Musicians Blind to Genre Identification for Evangelism’s Sake: The Case of Diego Tryno  

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There is a palpable cultural shift in modern pop cultures, with particular attention to music. From Kanye West, Chance the Rapper, Nicki Minaj to Tasha Cobbs, gospel music has found its place in the hip-hop world or say hip-hop has found its place in the gospel world.

By Getrude Mazambani

Kanye’s recently debuted ninth studio album ‘Jesus Is King’ floated down from the heavens just under two months ago, telling a story of a lost world star celebrating his newly-found home in the body of Christ.

The release of ‘“Finish Line/Drown” by Chance the Rapper along with legendary gospel singer Kirk Franklin a few years ago championed Christianity both in gospel spaces and outside, indicating that the opportunities for genres exchange have never been stronger.

Also, in recent years we have seen secular artists, the likes of Nick Minaj, Snoop Dogg Charlie Wilson, T.I., Justin Timbaland and Snoop Dogg climbing Billboard’s Hot Gospel Songs charts, a development that would have seemed unthinkable in yesteryears.

All of this transition serves to point out that gospel music is undergoing a small and not-insignificant evolution that is playing out as an electrifying and reciprocal stylistic dialogue between different genres of predominantly black music.

Trap drums and glossy production have infiltrated gospel. There is absolutely nothing inherently sanctified about a choral arrangement or inherently profane about an 808. In fact, merging the two genres has proved to be a sound business strategy and the shift has even moved to Zimbabwe.

In 2014, urban contemporary and hip hop musician Diego Tinotenda Chikombeka aka Diego Tryno debuted on the hip-hop scene with “Diego Go”, a song quite famous for its profanity. As cussing and ribaldry is often celebrated in hip hop cultures, the song earned him the best newcomer at Zambezi Music Awards (ZAMA).

Fast forward to 2018, Diego released his debut gospel-laden album called Lazarus. While many argued that the success of his album owes much to its double-launch with Ti Gonz’s Best Mero album, it remains to be contented that it gained quite a reception because everyone thought the artist known for dirty lyrics had released a gospel album.

Critically speaking, Lazarus is not a gospel album; it just touches on life situations and in some of the tracks, the artist merely thanks God for the generic blessings. That, one would say, doesn’t make it a gospel album, but the presence of gospel choirs on the album, rocketing heavenward in the background indubitably indicates that the rapper had a DNA of gospel in him.

Interestingly, Diego has since gone public mentioning his upcoming projects with renowned gospel musicians. His assistant manager Trissha Jones confirmed that Diego’s impending project with award-winning gospel artist Tatenda Mahachi has been one of the most awaited projects.

When contacted about how he feels about the pending project Tatenda Mahachi had this to say,

“My calling is music. This is what l was created to do and all l have to do is deliver what God placed in me. l believe l owe this world to deliver a message through music, so in doing that God has also placed brothers and sisters in my life who have a calling in music like Diego, it is good to exchange notes and collaborate on a song for the greater good of God.”

There is no shortage of direct praise to God and enthusiasm to work on a gospel mixed with a hip-hop project in Mahachi’s response.

“I’m humbled by his [Diego] willingness to do something with me, and we are looking forward to doing a song that inspires people because l believe no one is bigger than the song. We will put our efforts together and make sure we deliver a great track for the people,” Mahachi added.

Almost everything here seems to take on a spiritual hue even though hip-hop is full of industry-bucking threats from some Christians. Mahachi and Diego are too busy milly-rocking over their blessings.

Apparently, just like Tasha Cobbs, Kirk Franklin and Fred Hammond, Mahachi believes that there is a place for Christian and secular musicians to collaborate and he didn’t seem fazed about the anti-hip-hop in gospel talks.

“Hip hop is a music genre like gospel, sungura, dance hall, etc. What matters to me is the message we are sending to the people through the lyrics in a song. l don’t see anything wrong in praising God with hip hop or doing a collaboration with a hip hop artist as long the lyrics suits what l believe in. It’s about creativity and that’s art and surely listeners will always love great music,” said the Victory singer.

Seasoned gospel songwriter and singer Mai Dangarembizi also share the same progressive sentiment with Mahachi.

Equally poised to be working with Diego Tryno, she sees nothing wrong with mixing genres when praising the Lord. In fact, she is utterly delightful about it.

“I’m very excited about my project with Diego. It was something that just came in my mind, and I saw it fit to engage with the artist and our only intention is to preach the Word and the Word shall be preached regardless of which genre we use,” she said.

Diego’s hope for salvation is obviously not limited to himself, and he certainly intends to indulge his fans through these pending projects. As a rapper and contemporary singer, he is everything we love about music, through his willingness to explore other genres and defy limitations. This shift attempts to move hip-hop past Planet Rock and into the Good Heavens.

Getrude Mazambani is an award-winning journalist and writer. She has written for The Atlantic, Harper’s, New York Times, Boston Globe, as well as reports and documentaries for Christ Embassy Christian journals. She has been a frequent correspondent for the Christian Community.

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