I grew up on gospel music, listening to songs of the genre that would be considered classics. My grandmother was the choir director of a church in Detroit, where I spent every summer. My mother took me to Washington, D.C.’s Vermont Avenue nearly every Sunday morning, and on the occasional seventh day I wasn’t sitting in a pew, I was inundated all morning with the gospel selections of WHUR’s Jacquie Gales Webb until noon.
I don’t attended church regularly anymore, but I can roll off the lyrics to “Order My Steps” (in heavy rotation on my iPhone), “It Is Well With My Soul” and “How Great Thou Art” with ease. I catch the spirit (and sing along) to Ledisi’s version of “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” from the Selma soundtrack, Yolanda Adam’s “I Love the Lord” from the 2012 NAACP Awards and Fantasia’s chilling “Oh Mary Don’t You Weep” from the recent Black Girls Rock! Awards. When it comes to gospel, my taste seems to lean toward that of a traditionalist.
And still, I find no real issue with “I Luh God,” the controversial new single from Erica Campbell, one half of the Mary Mary gospel duo. Campbell’s latest offering is a traditional gospel message—have faith, God has blessed me, get on it (“it” being God/Christianity)—set to a “trap” beat, one you’d expect from maybe Three 6 Mafia or UGK.
There’s also some slang—she’s in “luh,” not “love”—thrown in for good measure. Mary Mary has often blurred the lines of gospel and secular—there was outrage over the group’s award-winning song, “God in Me,” which found its way into clubs. Then there was the controversy over an Instagram photograph of Campbell in a curve-hugging dress—but with “I Luh God,” some say Campbell has finally gone too far.
“In an attempt to reach new audiences, Erica is falling into the same trap (so to speak) as your favorite trash-radio rappers—dumbing down their messages to appeal to soft-minded listeners,” writes Edward Bowser at Soul in Stereo, encompassing the sentiment of naysayers. “It’s not the direction I have beef with, it’s the preschool-level message. I mean look at the title alone–‘I Luh God.’ Playa, you can’t take an extra millisecond to properly pronounce love? The production, the lyrics, everything is embarrassingly basic and has none of the substance of earlier contemporary hits like ‘Shackles’ or ‘Go Get It’ or ‘God in Me.’
“And I won’t even get into the sheer madness of christening a genre of gospel ‘trap,’” Bowser added. “Who told Erica it was cute to name hymns after drug houses?”
Campbell defended “I Luh God” on the Tom Joyner Morning Show.
“Everyone doesn’t speak properly,” she said. “Everyone doesn’t live in a well-maintained, manicured neighborhood. People live in rough neighborhoods and they speak how they speak. No matter where you are, you have to acknowledge that you’re blessed. Everybody don’t like it. Some people are upset about it, but they’ll be all right. God don’t live in a box. Why should I?”
Personally, I prefer it when Campbell (and her sister) shows off the range of her powerhouse voice, so “I Luh God” isn’t my clichéd cup of tea. But there’s nothing inherently wrong with the song. Yes, it’s a gully, hip-hop beat, but she’s not singing about being “in love with the coco.” She’s singing about God. What separates gospel from every other genre isn’t the beat, it’s the message. And “I Luh God,” ebonics and all, doesn’t falter from gospel music’s core foundation: the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Let Campbell live. And sing. And rap (kinda). Her new song—and likely, her next hit—is the intersection of “reaching people where they are” and ministering through music. Somewhere, there is a young woman with green hair, who is known to declare on Instagram how much she “luhs herself” some-something. And right this moment, she is bopping in her car, singing about loving God because of this here trap beat. How is that a bad thing?
Demetria Lucas D’Oyley is a contributing editor at The Root, a life coach and the author of Don’t Waste Your Pretty: The Go-to Guide for Making Smarter Decisions in Life & Love as well as A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life. Follow her on Twitter.