Hip-hop's Public Enemy

1. In the beginning, the devil created heavy metal.

2. And it made white men and women worship him, causing them to eat bats, kill cats and carve pentagrams into their flesh. And the devil saw that it was good but that it had no impact whatsoever on black folks.

3. And so he created a new form of music just for them. It had a catchy beat and infectious, hypnotizing rhymes, and the brothers liked it. It made them sag their pants and smoke weed and shoot each other from low-rider Impalas. And they called it hip-hop, and the devil saw that it was good.

If G. Craige Lewis were to write scripture, it would sound something like this. It is his gospel, and tonight he's in southern Dallas preaching it.

The venue is Full Gospel Holy Temple, a black mega-church off of Interstate 20. Outside, the parking lot is filled to near capacity. Church vans and buses full of youth groups from all over Dallas have come this November night to hear Lewis share a message so dangerous, he says, it could get him killed.

At the door, security guards wave metal detectors over kids in cornrows, baggy pants and Rocawear, Jay-Z's clothing line. Ushers guide the visitors down the sloping aisles of the sanctuary and pack them in among the buttoned-down believers. Tonight's sermon is being videotaped, and the cameras will show a full house.

After the choir has finished singing and the plastic buckets containing offerings have been collected, a man steps to the pulpit and introduces Lewis: "He don't care who like it--he just loves to tell the truth."

And with that introduction, Lewis, 36, takes the stage. He is bald and short, no more than 5-foot-6, with a thin mustache and a round, freckled face. He is dressed simply but stylishly in a sports shirt and dark trousers. As Pentecostal preachers go, he is somewhat subdued--he rarely raises his voice. His style is conversational and direct: "Can I just be real with you?" he'll ask. Once he gets going, though, he is a commanding speaker, and he never fails to bring a crowd to its feet.

This is the third time he has come to Full Gospel Holy Temple to tape a sermon, and most of the audience know what they're in for. It's a hard-nosed message, he warns, and he doesn't care what anyone thinks of it.

He chastises women who come to church dressed immodestly. "What you sexy for in church?" he asks. "Who you sexy for?"

He shakes his head and scans the crowd with a scowl.

He mocks the effeminate mannerisms of a popular gospel singer, implying he's gay. And then he sinks into the meat of his message: Hip-hop is the devil's work. It can make you do things you otherwise wouldn't.

"The devil always uses music to promote an anti-Christ agenda," Lewis says. "That's the original weapon he had, so he always goes to music."

As the crowd shouts their amens, he paces the stage floor, returning to a Mac notebook perched on a music stand to cue up his audiovisuals. Images of rap's pioneers flash across two huge screens on either side of the stage: KRS-One, Afrika Bambaataa. "The false prophets of hip-hop," Lewis declares.

He speaks for nearly two hours. When he's finished he calls those with tattoos--emblems, he says, of the occult religion of hip-hop--to approach the altar. They kneel before him, and he prays to God to save their souls before it's too late.

You've probably never heard of G. Craige Lewis. He has never appeared on television or been interviewed by the mainstream press. Even among churchgoers, he is largely unknown--except among black Pentecostals, where he has a national following that grows larger every day. And that's because he is perhaps the only thing that stands between them and hip-hop taking over their churches. At least it seems that way.

Contrary to popular belief, Christian rap didn't die with dc Talk, who went platinum in the early '90s with songs like "Word 2 the Father" and "Jesus is Just Alright." Instead it went underground, and for the last 10 years, holy hip-hop, as it is now called, has been gaining steam.

Today there's a Bubba Sparxxx clone in Atlanta, an Eminem knockoff touring the Bible Belt and a Wu-Tang-inspired crew out of Philly, all spitting rhymes for Jesus. There's a holy hip-hop awards show, two festivals (one in Tampa, the other in New York) and a slew of hip-hop preachers, some of whom perform in biblically inspired throwback jerseys. There are even hip-hop churches, a growing trend most recently celebrated by USA Today, Vibe and Vanity Fair.

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Jesse Hyde
Contact: Jesse Hyde