “reign down on me, Holy Spirit.” Or consider Zauntee, whose rise to prominence was largely launched on the overtly Christian “God Taught Me,” and whose most recent includes such tracks as the worshipful and anthemic “Jesus Called My Name.”
The members of indie tribe., too, have talked about the importance of being bold with their faith. Also, a lot of their social media marketing involves some variation of “Christian rap but cool.”
The new wave has a different flavor from the “lyrical theology” of The Cross Movement, Lamp Mode, or ChristCentric. (Though it’s worth noting that lyrical theology persists in the Christian rap world. It’s another one of those lanes!) As Gardner described in the context of CCM and Christian Rock, at one point it was cool to break the norm of Christian rappers mostly talking about explicitly Christian themes–but eventually, everyone was doing it. Perhaps in the 2020s, the truest punk-rock subversion of expectations is to boldly keep faith at the forefront.
Kings Kaleidoscope has been highly involved in Christian Rap over the years, releasing a 2017 mixtape that featured many premier CHH names, appearing on WHATUPRG’s New Hollywood and Propaganda’s Terraform, and most recently headlining the first night of SMOKE! 23.
What do you think? Do cutting-edge Christian Rap artists share Gardner’s mindset? Let us know!