I have a deep appreciation for music. My affinity for it dates back to fourth grade, when I was quarantined to my house, thanks to mononucleosis. Having little to do with my spare time in the pre iPad, Playstation/Xbox era (the horror), I discovered my father’s record collection. Thanks to his extensive vinyl catalog, I was exposed to Hard rock, folk, pop, r&b, jazz, and just about anything else you can imagine. To this day, I maintain my appreciation for all types of music. The one genre that resonates most with me however, would come at a later date, on a bus ride from school. Thank you to a bus mate’s cassette tape of Run D.M.C.’s first album, I was introduced to hip hop.
As my faith has grown over the years, and thus my conviction about what makes my ears vibrate, I was thankfully introduced to Christian hip hop a few years ago. I realize there is a simmering debate about what the term “Christian hip hop” even means, and whether or not that title or “box” as some refer to it is beneficial to its perceived purpose. That issue aside, let’s just agree that there is a sizable (and rapidly growing) offering of positive hip hop artists and groups that introduce faith based themes and tales of hope for those that are lost.
Almost literally on a daily basis, I am searching high and low for such hip hop, whatever you may call it, that meets the above mentioned criteria. Within the past year, I have stumbled across one such artist by the name of KT HalleL, and after just a few listens of his music, I became a huge fan. Having access to the written medium, as well as some influence in getting radio exposure for music, I began focusing on helping KT with what I thought would be most important to him, getting his music heard by as many people as possible. After all, that’s what all hip hop artists want, right?
I reached out to KT and introduced myself as a Journalist and fan. I explained that I had connections in the radio industry and would work to get his music playing on said airwaves. He graciously offered up his time for an interview. As I prepared myself for the interview, I began doing more in depth research and I quickly realized that there was seemingly much more to this individual than a hip hop artist. I am here to ashamedly admit that in my quest for being some type of authority on the world of “CHH” it never dawned on me that some artists had more planned for their lives than rapping and becoming famous. I soon found out that he even had a hope to one day not “have to” rap any more. My mind was blown.
When my telephone interview with Mr. HalleL took place, it quickly became evident that the “other stuff” on his website was not just filler, and even more than that, it was actually very clearly a priority of his. Honestly, KT was seemingly treating the hip hop artist aspect of his life as the “other” instead of vice versa. Let me be clear about one thing, KT HalleL the emcee is just as worthy of space in your music library as anyone else you exercise your ear muscles with. Feel free to hold your breath, because “the most experienced rapper you’ve never heard of” (his title, not mine) is about to explode on the scene. Okay, maybe you shouldn’t hold your breath, but hip hop fans, be prepared to be surprised and delighted. I assure you although you may not be familiar with KT HalleL, your favorite rapper is.
KT HalleL, by the grace of God, was delivered from being a lost soul messing with alcohol and drugs, eventually escalating to full scale addiction, DEA raids and incarceration. Sometime in 2005 1-2 years after being saved, HalleL had a vision from God. In the vision, he reported seeing kids rapping. The Holy Spirit then revealed to him that he would plant a safe house in Tulsa, OK. After praying with his wife and considering the affect on her and his two children, including a daughter who has special needs due to her high functioning autism, KT began on the path of obedience, walking away from a six figure income, nice cars and big house.
Herein lies the creation of the Safehouse Music Group in 2006. SHM is a reputable musical home to several faith based hip hop artists. But as if mirroring the founder’s (KT) own walk, SHM is so much more than a hip hop music label. It is just as much, if not more so, an outreach organization. Utilizing those also on the label: Zigg Madison, Yung Shep and Little T, KT and SHM are offering mentor-ship to the inner city youth of Tulsa. The team has a focus of introducing the youth to God’s glory as well as offering education in the form of an independently accredited high school. KT and company pride themselves on reaching out to those at risk individuals when others are saying “we don’t want these kids.”
Naturally, with SHM being a music label, there are also opportunities to expose the youth to the various facets of music. Realizing that while every individual interested in the hip hop music scene is not going to have the skills required to be an emcee (my hand is raised), the other aspects of the music tree are also introduced including mixing, producing, engineering, promoting, graphic design, etc. HalleL expressed the value of this exposure to music calling it a “powerful mentor tool.”
SHM has since teamed with the Tulsa chapter of Youth For Christ to broaden their reach. Praising YFC’s sustainable model, HalleL and his army seek to expand their reach by growing mentors, empowering them to be leaders and to mobilize. About this, KT stated “We have to replicate ourselves, similar to multilevel marketing.” Focusing on the ministry opportunity known as Juvenile Justice Ministry within YFC, the group visits various institutions such as: detention centers, probation, correctional facilities, group homes, residential treatment centers and emergency shelters. The goal is to prepare the at risk youth as they re-enter their communities. Further separating himself from my (previously) presumed goal of all hip hop artists, HalleL emphasized “the mission is not to be triple platinum. The mission is to reduce the recidivism rate of youth in my city.” KT went on to lay out the ultimate goal for his Safehouse team: first a national presence and God willing, a global reach. Realizing that will not happen on its own, the work has already begun on building that network. His “army of emcees that are missionaries” as KT labeled them, has already begun forming with team members in Canada, Ghana and even Zimbabwe.
HalleL stated at one point in the interview that if we had more Christian rappers who also truly wanted to be Missionaries, our cities would look completely different. It seems that we as Christian music fans automatically attach the label of “Mission work” to our favorite albums and the title of “Missionary” to our favorite artist(s). I do not dare presume to know who has that goal in mind with their music and their lives. I do however feel comfortable stating that not everyone who gets classified as a Christian artist deserves the title of a Missionary. KT HalleL and the rest of the SHM team most certainly do however.
As humans, we tend to view status and accomplishment with a worldly view and narrow focus, typically centered around house size, cost of car, size of bank account and how many strangers know and/or care who we are. I Submit To You that a full submission to God’s desire for us all to become shepherds of the lost will deliver a much more rewarding prize in both the present and the future.