Hip Hop Gospel (originally Gospel rap, also known as holy hip hop or Christ hop) is a form of hip hop music which uses Christian themes to express the songwriter's faith. Only during the 1990s did this term "Christian hip hop" become descriptive of this type of music. While the audience is typically Christian, the music is also used in (Christian) missions work for the purpose of evangelization. Christian rap and hip hop artists are often professed Christians who often use their background to spread the religion's beliefs.
Since hip-hop started in the 1970s, various hip-hop artists have expressed their spiritual beliefs, including Christianity in their lyrics. Sometimes faith may be evident in part of a song or other times an entire song or album may focus on Christian beliefs.. Examples include MC Hammer's #2 single Pray,also Richie Rich and his first single Don't Do It many of Tupac's lyrics and his first posthumous record, The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory, the image of Tupac nailed to a cross pinned him as a Hip-Hop martyr, and even recent hip hop/rap artists like Jay-Z with Kingdom Come, DMX with Walk With Me Now and You'll Fly With Me Later, and Kanye West with "Jesus Walks". However, these artists, although they may profess to be Christians, are not generally considered to be part of the Christian hip-hop movement.
The first commercially released and distributed Gospel rap album was Stephen Wiley's 1985 album Bible Break, distributed by Benson Music Group. Reverend DeWayne GoLightly (aka Rev. Rap') was the first Christian hip-hop artist without a commercially released Gospel rap cassette. More commercially successful was the crew known as P.I.D. (short for Preachas In Disguise) who released five popular, funky Gospel rap recordings ("Here We Are", "Back to Back","The Chosen One's", "Born with the Gift" and "Violent Playgrounds" ).
In the late 1980s, other crews emerged, including dc Talk and S.F.C (Soldiers For Christ). S.F.C was led by Californian African-American Chris Cooper who originally rapped as Super C (short for Super Chris / Super Christian) and later became Sup the Chemist and then finally Soup the Chemist. Chris Cooper & S.F.C. were instrumental in bringing up and exposing newer Gospel groups such as T-Bone.. Christian emcee Danny "D-Boy" Rodriguez was another well known early Gospel rap artist but was murdered in 1990 in Texas.
The 1990s saw the continuing trend of funky rap artists blending faith and rap, such as D.O.C. (Disciples of Christ) who emerged out of Oklahoma as well as the Gospel Gangstaz from Compton and South Central Los Angeles, California. Additional artists made a considerable impact on the Christian hip-hop scene. Such artists that contributed were Dynamic Twins, Freedom of Soul, IDOL King, Apocalypse. S.F.C.'s (Sup, QP, DJ Dove) 1992 album Phase III is considered to be a turning point in Christian rap. Phase III was DJed and produced by DJ Dove, whose credits also include the Gang Affiliated, Gospel Gangstas' 1993 debut album.
One of the major influences in the genre came with the formation of Gotee Records in 1994, cofounded by dc Talk member Toby McKeehan, making it the first record label marketed explicitly for Christian Hip-hop and R&B that was backed by a major label. The label was among the first to market the Contemporary Christian Music market through distribution at Christian bookstores and playing on Christian radio. This Trend continued with other labels such as Tooth & Nail's Uprok Records and others which gave an outlet to hip-hop artists who identified themselves as Christian and wanted a broader market. However, much of the sales of these Christian record labels was purchased by people brought up in the church and 70-80% of them being white. Recently, a number of artists and labels such as LifeLite Records, Cross Movement Records, Gotee Records, Syntax Records, and Deepspace5 Records, and The New Unstoppable Records have purposely tried to market more to people who did not grow up in church as well as more to urban markets.
In addition, many major Gospel stars were getting in on the hip-hop & rap genre. Kirk Franklin joined with the 1 Nation Crew in the album Kirk Franklin presents 1NC. Gospel legend Pastor Shirley Caesar recorded a stunning duet "I Know The Truth" with Tonex in which she raps.