By Katrina Schell, Performing Arts Division Head
As a button on this year’s Community Day, the LCA community welcomed Caleb (Oakboy) McCoy to give a Christian rap performance in the Cross Center. Before he even made it to the stage, the students and teachers were already chanting “Oakboy, Oakboy, Oakboy!” Warned not to start moshing, students still flooded the pit, trying their best to learn Oakboy’s lyrics and sing along with him. To some, it seemed like an exciting end to an already cohesive community day. But what actually happened? To teachers that thought the students were having the time of their lives, the actual situation was much more complicated.
Let’s examine this situation as a whole. We were able to welcome Oakboy because of the Calvin Worship Grant, the goal of which is to diversify the way the community worships and expose the student body to new ideas. The goal of inviting Oakboy was to complete the idea of the grant, and, in theory, it was a good plan. This event was intended to present a new way to worship, and, in many ways, it accomplished that goal; not often does the LCA community hear live Christian music beyond chapel band, especially not rap. However, there may be a reason for that.
Christian rap is an obscure fraction of the music industry. Despite Christian articles emphatically ensuring young people that Christian rap is “becoming mainstream,” for every Christian rap song, there are hundreds of secular playlists and artists; even music that does not include profanity is not necessarily Christian! This does not take anything away from Oakboy, and nobody wants to insult his music or the work he is doing, but that genre of music is a niche, and a very small niche at that. You are more likely to walk down the LCA hallways and hear clean versions of Drake, Eminen, and Chance than you are to hear any Christian artist, let alone Oakboy McCoy.
Oakboy is not that well-known at LCA, which is not a bad thing, in fact, it opened a path to a fresh perspective unadulterated by previous opinions, and gave the opportunity for exposing the community to a completely new artist. School popularity is not the measure of success, and exposing a mainly bubbled community to new ideas is the task of LCA. But rap music is tricky. Listening to a new Hillsong playlist, it only takes a chorus or two to get the general idea, and chapel band relies on that fact to introduce new music and ensure they are engaging the community rather than singing to themselves on stage. The genre of rap, on the other hand, typically hides its meaning in every word spoken by the artist, only giving a small piece of the general idea in the chorus; without being well-acquainted with a specific piece of rap music means that you have to try to hear every single word and make sense of it within your brain. It is hard to get hype for an artist without understanding what he is saying, and, if the student body truly wanted to make meaning out of Oakboy’s songs, most would have sat in their seats listening to every single word; this is where the confusion begins, because the student body made a decision.
There are two general ways to experience music, especially Christian music. First, you can sit in a chair, maybe stand, and listen peacefully to a message; this can be seen during LCA’s regular chapels. Chapel band leads the community in worship, and the community experiences the music personally in their chairs. However, the way teenagers view experiencing the music of popular artists is aimed towards a pseudo-mosh pit. At concerts, most people stand the entire time, or they run up to the stage, which is what most of the LCA teenage community has experienced. When Oakboy performed, the student body had a decision to make: sit in their chairs or flood the stage.
There are pros and cons to both decisions. The students recognized that, if they all stayed seated listening to every lyric, Oakboy would have felt very uncomfortable. Sitting in a chair reads as apathy, and most of us know from personal experience that even one person engaging visually in what you say can be a very helpful boost to a performance. However, a pro to this choice would have been understanding what Oakboy was saying. From student accounts, those near the stage barely understood his rap sections, and only followed along when Oakboy prompted them to a call-and-response song. They tried to make him feel comfortable, but they did not really get much meaning out of his songs.
And sadly, there are pros and cons to what actually transpired. Oakboy was welcomed enthusiastically onto the stage, and lots of students were very ready to encourage from the orchestra pit. But a con to this decision appears in the form of Oakboy fans.
“At LCA, not a lot of visitors come to speak at chapel, let alone people of color, so it was nice to see someone that looks like you… and shares the same background in a sense. However… some people didn’t want to be there or took it as a joke.” – Angelina Latin
For many LCA students, the hype was a bit disingenuous, and it did not reflect the number of students truly excited about Oakboy’s presence. Again, although it is not a problem within itself, you could count on one hand the number of true Oakboy fans in LCA, and they were not the ones cheering loudest. It was uncomfortable to those that knew Oakboy’s music to see the rest of the student body walking dangerously close to disrespectful mockery, but the alternative to have a guest sing to a room of passive teenagers is not a great situation for the school as a whole. The students did the best they could to welcome our guest and not make him feel uncomfortable, but some people ventured close to mocking Oakboy’s performance, which felt disrespectful to students that actually enjoyed his music.
Please, do not let this situation serve as a reflection on Oakboy himself, or the people that organized this event. He is a talented artist, and the goal of the school was to expose students to a new perspective. That goal was accomplished, but the execution of the day placed LCA students in a position where they were unsure of how to respond. Maybe if the concert was in the gym or on the fields, it would have been different. Maybe we should have prepared the students more for Oakboy’s specific music. No matter how the day was perceived by the community, ultimately, many students experienced a new genre of music and a time of fellowship and bonding with their peers.