STORY: An Open Letter to Christian Hip-Hop by John ‘The Tonic’ Wells


Legendary emcee from The Cross Movement, John “The Tonic” Wells wanted to pay the new generation of Christian hip-hop and its listeners a little visit into his experiences navigating Christianity, music, and ministry. Wells penned this open letter of sorts to us, and wants to continue to be a voice for the future to listen to 

Dear Family, 

I am not sure if you even remember me. 

I think it is totally understandable if you don’t. Actually, some of you may have been too young to remember me. I haven’t been around much over the past couple of years, spending any real quality time with you. I have kind of silently watched from afar, not exactly sure what input or guidance I could offer. I must also admit that when I did have something that I thought I could share, I hesitated because our family tends to either hush their old heads or substitute them for more distant relatives who many times are unable to offer more relatable encouragement simply due to relevance or proximity. Too many of our cousins outside our community seem too comfortable trying to analyze our issues without an up-close and real understanding of who we are and why we exist.

In a nutshell, this is part of the reason why I am reaching out and hoping to be around you a little more. That is, if you allow me. 

Some time ago, I had a few close co-laborers visit my home and spend the night with my nuclear family and me. What I anticipated would be a fun, quiet night of fellowship with friends, quickly turned into a long, embarrassing, relentless rebuke and critique of my neglect for our CHH family’s well-being. 

Though, there were some incredible obstacles that hindered my engagement with the family, which I thought made the conversation a bit unfair. However, what I couldn’t escape was my responsibility to, at least, offer some counsel about the struggles of our past, the good and bad of our present and the challenges of our potential ambiguous future. 

So, after that evening, I began to pray, stash and develop perspectives that I hoped to share in a comprehensive way when the time was right. I didn’t believe popping out a cave and letting off a few rants would really be a healthy and helpful contribution toward this family’s future. 

Consequently, I realize me sharing now may either be too little, too late or simply not something you’re interested in anymore, and that’s just something I have to grow to accept as a possibility. Nonetheless, I can’t help but hope that even if only a remnant of the family is able to consider a few things, it would actually be well worth it (not to mention that God is into the remnant). 

After all, who am I? I’m nobody and have always been a nobody, in terms of what the world considers a somebody. But that might be the perfect place to start. 

As we think about what this family is really in need of as well as what type of people might be able to magnify issues so that we can get at them, here are a few things we might want to consider:

It might be good if this someone knows what it’s like to pursue relevance in our present day while at the same time having the residual aroma of the latter years of the Civil Rights Movement still in the fabric of their clothes. That person would have walked through several significant eras of history and could, in some cases, be able to tell you, “what it smelled like, not just where to read about it.” I think Rakim said something like that once. 

It would possibly be a good thing if this person predated Hip-Hop, its music and its culture as someone who wasn’t born under its incredible grip and influence. This person would know well the values, music and worldview that preceded the culture. That could be a good quality. It would be dope if this same person couldn’t imagine a world without Hip-Hop, its music, its culture redeemed and its incredible grip and influence on the hearts and minds of so many today—including our family. 

Along those lines, it would be cool if this person were also an artist. They could converse with any artist, concerning music and reaching the masses through art. Having received high accolades and honors as an artist, this person couldn’t be easily dismissed in this category while at the same time counting it all poop!

What if this person also understood what it means to have navigated the music industry as an executive. What if this person not only established unprecedented deals and agreements with major Christian and secular gatekeepers, but who also had the responsibility of creating platforms and pathways for so many who came behind them. Whether by way of actual fostered opportunities or by way of indirect inspiration, including some of the top artists that you currently value. 

This person…

– values theology, but isn’t a theologian, a common man at best.

–values reaching out and tries to turn up for anything concerning cultural and theological engagement. 

– values Ministry, having 25-plus years of active experience.

– values the church, having been initially sent from it, still serves in it and is submitted to it as a member and leader.

– once co-led a movement (that sparked some other movements) and also later initiated a national campaign on behalf of CHH (Why Hip-Hop?) 

– values a view of one body, diverse—yet distinct, yet united— and doesn’t believe in cookie-cutter ministry models.

– values family, marriage, accountability and community. 

– experienced incredible, almost unbelievable and unanticipated success.

– Lastly and most importantly of all, experienced failure to varying degrees as an artist, record executive, business owner, minister and friend to name a few.

All this could actually be of great value. The wisdom God gives would want no one, including myself, to repeat lessons already learned. Why should you when someone has already done it? After all, we are still family and I love you deeply. 

In the coming days, if we could carve out some time together, I would love to share some perspectives with you about a few things that might be helpful to our people as we push forward on our journey. Please believe, this is not an attempt to get you to put some “respeck” on my name in any way whatsoever. I live to proclaim, exalt and glorify the NAME above every name—Jesus the Christ. I hope we can give each other much grace and share in peace like families should. 

Until next time, I Love You! 

– Uncle Johnny (John Wells – The Tonic) 

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