The Magazine

What Would Jesus Rap?

On the road with Junkyard Prophet, apostles to the public schools.

May 15, 2006, Vol. 11, No. 33 • By MATT LABASH
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Minneapolis

WHEN THE HISTORY of Christian rap-metal music is finally written, I pray to the Lord of Hosts that I don't have to read it. But if that fate should befall me, I'd feel gypped if it didn't include an extended encomium to the boys from Junkyard Prophet.

If you have fallen behind in your reading on the Christian "rapcore" and "nu-metal" scene, you might have missed the announcement in Heaven's Metal magazine a decade ago naming them the second best unsigned band behind P.O.D. ("Payable on Death.") Since then P.O.D. has been signed, has crossed over to the secular side, and has become a multiplatinum MTV darling. But Junkyard Prophet? They're another story.

Unless you're one of the students, teachers, or custodians sweeping out the gym at the public high school assemblies where they play and speak as part of their "You Can Run But You Cannot Hide" ministry, you've likely never heard of the Minneapolis-based quartet. In order to maintain control of their content and to ensure they can keep playing schools instead of clubs or more marketable venues, they've turned down label offers, electing to put out their own CDs.

To supplement their $1,500-per-school fee, which they often reduce or waive if schools can't pay, they fund their ministry by putting out music and literature vending tables in gas-station and Wal-Mart parking lots. When not playing schools, members of the band and their crew, all of whom consider themselves "independent missionaries," man these stations six days a week to raise funds. They have done this for the better part of a decade, laboring in the vineyards of near total obscurity. Or at least they did until last winter.

That's when the left-wing blogosphere discovered them, and grew apoplectic at the notion of their existence. How dare Junkyard Prophet preach to our children, sometimes getting paid out of Department of Education funds provided to cash-strapped schools--funds that could more usefully be spent on federal initiatives like anti-bullying programs, workshops on why kids shouldn't construct crystal-meth labs, and free condoms for students who need to work out pent-up sexual frustrations after being bullied by their meth dealers.

Junkyard's critics disparaged them as right-wing rockers in the tradition of Foghat, Ted Nugent, and the Right Brothers, the last of whom are responsible for the worst song in the history of recorded music, "Bush Was Right." Their music was said to "suck monkey balls," and one of their abstinence-themed songs was said to do the trick: "Seriously! Play it to someone you've got the hots for and they'll never come near you again." Junkyard ranked number seven on the Democratic Underground's list of "Top Ten Conservative Idiots," and would probably have landed higher had George W. Bush not held down three separate positions on the list. One contributor at the Huffington Post wrote that they'd rather their tax dollars go toward buying Junkyard Prophet enough booze to "drink themselves to death." Another said that they too disputed evolution "after hearing some of this group's music." Someone even vowed to counter-program them with "an Islamic Praise-Allah band."

But when I read all these pejorative pronouncements about these Jesus-wheezers who had vaulted over the church/state palisade under the guise of character education to rail against everything from premarital sex to overmedicating kids, who advocated taking responsibility for your bad choices, who implied that homosexuality and abortion are sins, and who apologized for none of it, I had no desire to apply for the cowbell player position in the Praise Allah Band. My reaction was quite different: I had to party with these Junkyard guys.

As the product of an evangelical upbringing, I can best describe my own relationship to Christian rock as love-hate, with heavy emphasis on the latter. I tend to subscribe to the writer Joe Bob Briggs's definition of Contemporary Christian Music as consisting of "bad songs written about God by white people." Though the quality's gone way up since I was a kid, it's always seemed that those who embrace Christian rock resemble tofu-burger eaters or near-beer drinkers--people in search of pale substitutes for things they once found pleasurable.

Which is not to say I didn't listen to it. I sort of had to. My devout parents were briefly body-snatched by a pair of legalistic Pharisees, the kind of people who put the "duh" in "fundamentalism." During these wilderness years, the folks removed my worldly music (mostly old soul records), forcing me into the near-beer parallel universe before they came to their senses.