Rap and hip-hop music has always been influenced by all the musical elements that surround it each decade, including rock, disco, techno, dubstep and even metal. However, one of the strongest and most influential musical genres that also goes hand-in-hand with rap and hip-hop music has to be gospel.
Rap usually pays respect to each genre by either sampling or re-creating the genre’s particular or most common traits. In the case of gospel, the most common traits in the genre are the religious concepts that can be found in the lyrics, the profound chords on the organ or keys instrument and the variation in solo lyrics accompanied by spontaneous chorus of singers giving the song’s most meaningful phrases an emphasis, not only that but everyone in the choir must be vocally trained to be in tune and are assigned by vocal range (alto, mezzo-soprano and soprano) which are from lowest pitch to highest pitch, usually this division is to assign to them specific tasks.
With this in mind, we will review and analyse some of the most regarded and impressive rap songs that combine gospel and its profound meaning with them, either by sampling or by having a choir or a professional singer in the genre on the track.
Kanye West – Ultralight Beam (2016)
Ultralight Beam was accepted amazingly in the Rap community as it is the first apparition of a Gospel Choir with a Rapper in a while, with an excellent music production and a great Rap artist who knows how to control his Vocal Range. The Choir brings the chorus section to a heavenly state in sound terms and fulfills the feeling of strength just perfectly, followed by the amazing singer Kelly Price dropping an amazing performance in Gospel Style with her wide vocal range and as soon as she finishes Chance The Rapper portrays an amazing Rap Versing game with slight vocal traces of Gospel.
Kanye West has surely brought a song that really stands out for both genres and strikes you with an amazing musical production for all the vocal qualities, because for both, Rap and Gospel, the voice is all that really matters, and this song is the proof.
Chance The Rapper ft. Saba – Angels (2016)
Chance The Rapper is an artist who loves to represent and mix genres together in an attempt to create a unique style and touching on his roots back in Chicago he released a gospel rap song in 2016, The song Angels is a very in-depth talk about his roots and the musical scene where he is from.
The song’s Gospel aspect can be found from the very first second in the instrumental production and how he flows along with it in a very particular rhythmic and rhyming pattern.
Saba sings the hook along with a chord pattern made by a classic organ sound, in the lyrics he also mentions “City so great I feel like Alexand” being a reference to Alexander The Great portraying a deep respect to his roots and early years as an artist in Chicago.
Chicago is one of the biggest cities in the world, besides that it is where gospel was born and has a huge history and up to this day receives a huge respect and appreciation from its people. There is a gospel festival every year, City of Chigago Gospel Festival, and many artists are influenced by the religious/catholic community to make artwork. Among those artists, you can find Chance and Saba as both of them have said to love to interpret their surroundings and their past for their artistic creativity.
Talib Kweli – Hostile Gospel Pt. 1 (2008)
Talib Kweli is an artist as much as a social activist, most of his lyrics will touch on modern social concepts and subjects and if possible use musical genres related to them to come out with a music track just as influential as it will be artistic.
That said, Hostile Gospel, talks about rap being a modern influence just as Gospel was back in Chicago in its early days, Hostile gospel pays huge respect towards the influential aspect rap has and how it has given many people a voice through art and moved generations through time by educating them and helping them understand the world through each individual set of eyes.
It is very few the songs that pay such highly regarded respect and talk in depth about it in such a short amount of time and truly a lyrical jewel.
The song has a Gospel-like genre structure and it can feel very 'old school' on the rap style when it comes to rhyming and rhythm, he speaks about how there are many rap artists that focus on being the club’s sensation and do not portray any intellectuality and how that can be changed by paying attention to the art that really matters.
The beat (instrumental) has a very profound combination of rhythmical aspects from both styles rap and gospel, the song starts with a high-pitched choir and transcends to a piano playing classical gospel chords with hip-hop hints to it.
He also refers to how the industry attempts to put only one single label on you when you can be many things and still succeed out there by having faith in yourself and working hard and smart.
2pac – Ghetto Gospel (2005)
Released almost 10 years after Tupac’s death, Ghetto Gospel featured legend Elton John and co-produced by Eminem Luis Resto.
The song starts with Elton John singing the hook in a gospel style recalling a verse from The Bible along with classical chords of the genre. Tupac continues to sing about the youth and the generations and how they transcend in time, how we all put blame on each other except on ourselves and how that is a modern era “sin” and we must cleanse our minds from the systems and the stereotypical ideologies to become better between all of us.
The song had an amazing production team, one that proposed and re-created the lyrics several times to ensure the message was clear and profound in each line. The second hook talks for a brief moment about Tupac and waves goodbye to his legendary era, but talks about how he left a gold mine of things we can learn from his art form and lyrics that will be immortal and will surely reach many generations from now to a hundred years in time
In the last two verses, Tupac says "Lord Can you hear me speak? To pay the price of being Hellbound”. Here he states that he feels satisfied with all the music he has done and that his message and teachings have been stated in his art.
Anderson .Paak – The Comedown Gospel (2017)
It is very rare to find the inverse where Gospel takes over Rap, Anderson. Paak had the idea to do so and he did it brilliantly by recording a whole choir, from his hometown, to replay his hit song Come Down He even included a few family members in the video production and recorded each voice with utmost care in the recording and post-production process.
The song is intended to pay rendition to his hit song, but, also support the power behind music, the history it has and how each genre develops within a culture, our society and transcends the ages with powerful knowledge engraved to it. For Anderson .Paak music has much more than sound within its walls, it also contains knowledge and a little bit of each artist’s personal insight into life itself, gospel carries the teachings and lessons from the religious aspects of life so in a way, both genres, Rap, and Gospel, are ships of wisdom that carry on through the sea of life for us to learn from them.