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Kolt Kodesh: the newest face in Catholic hip-hop

What happens when a Black Christian rapper from South Jersey sees the light and swims the Tiber? Perhaps the beginnings of a Catholic hip-hop revolution.

Kolt Kodesh, Catholic hip-hop’s newest member, dropped his newest single today, “Green Lantern”—his second single released since his confirmation this past Easter.

It’s available on all streaming platforms and has a music video slated for release on July 2nd.

Recently named the winner of Rapzilla’s “Hot or Not” submission contest on June 4th, the upstart 23-year-old, also known as David Hyman, seems well on his way to the big time—relatively speaking, of course, residing in a genre yet to break into the mainstream.

Simply put: if Catholic rap is new to you, you’re not alone. It’s not exactly the best-known form of Catholic music, but it’s been on the rise since the early aughts (though mostly making inroads among Latinx and White Catholics).

Indeed, the concept of a Black Catholic rapper is relatively rare. But Hyman is changing that narrative, joining the likes of John Levi and Melvin “Rabelzthemc” Windley as an African American emcee in good with the Magisterium.

“It’s crazy how small the Catholic CHH scene is,” Hyman told BCM, referring to the Catholic space within ‘Christian hip-hop’.

That latter phenomenon has roots in the late 1980s, when Stephen Wiley released “Bible Break”, widely regarded as the first-ever Christian rap cut.

Catholics in rap, however, go much further back, to the fathers of the hip-hop movement—including the Watts Prophets’ Anthony “Amde” Hamilton, who later became an Ethiopian Orthodox priest.

He was followed in the genre by household names such as New York City’s James Todd “LL Cool J” Smith, Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs (aka Diddy), Darryl “DMC” McDaniels of Run DMC, Christopher “Biggie” Wallace (aka the Notorious B.I.G.), and New Orleans’ Percy “Master P” Miller—all of whom were or are Catholic, but who are not known for explicitly Catholic music.

A lyrically Catholic rap scene emerged in the early 2000s, according to Phatmass, a website run by Dustin "Dust" Sieber (and passed on to me by Catholic hip-hop historian and promoter D.J. Carney).

Unsurprisingly, much of modern Catholic rap is centered around social media, including a more than 2,000-strong Facebook group called “The Catholic Hip-Hop Forum” (administered in part by Carney), where songs, events, and artists are promoted.

Hyman got an introduction into the scene by posting one of his early Catholic rap clips there earlier this year.

“I was like, ‘Hey guys, I’m doing Catholic hip-hop’, and [Carney] just hopped on it and welcomed [me] to the group,” he said.

From there, a phone conversation with Carney led Hyman to introductions to other Catholic rappers like Ryan “Kody Free” Olson, and to Olson's collaborators among up-and-comers in the larger CHH scene.

“It was just crazy, because I started this whole thing in, like, the end of February,” Hyman said.

Newcomer or not, his story and his music struck a chord with his peers, and soon the South Jersey native was flying to Houston to record his first record with the help of Alfonso “Separate M1nd” Pedroza of Foundnation (the Catholic rap group to which John Levi also belongs).

The group, along with priest-collaborator Fr Masseo “El Padrecito” Gonzales, is on a “Catholic Hip-Hop & Tacos” tour to promote the genre, and held their first event in Los Angeles shortly before Hyman’s visit to H-Town. (The second stop on the tour is scheduled for tomorrow there in Houston, and the third in Tampa on August 14th.)

Another member of the crew, Carlos “C2Six” Zamora, made the drive in from Dallas-Fort Worth to meet Hyman, and local Catholic rapper Daniel-Tony “Prodigyl” Chakkramakkil also joined in to welcome the genre’s newest member.

“We made a few nice tracks, we went to Mass, we laughed the whole time. It was amazing,” Hyman recalled.

“I [had been] really studying those guys, and then some months later, I’m just out there with them like that.”

Hyman even noted that John Levi’s appearance on EWTN’s Coming Home Network series was instrumental in his conversion, as one of the few Black Catholic rappers who “talks that talk” (i.e., raps about his Catholic faith).

One interesting thing to note about the larger CHH scene, other than its generally non-Catholic nature, is its markedly Reformed Protestant emphasis, especially among its more popular artists in their ascendant years.

Lecrae is one example, and is probably the best-known Christian rapper at present. He and his Reach Records label, also preeminent, were once known as a bastion of Black Calvinist musical thought—to the point that the emphasis on Reformation principles might have turned the average Catholic listener off.

Those days are long gone for Reach and in the genre overall, and it's still difficult for Christian rappers to gain traction without watering down their message to reach a wider audience.

Hyman has decided on a markedly different approach, opting for “Catholic overtones” on his upcoming EP.

“I was a little nervous making it, because I’m still getting used to praying to the Blessed Mother, talking about the Blessed Mother, and explicitly stating that type of stuff,” he said.

“I want everyone to love me, of course—Protestants and Catholics alike—but I feel like I have a duty, as my truth.”

He noted that one track on the EP, which hones in on Mary as well as Martin Luther, might turn heads for its fiery message, perhaps akin to the aforementioned heyday of boldly Protestant Christian rap.

Likewise, he said he feels he has a duty to give his all to the musical craft, coming from a family of amateur musicians—but also that of the late R&B vocal legend Phyllis Hyman, who is his first cousin once removed.

He says the veterans of the Catholic hip-hop scene “have been praying for the younger guys to come in”, and he feels it just might be a sign from God.

“I feel like I may be called to do this.”

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, in priesthood formation with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).

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