By Stephen Baldwin, RealWV
Back in the mid 1980s, Dale Elwell was a student at Concord College experiencing depression. He was wrestling with questions about God and his faith, primarily.
After a period of reflection, he made a commitment to serve God. He found hope and joy…and wanted to spread the good news so that others could find it too. But how could he relay that message?
He always enjoyed rap music and found it to be a way he could express his genuine self.
“Man, this is something I can do,” he remembers saying to himself when considering if rap was his path.
“I got up in a talent show at church camp in Hinton and rapped,” he recalls. “It just hit, man. They loved it.”
For several years, Dale and his buddies played Christian rap shows around the area. But then his life took a turn. He got married, had kids, and went to seminary in North Carolina. He didn’t tell anyone about his rap music background.
“I just decided to tuck it away,” he shares. “I told God if he wanted me to do it he would need to stir it up. It felt awkward as I was getting older.”
A conversation with God
In the two decades that followed, Dale worked in various ministries serving as a pastor, preacher, evangelist, missionary, and musician. But never a rapper. Until 2018, when God nudged him.
“I was in a period of fasting and prayer for 40 days,” he tells RealWV. What unfolded next was a conversation with God he will never forget.
GOD: Hey Dale, remember when you first came to Christ in college?
GOD: Remember when you didn’t know how to preach or sing and didn’t have all this theological training? It was all so simple.
GOD: Remember when you were just excited about Jesus? And you just wanted to tell people and started rapping?
DALE: I remember.
GOD: I want you to do that again.
DALE: (Laughing out loud) Are you kidding me? Does a 52-year old man rap?
GOD: A 52-year old man that wants to follow me does whatever I tell him.
DALE: Well, alright.
Asking his kids for their blessing
Dale clearly heard a call from God to a new type of ministry. But he had reservations. Big ones.
“I still felt awkward about it at my age,” he says. “If what I’m doing is awkward and cheesy, I’m gonna embarrass my kids.”
So he sat down with his family one day, played them a few tracks, and told them the call he was feeling from God.
“I was prepared to drop it right then,” he remembers. But to his surprise, they said, “‘Dad, it’s good! You need to do this.’”
Testing the waters
Before he jumped on the microphone, Dale wanted to be sure people would understand where he was coming from. “I’m just trying to be me,” he says of his intentional focus on being true to his calling while also being sensitive to how that might affect people in his life.
First, he told his congregation at Greenbrier Baptist Church. They were supportive.
Second, he told his board at Cross Culture Ministries, a nonprofit he started years before. They too were supportive. Dale remembers a 70-year old board member telling him, “I don’t like rap music, but I see what God is doing through you. You need to do this.”
Next, he started playing a few tracks at worship services, including one on a mission trip to Mexico. He found support there too. “It just felt so right,” Dale says.
Which all led…back to his living room.
Bridegroom–the first single
Dale experimented with various tracks over the last year. He would always take them back to his kids for their honest feedback.
“The first few I played for them,” he tells RealWV, “they said sounded real old school. I said really? I’m trying to be current while being true to myself.”
They told him to keep trying. Which is exactly what he did. He kept writing and rapping and finding new tracks from DJs. Then one day a scripture came to mind.
“I remembered John the Baptist talking about how he was a friend of the bridegroom,” he says. “The friend is there not for himself but to point to the bridegroom. That’s when it hit. That’s what this is about.”
He wrote a new song called “Bridegroom” describing his relationship to rap music. The idea, he says, is, “I must decrease so God can increase; it’s not about me; it’s about pointing to God.” He asked his daughter to sing the hook, and it came together.
“It had a new sound,” he beams. “So my buddy Nick Cornwell brought his equipment over and we recorded it right there in my living room.” In addition to his daughter, Hannah Elwell, the track also features Charles Walker.
You can find the song on various platforms right now.
A music video, shot in Lewisburg and Ronceverte, WV, will premier later this month.
In addition to the music video for Bridegroom, Dale is putting together a tour in 2024. A few dates are already scheduled. Here’s where you can catch him at a live show:
Jan 14 at First Baptist Shady Spring, 6pm
Feb 11 at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Princeton, 7pm
Cross Culture Ministries includes five musicians in total. Dale says their goal is to engage the broader culture, being a positive presence in the community. They share resources, such as their sound system, and play alongside each other live and in recordings.
“We want to encourage the whole music culture in this area,” Dale adds. “The only difference between many local musicians and the ones you hear on the radio is they haven’t gotten their break yet. There are so many good musicians around here.”
How can a preacher also be a rapper?
Dale knows what he does is outside the box. How many preachers do you know that rap for Jesus? Exactly. Not many.
“So much rap, and I’m not trying to down other artists, is all about ‘Look at me,’” he says. “With me, there’s not much to look at! I’ve come to grips with that.”
But for Dale, it’s not about Dale.
“Nobody is going to want to see a 57 year old man rap if it’s not real,” he shares. “I am not doing this for me, I am doing it for my King.”
Stay tuned to RealWV for updates on the Bridegroom music video and tour.