Street Hymns: A Battle Rapper Making Hymns for the Streets
This article was originally written and published in 2014.
“Doin hymns for the streets cause the streets need Him”
This is the Motto of Mitchell West aka Street Hymns, a 23-year old Christian rapper living in Dallas, Texas.
To use his words, “my testimony is not a horror story”. Mitchell was raised in a two-parent home in suburban areas. According to his father, when Mitchell was four years old he woke him up late at night and said that he had a song from Jesus. That night Mitchell asked his dad how Jesus could save him. He has been following Jesus from a young age, and says that by God’s grace “I am twenty-three years old and I’ve never been drunk, never got high or smoked, The Lord kept me in my purity and I’m still a virgin.”
He is also a battle rapper. Battle rap matches usually have three rounds each lasting 2-5 minutes where rappers talk “in a way that makes themselves look better from a ‘tough guy’ stance”. Unlike most battle rappers, Street Hymns’ motives for battling is his desire to “go in there and be a light, encouraging my opponent.”
“I saw a lot of opportunity to minister in battle rap.”
Street Hymns started battle rapping with his friends in high school. He had always loved it, but battle rapping was never a serious ordeal for him. A few years ago, a friend of Mitchell posted to Instagram about the DFW [Dallas/Fort Worth] Battle League. Mitchell’s friend encouraged him to try it out, but he didn’t think it was for him.
A year later, the league had gotten more popular and Mitchell kept hearing about it. People said that the rappers in the league were talented lyricists, but were speaking very negatively. Despite seeing the negativity of it, Mitchell says,
“it definitely helps when you understand that a lot of it is entertainment-based. Outside of battle rapping, many of them are nice guys.”
Mitchell decided to contact the league owner in attempt to become a part of it, but it did not work out. He decided to leave alone his desire to battle rap, but then he met a battle rapper in the league, Ron Swish, at a restaurant a few weeks later. Mitchell asked Ron if there was a way he could get into the league, and in turn Ron gave him the contact info of a man who gave Mitchell his first battle.
When he was nervous before his first battle against Sparrow, he talked to another Christian battle rapper Th3 Saga, who said “Be yourself, who you are in Christ; be that to them. You can’t go in there and be somebody else that you are not.” The encouragement helped Mitchell to understand that he is an individual rooted in Jesus who is able to strongly project his faith in his life.
“Who you are seeing in my battle rapping videos is who I am in real life. I can only tell you what I know and who I am.”
So far, Street Hymns has taken part in two different battles, facing opponents respectively named Sparrow and Rex Parker. In each verse, he gives a general message, but in the last four bars he shares some bible references that many don’t understand. In round two of his battle with Sparrow, he said…
“We all sin, but if you admit one, like tickets you get at the state fair row, you guilty of them all. Now you probably thinking, ‘man that ain’t fair,’ Row, God is a just judge, so just cause you got heart and go hard on a verse, in this battle, son you’ll lose your first, this is Moses versus Pharaoh. Now that probably pass over yall’s heads.”
He finishes every verse by saying “That’s what bible studies are for. If you don’t Google that, hit me on my Facebook, we can bible study more.” Multiple rappers in the league have taken Mitchell up on that offer, and he would like to have bible studies online as well as at his home, Lord willing.
In his own words, “The ‘bible study more’ is a good segway that people can hear and say, ‘This dude is a nice lyricist and I really want to understand what that bible study bar was about and not get left out.’” There are battle rappers coming to his church now and it is becoming a ministry in itself, and of course he welcomes any prayers coming his way.
Street Hymns is using battle rapping to shine the light of Christ in dark places. “It is the battlefield and I am going into a dark place. The place where I did my first battle had a bar right next to us, people were getting drunk, stripper pole behind us; we were in the midst of there praying.”
Some of the people at the bar approached him surprised, saying, “Hey, that was crazy. I didn’t know that The Lord was actually using rappers like that.”
There was a drunken man there who said, “I don’t know about that bible study, but that was definitely some dope rap.” Mitchell told that man that God had a calling on him, but also thought that he was too drunk to understand. Street Hymns is truly using his gifts to be a light in the dark and a hospital for the sick.
In his battles, Mitchell wants to use dope bars throughout his verses. He practices his craft and says, “If we’re called to do something in excellence, I’ve got to be sharp. I would say that for me to go in there unprepared would not be biblical.” He doesn’t want to confuse people, so he wants his humility to be clear.
“I’m not saying that to say ‘Oh snap, I’m a dope rapper’ but The Lord has called me in the hip-hop culture to be a light and a minister of the Gospel. When I say dope bars, I believe that I am using my gift for excellence.”
When his opponent is speaking, Mitchell wants to be attentive and listen to them. He believes that musical artists are the philosophers of the day, and that most of them are using music to share their worldviews and perspectives. “If what you are saying is real and what you live by, I’m going to give you an ear.” After listening, he wants to respond as he is called to with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
If it were not for other Christians being lights and taking part in battle rap, he would not have a foundation to boldly proclaim the Gospel through that form. He wants to “pass of to cats like Mr. Biscuits, Isaac Knoxx, Th3 Saga, Ed Ward, and Propaganda when he was doing it” who have inspired him to try battle rapping.
In preparation for his battles, he familiarizes himself with his opponents and he also prays. “Going in there without having prayed is dangerous.” In modern battle rapping, the rappers prepare their verses beforehand, and Street Hymns is no exception. He does involved freestyle elements, but they are mostly at the start of his verses and in response to what his opponent said.
Before his battles you will see Street Hymns circled up with his team praying. “I get advice from a lot of people as far as me doing ministry, that one of the things to always push is praying and understanding that to be in a situation where darkness is promoted and evident everywhere, we are going in there to be a light and we have to be covered.”
For his motto, “Doin’ hymns for the streets cause the streets need Him” he takes a concept that many people are familiar with. “People who grew up in the old school churches are used to singing hymns all the time. Those hymns are praises unto The Lord.” He wants to put a modern twist on old school hymns.
‘I’m doing songs that can relate to the culture.”
As faith comes by hearing, Street Hymns uses lots of elements pointing to Scripture and the Gospel in his rapping. He wants people to be able to listen to his music and say, “Yo, this is a Christian rapping and a Christian rapper making music that I can relate to, even if I am not a Christian myself.” He seeks to share the truth of Jesus Christ with the streets through his music and in his life.
Outside of music, he has a heart for helping those in need. He is currently serving at a newly planted church called Restoration Community Church in the southern part of Dallas, Texas. The church is in an area with a lot of poverty and homelessness; there is a great need for Jesus in that community, which is a need that he wants to help provide.
Central to the message he seeks to communicate is that of purity. “I’m a Christian rapper who holds the message of purity that you can live pure for The Lord.” Though his testimony does not include being delivered from the vices that trap many others, he wants to “teach the message of purity because The Lord God calls us to be pure before Him, to live as sacrifices.” He believes that it is possible to uphold a high standard of purity with God’s grace to help.
Street Hymns’ next battle is against a rapper called DC on December 27th. He welcomes people who can come, and wants to warn them that “it will be a bit comical.” He also asks,
“Please be praying for me and more so I encourage everyone as I do for myself, pray for my opponent. I really do feel like The Lord gives me a message to present to them and I really want them to receive it.”
You can also expect to hear new music from Street Hymns soon. He is planning to release a new collaborative project with KiShon Furlow called ‘Kings and Vagabonds’ in late January. “We are coming from the perspective of people, who are viewed as or are lowly, and that same concept vice versa. Christ came in the form of somebody; He didn’t come in a royal robe. He came as a servant though He was a King.”
They will be talking about “the highs and lows of life and the highs and lows of people’s perspectives, whether it be morality, status and how you feel about yourself; talking about different issues and perspectives in that aspect.”
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