Hip Hop and Hope: Swoope’s Story Resonates Broadly, Builds Anticipation for Tampa
By Carl Stagner and staff
For some, hip hop and hope may seem dichotomous, if not entirely antithetical. But for Allen Swoope—simply known as Swoope (or Mr. Swoope) in the music industry—hip hop and hope are complementary when leveraged by the Lord and redeemed by the Spirit. Recognized in two worlds he longs to see merged, Swoope’s name bears significance on the charts and in the church. Though once in the shadow of his mother’s towering spiritual stature, Allen Swoope grew into a wielder of tremendous influence in his own right. Though garnering a fan base of millions worldwide, Allen Swoope looks forward to collaborating with an incredibly unique band of artists to lead congregational worship this year at the Church of God Convention.
Arlington Church of God in Arkon, Ohio, was Swoope’s study, school, second home, and playground (there are many uses for church pews!). He remembers spending nearly every day of his childhood at church and, though such an experience has been known to drive some preacher’s kids away from the ecclesiastical setting, it solidified young Allen’s foundation of faith. Sure, there were times he admits he wanted to just go home and play a video game, but he looks back with sincere gratitude for the investment of mentors and the formation of lifelong friends. One such key mentor and friend is “Uncle Chuck.”
Charles Myricks Jr. is known extensively in the Church of God for his exemplary leadership of Arlington Church of God today, his work for the National Association of the Church of God, and his unrivaled musical talent—among other notable gifts. But like Allen’s late mother Diana, Chuck Myricks’s notoriety and list of accomplishments are eclipsed by personal relationship. Uncle Chuck began teaching Allen to play piano at about age twelve, yet he didn’t simply reinforce technical skill; Myricks imparted musical expression, comprehension, and artistic creation to his student. Swoope recounts Myricks giving him exposure to the wide array of music the world has to offer, stretching his capacity to understand and appreciate music far outside the box of traditional worship tunes. Years of “stretching,” as Swoope puts it, positioned him strategically to incorporate a variety of instruments and sounds (including choir) into his unique sound. As a result, Swoope’s style, though at home in the category of hip hop, is certainly his own.
“Uncle Chuck taught me to listen to music, not just hear it,” Swoope says in a podcast episode of All That to Say with Jim Lyon. “In order to produce great music, you have to spend years in the ‘chamber,’” a figurative season in life he refers to as dedicated to learning, listening, stretching, and growing.
Rap wasn’t a part of the picture at all. Digging in the archives of his memories, Swoope points out that hip hop and rap weren’t accepted in the church, let alone widely accepted in popular culture. Some of that paradigm was observed in the edgy lyrics and musical elements of the genre itself, but when Steve Fitzhugh performed rap music at Arlington on one occasion that would prove providentially powerful in retrospect, Swoope was captivated. He still couldn’t imagine himself doing the same, but he noticed that the Church of God rapper (and minister) was able to articulate a remarkably comprehensive story through rhythm and rhyme. Listening to a few secular rap artists over the next few years intrigued Swoope—what if?
One of Jim Lyon’s earliest guest on the All That to Say podcast was Allen Swoope. In the fascinating and emotionally gripping long-form conversation, Swoope chronicles his meteoric rise to stardom in the field of Christian hip hop, including the widespread appeal—and thus, his witness—in the secular hip hop and rap fields. One anecdote that especially launched his unique career reveals a conversation with his pastor, Rev. Ron Fowler, with whom Swoope shared his first rap song. “I don’t know if the rapping is good,” the iconic Church of God preacher noted, “but the message is phenomenal. Make some more!”
Swoope reflects on the unique mission field in which he serves faithfully, alongside such popular artists as Lecrae, whom Swoope has toured with and credits with his own breakthrough as an artist. “The homies wanna hear beats, samples, and chords,” he says, “I’m almost on a covert mission to sneak the gospel into an audience that wouldn’t accept it at face value.”
Swoope recounts a defining moment when he was asked to record a television commercial for a prominent brand with a popular celebrity. During recording, one of the guys in charge pulled Swoope aside after listening more closely to the lyrics of his song, inquiring of him, “Is this about God?” And that started a conversational opportunity Swoope says he might not ever have otherwise had, apart from him entering the world of hip hop.
During the conversation with Jim Lyon, Swoope also speaks to topics of mental health and wholeness, issues with which he says must be confronted rather than swept under the rug; Swoope had dealt with his own season of depression. Thankfully, the Lord led him through that valley, but he recognizes the benefits of being real and seeking professional help. Still, the valley—and all the ups and downs of life—are part of Swoope’s story that comes out naturally in his music, which explains why it resonates with so many fans.
“The low points of my life probably informed me way more than the high points,” Swoope reflects. “There are certain things you learn in the valley that make you appreciate the mountaintop, but you couldn’t learn them without being in the valley.”
Swoope looks forward to the chance to reunite with friends and family at the Church of God Convention in Tampa. And the Church of God looks forward to sampling some of the unique style Swoope brings to the table in collaboration with worship leaders from across the country.
Listen to Swoope’s story in long-form conversation with Jim Lyon at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_1pNhd8fIow. Find Swoope (“Mr. Swoope”) on social media and listen to his music on playlists everywhere.
“He’s got the whole world in his hands.” What an encouraging reality! Be inspired by it, be challenged by it, and experience it firsthand at Convention 2023 and General Assembly, June 22–25 in Tampa, Florida. Learn more and register at www.chogconvention.org.