Are you ready for some gospel hip-hop? Check out “What Would Jesus Do (WWJD),” from DATz DEM, which consists of artists ILL Son and Focist P. The opening moments of “WWJD” evoke Marvin Gaye’s gospel side, with a soulful vocal floating above strings before ILL Son and Focist P trade raps about Jesus, Psalm 23, and the joys of spirituality (they name check televangelist Creflo Dollar for good measure).
The lyrics are an unabashed expression of the Christian faith and a condemnation of all things evil. “The devil is a lie, that’s why people be killing,” they rap, “Robbing and stealing sometimes for no reason/Cutting down trees in the Garden of Eden/The Snake got you eatin’ forbidden fruit/So the question is for you/What would Jesus do.”
“WWJD” is an affirmation of life (“Every day above ground is a wonderful day”) and faith (Jesus “delivers us from evil like a Greyhound bus”). “WWJD” is also ILL Son’s first foray into gospel hip-hop and a departure from the romantic, secular “Wait for Me,” which I featured on Superhype earlier this year.
In an email interview with me, ILL Son explained that “WWJD” is “a direct reflection of how I have been pursuing my dreams for 15 years and counting; and no matter how long it takes, we shall achieve our goals.” He believes the spirituality of “WWJD” co-exists comfortably with more secular material because both types of songs simply reflect what he and Focist P are feeling from moment to moment.
“I just feel that however the music speaks to us at that moment, that is what comes from the heart,” he says. “We do not put ourselves into any kind of musical box.” He describes the audience for “WWJ” not in religious terms but as “anyone who enjoys great hip-hop music.”
This summer, they performed three shows (including “WWJD”) over two nights at the Atlanta Gospel Fest, where the likes of Shirley Caesar and Montel Jordan appeared (an experience that ILL Son describes as “a blessing’). Now ILL Son and Focist P are busy on a mixtape, video for “WWJD,” and a promotional tour.
You can be sure the experience will be inspirational.
For further exploration: check out this site for more insight into gospel hip-hop. And if you are not already fans of Marvin Gaye and Al Green, I invite you to explore their musical legacy to appreciate how two giants of music mixed the secular with the spiritual in their art.