Jr. Jay-Zs for Jesus 

Christian hip-hop exists in the Bay Area -- you just haven't heard it. Yet.

Soon, Christian missionaries will arm themselves with hip-hop vernacular when they go out to spread the Word. It's good to know this, so you can avoid a potentially confusing conversation when it's early Saturday morning and the fellow in the suit on your doorstep announces, "Brother, I've got some dope news for you!"

You, still bleary-eyed, reply, "Word?"

And he responds, "That's right, the Word! WORD UP!"

"Well, word up to you, too."

"And what a good Word it is, isn't it?"

"Huh?"

Depending on how early it is, you might not catch on until he hands you a Bible.

Thankfully, the holy hip-hop movement is subtler and more media-savvy than that. Rather, missionaries with laptops will reel in potential converts with a DVD that details Christianity's central teachings, translated into eight different languages -- one being hip-hop.

And it be, like it should/God saw everything that He made in the hood/And it was all good, raps the narrator, local MC and minister Modavador G, on the passage about creation. The recording is part of the God's Story Project, a long-running effort to translate Jesus' messages into as many tongues as possible. Hip-hop is the 89th so far.

"The idea is to cover the essentials of the Bible for those who want to learn more about Christ early in their walk, in words that they understand," Modavador G explains. "Basically, I translated scripture into contemporary, motivational-type poetry for Christians."

The buzzword in the church right now is "relevant." (When we say "church" here, we're talking mostly about the fundamentalist, born-again sector of it. The Pope, for one, doesn't seem particularly concerned with keeping up with the times.) Since the Jesus Movement of the '70s -- in which long-haired Christians strapped on electric guitars in hopes of reaching the youth -- pop music has served as the church's primary means for keeping its message timely. Recently, rock groups like Creed, POD, and Evanescence have topped the charts while espousing messages that are at least tacitly Christian, and just about every church with a significant draw has a youth ministry that uses pop music in its services.

Still, churches have approached hip-hop with hesitation, especially in the Bay Area, which has a particularly conservative gospel music community. But in the last two or three years, a few local churches have started such ministries -- Modavador G holds a holy hip-hop worship service every Saturday night at First Missionary Baptist Church in Marin City. Pastor Easop, a rapper with two albums under his belt, hosts Christian MCs at his Realm of Blessings church in Daly City. And Agerman, who shared tracks with E-40 as a member of 3X Krazy before giving his life to Jesus, is starting to make noise in the tiny national Christian hip-hop market.

Yes, it's still tiny. Considering the demographics involved -- millions of Christians, slightly fewer millions of hip-hop consumers -- Christian hip-hop sounds like a slam-dunk on paper. But only three out-of-the-closet Christian rappers (those for whom Christianity is central to their whole personality) have sold more than 100,000 copies: T-Bone, who came up in SF's Mission District and recently starred in the movie The Fighting Temptations; the Gospel Gangstaz, reformed gang-bangers from South Central; and GRITS, a Southern-flavored group out of Atlanta. To put that in perspective, a hot mainstream hip-hop album will sell 400,000 copies in its first week; The Eminem Show sold more than ten million overall.

Even beyond its diminutive sales, Christian hip-hop suffers from a perplexing invisibility in the popular consciousness. Most hip-hoppers, even the ones who comb the underground, have no idea it exists. As a result, Christian rappers scrape by with day jobs, self-releasing their albums without distribution deals, which means mostly selling CDs on consignment at Christian bookstores. Often, they perform at churches for small honorariums, if anything.

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