Friday, October 24, 2008

Mary Mary + David Banner = "Superfriend" : A Critique of the Controversial Collab

So Mary Mary’s got a new record out and a lot of the early buzz seems to center around the appearance of mainstream rapper David Banner on the track “Superfriend.”

The questions seem to go:

- Is Banner a Christian or recent convert?
- Does his verse add or detract from the message of the song?
- Can the feature give Banner a false validation for his faith and standing with the Holy One?
- And why in the world didn’t the girls just Reach out (pun intended) to some quality gospel rap cats we know like Lecrae, Trip Lee, or Da’ T.R.U.T.H.?

Some of you have passionate, easy, and clear-cut answers to the questions. Others see some shades of gray.

My thoughts:

Is Banner a Christian or recent convert?

I don’t know. I would imagine that he, like a large portion of rappers, would define his faith as Christian. His albums often carry spiritual themes - his latest being “The Greatest Story Ever Told.” And his songs and lyrics will frequently touch upon several social ills such as the lack of fraternal role models and the devastating impacts of poverty – things that I’m sure prick the heart of Christ and his followers.

At the same time, his biggest hits are songs with titles such as “Like a Pimp” and “Stuntin’ Is a Habit” that seem to go in a totally opposite direction. His last album even carried the seemingly contradictory title “Baptized In Dirty Water” that appears to exemplify this dual nature.

Does his verse add or detract from the message of the song?

Actually, his lyrics seem to be the most directly spiritual on the song. Mary Mary’s “Superfriend” sounds awfully vague whereas Banner specifically references God as “Lord” and “Christ” and acknowledges the enemy of Satan.

Banner also admits he is weak, says he doesn’t deserve God’s blessings on his life, believes more in relationship than religion, and says he knows there is nothing that could separate the grip that Jesus has over his soul.

On the other hand, there’s the admission that he curses in his music, deals with angry outbursts against authority figures, and turns to sex and drugs to fill voids in his spirit. He also describes the “superfriend” hugging him a night and seems to say Jesus is just a “plan for greater peace.”
Toward the end, he also shouts out his previous Billboard bullets by saying “Stuntin’ Is a Habit” and that people assume he’s a “pimp.”

So again, we hear the two sides of David B.

Can the feature give Banner a false validation for his faith and standing with the Holy One?

Perhaps. In interviewing Christian artists for the upcoming “Fence” documentary with Tre9, this was a valid argument I heard against doing such collaborations with secular rappers. There is a fear that it gives the artist a stamp of approval from the Christian community and allows them to feel like their relationship to the Messiah is just fine because other believers still work with and accept him.

Now, for me personally, I can accept and respect that standpoint. I also see and know of cases where these collabs have opened up opportunities for ministry, discipleship, and greater spiritual accountability.

My opinion:

I think it has to be decided on a case-by-case basis with prayer and direction from the Holy Spirit. That’s often a component we leave out when we want to draw hard and fast rules and regulations around this art we’ve given to God’s glory. Although we should have standards, I think we also need to allow room for the Trinity to work outside of our boxes when prompted.

And why in the world didn’t the girls just get some quality gospel rap cats we know like Lecrae, Trip Lee, or Da’ T.R.U.T.H.?

This one is a little bit harder to answer. We KNOW Mary Mary has been exposed to quality Christian rap throughout their careers – even recently being on tour with someone like Da’ T.R.U.T.H.

Perhaps it was label pressure to get a guest artist with a higher mainstream profile. Maybe they already had a relationship with Banner (which it sounds like - see the 106 & Park link below) and wanted to draw him closer with a collab.

I’m not sure other than to say I believe a better and clearer gospel message could have been delivered by one of our community’s top-shelf MCs than someone from the mainstream who appears to still be struggling to fully express his faith in his music and lifestyle.

And since Mary Mary is an R&B/urban gospel type group, the few rap features they DO put on their albums really stand out and should be considered with great care.

For this one, I’m going to say they probably should have used someone known as an established Christian rapper.

And I’m also going to give props for David Banner’s apparent push toward the cross in his life and lyrics. Had this verse been on his own album I think it could have been a highlight of the project. But since it’s on Mary Mary’s record and is being marketed to the church crowd, it just comes off like dirty baptismal water.


Oh yeah, just between you and me, you might want to check out the launch of on November 4 for some comments about David Banner’s faith and action directly from the dude’s mouth.

Related links:

Mary Mary talk about the collab on BET's 106 & Park

A different perspective

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