My Open Letter to Sho Baraka

Dear Sho,

“The Narrative” is a great album. It’s thoughtful and raw. It has beautiful instrumentals, great beats, lyrical depth. It’s definitely a great album. I’m not disputing that. But the rhetoric I’ve seen about the reason Lifeway pulled your album off their shelves, both on social media and from you in the article from Washington Post (one of the most divisive sources of journalism in America ) is very misleading. It’s damaging to this nonprofit organization who was responding to numerous complaints from their consumer base. And the actual fact that it’s being perpetuated by other “CHH” artists is even more disturbing.

I am sure it was upsetting to get the news that Lifeway had decided to pull your album. That’s like, your baby that you put blood, sweat and tears into. Seeing it on shelves is like parents showing friends all those pics of their baby. You have reason to be righteously proud of your baby. And, on top of the work you put into a project like an album, you’re putting the message of Jesus out there, using your abilities to glorify Him. Therefore, I can see that it would be very disappointing and upsetting.

And I would be much more inclined to be very empathetic to this situation, had I not seen how it all came to light. First of all, the Washington Post. They are one of the leaders of divisiveness between races. Between sexes. Between denominations. Between believers and non believers. Between political ideals. Between worldly religions. Between Americans. We are all Americans, no matter how our bloodline got here to begin with. (I am assuming you are, even though born in Alberta, Canada).

The headline alone is divisive and severely biased. “Southern Baptist Retailer Removes Black Hip Hop Artist’s Album that Includes the Word ‘Penis'” This is the exact headline. As someone who has a degree in Media Communications and studied the media in depth for four years in college & in all the years since (quite a few), I can tell you that this headline was purposely written to be divisive and incite outrage against Christianity and insinuate racism as the reason. It also makes it sound like Christians (Southern Baptists ARE Christians, too ya know) are prudes who can’t handle the word penis. If you think I’m reading too much into this, take a basic journalism or media class.

That’s just the headline. Now, it was upsetting that I saw it tweeted by a few “CHH” artists because of the insidiousness of the headline. Let me just rewind…real quick I want to add that I HATE labels such as “Christian Hip Hop” and I can understand why you guys do. I personally don’t expect squeaky clean lyrics, because life is messy & hip hop is edgy. More on that in a moment. Okay, fast forward- zeerrrrp- now we’re at Twitter a few days ago. So, I see this headline and the perpetuation of this narrative (ironically) and I’m curious. Only, I read this article to find out that Sho, you’re totally racist. Side note: so is Alex Medina, who personally messaged me because I called out his racism. He’s always using divisive rhetoric, so much so that after sparring with him a few times during the election (of which I had no loyal affiliation, I’m an independent voter) because of his racism and divisiveness, I had to stop following him. This is how I heard about this article and the incident to begin with.

Then, I see Rapzilla posting their own, basically paraphrased version, of the Washington Post article. And the writer starts it by calling you a victim of Lifeway. Seriously? A victim? The narrative (ironically) goes on to parrot the motive of racism and use of the word penis as the reasons for Lifeway’s decision. A white guy writing this, nonetheless. Best believe I started defending Lifeway because what I’m seeing is not only wrong on an ethical level and a Christian level, but it’s straight up LIES.

I want you, Sho, as a parent, to imagine being a Christian parent and not knowing anything about hip hop. I know, it’s almost impossible for me, too, because I’ve listened to it basically my whole life. It’s deep in my soul and a big part of who I am. But, try.

Now, first of all, just stop going in the direction I’m assuming you are by only thinking this means “white soccer moms from the burbs” as Medina put it, and as you repeatedly put it in your response video (minus the words white & from the burbs). Because even if it is, (which I’m pretty sure many soccer moms from the burbs grew up in the same popular culture we did and therefore aren’t completely ignorant about hip hop) that doesn’t matter. This doesn’t make them racist, nor squeaky clean, nor prudish. It doesn’t make them out of touch nor does  it make them just stereotypical suburban white folks. That’s just as racist as stereotyping all black folks as thugs from the hood.

Or, honestly, maybe they know a whole lot about mainstream hip hop and are trying to avoid the travesty of what that has become. Either way….

Back to imagining you are one of these parents. So, as someone who has likely trusted Lifeway for their past media needs, imagine your kid coming to you and asking for a new hip hop album. Okay, they wouldn’t say it that way. “Rap CD” maybe? I don’t know, I’m old school. Anyway, they wanted a new hip hop album, or specifically your album. So, as a parent who trusts Lifeway to sell music without any profanity, you get them the album. Then, one day, you come into their room and hear, “PISSED off (you really emphasize that word there, too) that’s because I was thinkin with my penis” and your, like 8 year old kid, is just standing there listening like it’s Toby Mac or whatever. I mean, can you really tell me that you wouldn’t be a little concerned, a little upset, a little surprised? Remember, you are not a hip hop connoisseur in this hypothetical situation (that I’m sure actually happened).

Or, let’s say you’re a brand new baby Christian. So, like Lecrae you make a big tower of sacrificial legalism with your old CDs, or like me, you sell every one of your 50ish hip hop albums as a lot on ebay for like $15, as an offering to the Lord (seriously, what was I thinking? I shoulda just thrown them away). Now, while swearing off any “secular” music is a little legalistic, it is also a way for many new Christians to get serious about what they let in their spirit. Now, imagine you’re still in that phase with the Lord, and you get this new album from Lifeway after getting a little into “CHH” and you’re maxxin it out one day and then you hear that line.Tell me, it wouldn’t concern you, or kind of upset you, or surprise you. Because you didn’t get this album from humblebeast.com. You got it from Lifeway. It was like, on the same page as Toby Mac’s newest album, k. Think about that.

Now, I’m just using that one line as the offender. There are other bars that could offend a tender-hearted Christian, or a baby Christian, or a parent, or yes, white people, too. And rightfully so. This album is great. Like, I actually enjoyed mostly the entire album. I’m not offended by the language, but I wouldn’t want my kids hearing it. I am a little turned off by some of the rhetoric, that basically demonizes white people. You may not think you’re doing that or feel that way, but I’m telling you right now, it is like that. Should America & the church have dialogue about race relations? Absolutely. But don’t for one second think that white folks are not hurting from the current rhetoric. This is too much for this letter, trying to focus on this incident. But, kids don’t understand context so well, so this album is definitely heavy in that aspect. Does that mean change your music? NO!! It means that Lifeway did what was best in response to concerned customers.

Now, I just watched the YouTube video of your response to Lifeway. And, while I don’t disagree with everything you’re saying, I am begging you to stop furthering the narrative (ironically) that Lifeway is just some basically prudish retailer, pandering to soccer moms. That is such a horrible way to explain this. I don’t care if every single one of their customers is a soccer mom, and actually, what do you even mean by that? You are trying to base your identity in culturalism, so say what you mean: white people. You’re blaming white people who “can’t connect to your message” as the reason Liefway pulled your album. Which  is SIMPLY NOT TRUE. And pushing this narrative (ironically) is very racist and divisive.

I can’t even go into the racial divisiveness of your interview with the epitome of racial divisiveness: the Washington Post. Because then my letter would be about five more pages. But no worries, I will address it in a future post.

While I am all for artists expressing themselves however they want, no matter if they’re Christian or not, no matter if they cuss or not, no matter if they have a label of “CHH” or not, I am not for & will vehemently fight the demonizing of Lifeway, its customers, Evangelicalism (which is NOT limited to white folks, please stop that), the Christian music genre/industry (and I do know all about the fact that it IS an industry), Reach Records & Reach consumers, and anyone who doesn’t want cuss words or sexual references in their music. That doesn’t mean anyone is trying to silence you or keep a veil of fake purity over Christian music. It means that A LOT of Christians, including a whole lot of parents, do not want to personally let that into their spirits. Lifeway had NUMEROUS complaints about the language and “adult themes” of this album. They did what they had to do. They’re still selling music that pushes the envelope, but doesn’t include any cuss words.

If you feel the need to segregate the messages you’re pushing in your music, I would question what your messages are. You say you want to redefine the message. Well, Jesus defined it to begin with, so maybe you should reconsider.

Sincerely,

A Hip Hop Head from Way Back

*While I’m sure this letter means absolutely nothing to many people, for the record: #1 I am a Christian. I have no denomination, I just love Jesus.

I am 2 months older than Sho. I have listened to hip hop my whole life and “CHH” since 2007. I had 11Six tatted on me before it was trendy (but I’m not bitter about it being trendy…tatt on), to spark conversation about Jesus. I listen to a wide variety of “CHH”. And I thank God for the gift of it.

I am not personally offended by the language in “The Narrative” but it would’ve been a turn off when I was a new Christian. While I was not into Sho’s flow and style (NOT referring to lyrics) in the past (I do own “Turn My Life Up” and “Lions & Liars”) I think this album is really good & the flow is impressive. I don’t agree with some of the racial rhetoric personally, but it is every artist’s right to say what they want.

I am not a soccer mom, nor am I from the burbs, but I do love soccer moms from the burbs. Actually, my roots are in the hood & blue collar USA. I am an artist myself, and hip hop matters very much to me because I am a hip hop dance teacher. I teach dance not only in a studio, but also in the public schools to kids whose families can’t afford studio classes. I have been blessed & chosen for that because I am able to use “CHH” in the public school system (although I have to edit obvious Christian references). I also have a degree in media journalism, and I am a published and employed writer. I use these gifts to glorify God.

I am also a wife & a mother of two beautiful children, who are 5 & 7. They have been listening to “CHH” since they were in the womb. I’m convinced my son has such great rhythm because of the sub that was pounding throughout his gestation. I would not want them to hear the song “Piano Break” at this age, nor some of the other content.

I personally corresponded with a Lifeway rep, as well as the VP who was so kind. They are literally heartbroken over how the media has portrayed this. HEARTBROKEN. I’ve never purchased anything from Lifeway, but I will in the future. They are a wonderful nonprofit organization that helps millions of people all over the world, of every race and nationality.

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6 thoughts on “My Open Letter to Sho Baraka

  1. #AlternateSolution – Lifeway’s ppl get in touch with Sho’s ppl, explain and describe the nature and volume of complaints receive, and kindly request “Parental Advisory” stamped copies of “The Narrative” to exchange for the current ones on their shelves and the two camps work together to find a mutually acceptable solution, rather than Lifeway making a unilateral decision to (whether intended or not – I’m inclined to give benefit of doubt to all in the household of faith) seemingly throw this solid brother under the bus in such a manner.

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    1. Lifeway does not sell music with “Parental Advisory” stickers. They are not the appropriate outlet for that. And would Sho really want to do that? I doubt it.

      I agree, it would be awesome if there were some compromise, but I don’t think either party wants to compromise to the extent that would need to happen.

      They are not “throwing Sho under the bus”. That would mean there was malice. They were simply responding to a “numerous amount of complaints for overall language and adult themes” this is literally what I was told.

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  2. Some of what u said was very legit. But some of it was veeeery suspect. Bear with me its not as long as it looks …. i think ha.

    1. Thats not sho’s fault nor is it lifeways fault that some parents were just buying random cds and letting their kids listen to it without checking it out first. i would never buy somethin with mental content in it for my godson without checkin it out first. What if an album or book had unbiblical teaching in it? should it follow the same logic? For example, Calvinism is extraordinarily unbiblical and objectively offensive. (another topic and convo i kno just bear with me). so lets say im a parent n my kid asked for a book/cd by a calvinistic author/christain rapper. i buy it from them, later on i read/listen to it, find it to be offensive and complain. should lifeway stop selling it if enough parents join me? Just cuz its comin from a christian outlet doesnt mean it doesnt still need to be checked by the parent espeeeecially if the kid is 7 or 8 i mean come on. Now we have less revnue for lifeway, less revenue for sho and everyone involved, less avenues for customers to get good godly music; and for what?

    2. unless theres something major im missing then ur over exaggerating on the washington post stuff. some of the things they write are crap, some r legit and some is a mix. ive seen plenty much worse article sites than washington post. im glad that a secular website was giving that attention to sho. More exposure for 1 of the best rappers in the game that also raps about Christ is def a good thing.

    3. I wonder what was the ratio of pple that were buying sho’s album and not complaining vs the pple that were complaining. That to me would be telling to what they mean by “numerous” (not that it matters but more on that later) but i have little way of knowing the answer to that with certainty.

    3. regardless of what they meant by “numerous” it doesnt make it ok. It is objectively indefensible to say that u are legitimate for complaining to a store cuz of the medical definition for a mans private part. You (i dont mean “you” the author btw. u made it clear that u dont care about the word) may be sincerely offended by the word penis but you (they) are still sincerely being prudish and unreasonable. I may sincerely be offended by the word pizza but that doesnt change the fact that i am sincerely being unreasonable for being offended by that word and MUUUCH moreso unreasonable by complaining to the store cuz they sold an album that contained the word pizza. So even tho washington post was obviously baiting several stereotypes with their title, there was some truth to their implication that there was prudishness involved. Many a christian discussion has brought up the unnecessary and frankly, fake, prudishness that the american christian culture has.

    4. U said that sho was being racist cuz of assumptions u r making. Assumptions that i think u r very incorrect about. Soccor mom is typically PRIMARILY a cultural implication not a racial one. But u dissmissed any assumptions that washington post and others were making that racism and/or prejudice could have had something to do with it. (Assumptions that i, at this point, think they are incorrect about also) Why this double standard??

    5. There was no racism on display towards white pple in the narrative or by anything ive personally seen from alex medina whatsoever. i may have missed something about medina since im a recent follower but i thought the whole medina side note was irrelevant anyway so unless u bring it back up ill just leave it at that. Anyway, the racial themes in the album were intense but truthful and suprisingly clearly stated. And clear truth is never something that will damage pple. it may need to be explained differently depending on ur audience but this is only for efficiency’s* sake. some white brothas n sistas r stuck n this idea that proclaiming a racial problem is married to accusin the entire race for the problem which makes no sense. if i say abortion is a huge problem in america that has no connection to the idea that im blaming all women or all couples who have premarital sex for abortions. so where does this racist accusation come from????

    sorry for the book but there was a lot to unpack and honestly i dont even think i got it all.

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  3. Hi Frank. I’ll attempt to reply to your concerns.

    1) I agree, not anyone’s fault (well, except the parents) that people aren’t monitoring to their kids’ media. But, a cuss word is likely the last thing anyone suspected in music coming from Lifeway. I was throwing an age out there, and I guess considering my own kids’ ages (5&7). My kids have grown up on “CHH” and there is some content I would not want them to hear yet on this album.

    2) Washington Post is HORRIBLY divisive. They are one of the more “reputable” journalism sources. Meaning, they’ve been around a long time and have been leaders in journalism, and are well known. For the past few years at least, they (along with pretty much all mainstream news outlets) have become so biased and unreliable. Journalism 101 teaches that journalism is ethically not supposed to be biased. So laughable these days. I got to a point where I would only trust local news sources and now even those are growing in bias. I cannot even believe the blatant lies I hear in news on a daily basis. All in attempt to sway popular opinion & shift views to a more utopian worldview. They’re all bought and paid for. WP is one of the worst I’ve seen in recent years, because of their status. This headline was PURPOSELY written to incite certain feelings/reactions.

    3) One of my main points is that it’s not the word penis that is the issue here. He wasn’t using the word penis in its actual context anyway, so I can see parents not liking that. He says “always PISSED off” right before that. That is much more of an issue, as far as language. I’m from the Cincinnati area. I’ve heard that’s not a cuss word in the west, but it is here. And Lifeway is based out of the south where it also is. Now, I can definitely see why Lifeway’s consumer base would find that upsetting, especially when you add in “thinking with my penis.” Again, kids don’t get context and I think that’s pretty coarse, and we are told not to use coarse language. Personally, I’m not offended but if I had heard it before I knew it was there (I knew about that line before I actually listened to the song) it would take me aback and I’d wonder why he went that route. I’ve heard a few other “CHH” rappers use that word (Krum & Rhema Soul, but Rhema Soul used it to mean urine). You’re not gonna find these artists at Lifeway either, so it makes sense.

    4) Do you really know any non-white “soccer moms”?? And Medina personally messaged me on twitter about this, but he tweeted those exact words (white North American soccer moms). Much of my stance that Sho is racist comes from things I heard him say when he left Reach and the stuff he said in the WP article. And some of his lyrics, but not as much. Yes, I’m dismissing that race could have something to do with it because it doesn’t! Lifeway carries MANY MANY artists who are not white. Making this about race MAKES NO SENSE at all. Lifeway was the only store that carried CC3 hard copies when it came out! While we do need to address racial divide in the country and the church, not everything is about race!! That’s how things are being pushed lately.

    5) Medina is where I first heard about the Lifeway thing, that’s where that came from. And the way he was tweeting about it…basically blaming white people!! Other than that, I agree with pretty much everything you said in your 5th point. Although, honestly, there are a whole lot of white-guilt-trips going on lately. It was something like 6% of the population owned slaves, only the very rich. Most white people have no ancestry to slave owners. It SUCKS that it ever happened, but people have been enslaved since the fall. We cannot keep up this rhetoric if there’s going to be healing. Is there systematic racism still? I mean, by law there’s not. Racism is still an issue, but we need to stop blaming people who had nothing to do with it. Not even Jim Crow or the “new Jim Crow” was during most of our lifetimes so let’s stop blaming and start changing. That doesn’t mean “forget about it” or stop talking about it, but it does mean stop staying stuck there.

    6) O wait, there were only 5.

    Thanks for your comment. I appreciate the perspective. but I still think Lifeway was basically smeared in this situation and it’s very wrong. They are a nonprofit organization. There are many outlets Sho can sell his music. And I understand him being upset/disappointed. But the way he brought it publicly was wrong. Peace.

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    1. Sup.

      2. yea the title was obviously worded to stir up stereotype ideologies. And yea, ive long been aware of the insincerity of journalism whether it be media or internet. But like i said, ive seen all shades from the washington post.

      3. See this is exactly 1 of the reasons why ive been increasingly skeptical as to whether cussin is even a sin. I personally try not to cuss at all regardless, but Ive wondered more and more if the foul and coarse language verses were talkin about condescending, mean, rude etc. language not “cuss” words. Cuz now we have all this personal interpretation and geography determining what is and is not a sin. Sin isnt subjective at all and cuss words are very subjective (culture, geography, language). So with that said i still question their choice.

      4. this is probably the important one so bear with me again.
      Yea i know and def have seen plenty non white “soccer moms” lol. however even if i didnt, that doesnt change the fact sho said soccer moms and there is no reason to think he meant anything racist by it cuz “soccer mom” is primarily a label about how u live not how u look. Was it rude? mayb we could have a convo about that but def not even close to racist. And i see nothin in sho’s lyrics, wp interview or anythin post “turn my life up” that would indicate he’s a racist. thats a seeeerious claim; do u have any specific evidence for that?
      As far as medina goes, sayin white north american soccer moms doesnt sound at all racist either. Especially if he said something along the lines of, “lifeway caters to white north american soccer moms”. (idk dk what he said exactly.) Was it rude or generalizing? just like b4, u got more of an argument there but thats not racist.
      N lastly on point 4, like i said, i agree that i dont think there was anything racial going on from lifeway. But perhaps some clarification is needed on my end. I have no opinion, mainly cuz i have no idea, whether there was any racism or prejudice OR any type of wrong mindedness on the part of the customers who complained. Idk about this either but the customers very easily could have been who medina and sho were frustrated with in their interviews if they feel it was the customers who were being disingenuous due to the content on the album. And that would make a looot of sense since pple in the south (everywhere unfortunately) listen to politicians particularly republicans more than they should. And its extremely likely that a republican minded person would feel veeeeery uncomfortable listening to alotta that album. But again, this is speculatin.

      5. I think alotta that white guilt tripin is due to what i said earlier. Theres a gang of white pple gettin super mad when nobody is even talkin to them. If theyre not racist, ignorant, prejudice, an enabler, etc then theres a moderately decent chance the black person isnt addressing them. (with that said, i do understand that some of it is legit cuz there r racist brown pple that dog on vanilla pple)
      And yes ur right theres waaaay too many black folks talkin and not doing. And to make matters worse, theres a growing number of black pple talkin nonsense about how to solve the problem when actions finally do get involved. However i have 2 things to say to that then ill quit pesterin u with books.
      The first is that not all black pple r just talkin. And depending on what ur sayin when u do talk (sho would be a wondeful example of this) “talkin” may be alot more than just “talkin”. Awareness is powerful when ur speaking all the truth n not just some of it. The “new jim crow” or whatever u wanna call it is veeery much still in our lifetime. Systemic racism is a real and serious issue. (btw ?? of course racism is illegal on paper but so is rape and the murder of children). Ive seen these things too many times and i dont even b about that foolish life. So pple do still need to talk about the things that sho and others r talkin about. But yes, like u said action needs to go along with it.

      the second thing is that the church shares a big chunk of the blame for this. The church has spent waaaaaay too much time slobbin republican politicians. (Dont get me wrong secular pple and minorities r equally guilty of slobbin on democrat politicians but thats not the topic right now). The church obediently listens to repub. politicians cuz we foolishly think they care about religious freeom and unborn babies. So republicans r allowed to feed the church whatever nonsense they want and we eat it up like a steak. So thanks, in part, to political dogmatism, the church has developed a very disinfranchised*, denial based, misinformed and narrowminded mindset towards what minorities r still very much so goin thru. thats 1 of the many reasons u see this growing divide inside the black community ideologically. And also the growing divide between the black community and the church. U rightly said some black folks need to start changing. However until the church does its part to close this divide between it and the black community (any community) the only souce for true substantive change (the gospel message) will be harder to reach black pples ears.

      done with the second book now sorry again.
      I did forget to say that i have mad respect to u for standin up for what u think is right but i dont at all think ur finger is pointed in the right direction.

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      1. Imma get back to your comment, & I’m enjoying your books hhaha Definitely food for thought, and when I can address your points thoughtfully (which will take a minute) I’ll be gettin back at you. Thanks for the dialog. It is a GOOD thing. be back soon….

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