Ladies and Gentlemen, brothers and sisters, Quakaz and Gangstaz: You are witnessing a revolution in the Religious Society of Friends.
The Friendly Gangstaz Committee is a group of Young Friends that is changing the way Quakers look at worship, music, and ministry. And they’re doing it in the form of hip-hop.
Who is the Friendly Gangstaz Committee?
MC Silentz (Andrew Fox), Funk Master Friendly (Asa Fager), DJ Consensus (Ben Hustis), Quaka Breaka (Drew Thilmany), Shafreaka Mott (Maddy Diaz-Svalgard), Weighty Grand-paw (Stephen Domanik), and Quaka Flav (Tim Shea) are the ones causing the ruckus and keeping it loud. Of course, that’s not mentioning Big Poppa Pacifism (Chuck Fager) who is keeping things organized for the group.
Coming at you from all over the country and all over the musical spectrum, this diverse group of Quakers is putting the "Soul" back in "Inner Light." Singing your favorite Quaking classics, but with rapping hip-hop style and groove, the Friendly Gangstaz are the funkiest thing to happen to Quakerism since George Fox’s old leather britches and his shaggy, shaggy locks.
It all began in Blacks-burg, Virginia, at the 2001 Friends General Conference Gathering. One afternoon Andrew Fox and I, then in my last year of the high school program, decided to do what we do best, and drew attention to ourselves. This was carried out by singing "Come and Fill Me Up," a modern Christian hymn we had learned at YouthQuake earlier that year, on the plaza outside the big dining hall.
It began as just a joke; the two of us weren’t expecting much of a response, never mind a positive one. But people coming in and out of the cafeteria clapped and wanted more. So for lack of anything better, we gathered up a few of our friends and did the "George Fox Song"—but this time in rap style. The crowd went wild.
Soon Andrew, Tim, Ben, Drew, and I were all up there, spread along the retaining wall rapping away, and the crowd was begging for other songs. Luckily, we managed to get a hold of a copy of Worship in Song and just started pulling familiar tunes out of the book at random. The classics, such as "Amazing Grace," "Lord of the Dance," "Lucretia Mott," and even "In the Garden," were included in this impromptu performance. Along the way Tim went into freestyles (that’s a spontaneous rhyming rap, for you grownups) which he’s exceptionally good at, and knocked everybody’s socks off.
The response amazed everybody, including us. So we organized a couple more performances, including another one outside the dining hall. And by that time, we were a group. And after a knocking around a couple of ideas, the name Friendly Gangstaz Committee was born, as a humorous connection between modern lingo and more orthodox Quaker terminology.
When the Blacksburg Gathering ended, we all went our separate ways: Ben to college in Florida, Tim back to Minnesota, Drew to New Hampshire, Andrew to Virginia, and I to AmeriCorps in South Carolina.
But once around this track was not enough. With a little planning and a lot of e-mails, we were all brought back together in Normal, Illinois, for the 2002 FGC Gathering. After a few a cappella performances, like the year before, we put on an electrified show in the Lemonade Gallery (sponsored by the Fellowship of Quakers in the Arts) with microphones, turntables, a mixer, and a little practice. Also, we had acquired two new additions: Steve on beat box, and Maddy on backup vocals. The sound was wild and the beats were crazy—this was not your parents’ version of "Simple Gifts"!
Some 250 people jammed into the Gallery, waving their arms and singing along, and the folks having tea on the floor below had to run for cover from the noise coming down through the ceiling. It became clearer to us at that moment, more than ever before, that we truly had something special to offer to the Religious Society of Friends, something from our generation, something to get even those gray-haired booties shaking.
Will this stop the war? Save the planet? End oppression? Evangelize the world? Who can tell? But we do know this: the spiritual journeys of this new generation of Quakers will be accompanied by a lot more rhythm than before—and is booty shaking really that far removed from old-time Quakin’? (Okay, maybe it is different; but we’re totally down with this continuing revelation thing!)
But we also decided that the Illinois Gathering was just the beginning. With help from our white-bearded manager Big Poppa Pacifism, we managed to snag some tracks from our final performance on tape at the high school dance. Then it was on to MP3s and the Internet. Buying a domain and doing the code work were no problem for us modernized Gangstaz.
And now we have a fully functional website, with pictures and downloadable music. So feel free to check us out at: www.friendlygangstaz.com.
Now we’re talking about a CD, a T-shirt, and maybe even, with a little bit of luck (or, to use language more Quakerly, as way opens), a Friendly Gangstaz Committee mini-tour after next summer’s FGC Gathering in Pennsylvania. (Check the site in coming months for further news about this!)
Whatever happens, it’s been a blast—of sound and of light. And always remember the Friendly Gangstaz motto: Get into the Light, or get out of the Way!