Rapper Snoop Dogg made some noise in Christendom this week by releasing his first ‘Gospel’ song. ‘Words Are Few’ is the first release from Snopp Dogg’s latest album which is expected to have a gospel tone throughout. The song features gospel artist B-Slade (formerly Tonéx) who joins Snoop to discuss the conflict of wanting to serve God whilst being tempted by other vices.
This is not the first time that Snoop Dogg has embraced religion in his music. In 2012, after a trip to Jamaica, he announced his conversion to Rastafarianism, adopted the moniker ‘Snoop Lion’, and released a reggae album called Reincarnation. It seems that Snoop Lion is no more, so how seriously should we take Snoop’s latest offering?
In April 2016, Snoop released a video of himself singing along to Kirk Franklin’s ‘Silver and Gold’, declaring that “he’d rather have Jesus than silver and gold” whilst displaying his plethora of gold jewellery. He then told Beats 1 Radio earlier this year that he was “working on a gospel album” and that “It's always been on my heart.”
Lyrics for the new song 'Words Are Few" include the lines "I know God is coming deep, I’m not where I’m supposed to be. Sitting here smoking trees, when I should be on my knees".
In both the US and the UK there has been a shift towards artists being open about their faith in music. Chance the Rapper won Best Rap Album at the 2017 Grammy Awards for his album Colouring Book which was full of religious themes and borrowed from notable gospel songs. In the UK, Stormzy reached number 1 earlier this year with his album Gang Signs & Prayer which featured two gospel inspired songs. Despite this, the albums were also littered with profanity and affirmations of lifestyles not in keeping with the Christian message.
That’s not to say that music cannot be relational and real. We all have ups and downs, and an authentic tone is often missing from Christian music where songs promote the idea that 'we’ve got it altogether'. When artists like Snoop Dogg reflect their fallen nature and struggles with faith in a departure from their usual content, it often seems a lot more genuine.
There are two reactions that most Christians will often take in a scenario like this: Either they will immediately embrace the artist as a Christian on 'our' side or they will remain highly sceptical about the artist's faith. Both approaches can be dangerous.
Immediately claiming them as a Christian and making them a role model to many usually works out badly. They never asked to be paraded as examples of upright Christian morality. But nor should we dismiss their faith out-of-hand because they still swear and smoke weed. We are all fallen and in a process of sanctification to fight our former sinful nature.
So does Snoop's song count as 'Gospel?' We are told by Jesus in Matthew 7:16 “You will recognise them by their fruits.”
Although we don’t often know the ins and outs of an artists’ life, professing faith on one song while also promoting contrary lifestyles to that of a Christian is very confusing. Whilst we should acknowledge that everyone is on a journey, I think we should use wisdom when declaring things as “Gospel” or “Christian”.
The other reaction that many people, including myself in the past, have been guilty of is being overly sceptical. 1 Timothy 1:15 recently stopped me in my tracks:
“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.”
Nobody is too far from God’s reach. Jesus came specifically for sinners, which means everyone. Rather than sit and assess whether we think an artist is really a Christian, we should pray that God works with that initial openness and brings individuals around them who can disciple and pray for them.
Change is often not quantifiable and can only really be known through personal relationship. Most people will not have this kind of access to someone like Snoop Dogg, but I would hope that if the reality of the gospel is becoming truth to them, we will see more artists embracing their faith, and in return, leaving behind sinful and destructive lifestyles for the new life that Christ brings.