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Mention Christian hip-hop and your friends will look at you like you have a diamond stud in your tooth. At least that’s how they look at me.

Rap is definitely an underground culture in the subculture of contemporary Christian music. It’s still struggling for respect, but it has moved up a notch in the last few years — mostly because of tobyMac.

When dc talk’s members decided to pursue independent projects a few years ago, it was rapper Toby McKeehan’s CD “Momentum” that saw the most success. Strong beats and rich instrumentals backed hard-hitting lyrics that didn’t shy away from tough topics. For example, the biggest hit, “Irene,” was about teen pregnancy.

McKeehan may hold the title of religious hip-hop king, but there are other contenders who shouldn’t be ignored. The two best are Nicole C. Mullen and Grits.

Mullen is better known for her soaring vocals in “Call On Jesus” and “Redeemer.” However, her albums display a broader range, with songs like “Baby Girl” and “Talk About It” providing a definitely urban flavor.

My personal favorite is Grits. Coffee (Stacy Jones) and Bonafide (Teron Carter) have been around for a while, but their most recent and best CD is “The Art of Translation.” This is an act that can meld hip-hop, Scripture and modern concerns. For example, “Here We Go” probes problems with both mainstream urban music and the modern church. They aren’t even afraid to ask some tough questions about their listeners, such as “Do you understand the ill-coined phrase ‘gospel rapper’?”

However, beyond these three acts, the pickings get pretty slim. Artists often struggle either musically or lyrically, making them look like pale imitations of mainstream acts.

For more info on tobyMac, go to www.tobymac.com ; Mullen, go to www.nicolecmullen.com; and Grits, well, they appear to be working on that, but you can keep checking www.grits7.com.

On the charts

Top contemporary Christian albums as reported by SoundScan, according to The Associated Press.

1. “Simple Things,” Amy Grant.

2. “Almost There,” MercyMe.

3. “Worship Together: I Could Sing of Your Love Forever,” Various Artists.

4. “Worship Together: Be Glorified,” Various Artists.

5. “Sacred Revolution: Songs From OneDay03,” Passion Worship Band.

6. “Stacie Orrico,” Stacie Orrico.

7. “The Beautiful Letdown,” Switchfoot.

8. “WOW Worship (Yellow),” Various Artists.

9. “Offerings II: All I Have to Give,” Third Day.

10. “Spoken For,” MercyMe.

— Today’s Praise is a roundup of news and reviews from the contemporary Christian music industry. It appears every other week on the Religion page.

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