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From Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Terverius Black believes in hip-hop gospel so much he sold his first home to get the money needed to start his Christian-themed entertainment company.

It was a risky move, but the 34-year-old entrepreneur believes the company’s diversity, which is producing music, a film, a reality television show and a gospel cruise, will help boost a struggling genre of Christian music.

Secular hip-hop used radio as a launching pad, but holy hip-hop gets little play on regular hip-hop stations and nearly none on gospel or Christian radio.

“It’s tough, but we’ve got to get a little more creative,” said Black, who started Huntsville, Ala.-based Xist (pronounced “exist”) Worldwide Record Label three years ago with partner Sean Simmonds.

Both men point to hip-hop moguls like Sean “Diddy” Combs, Jay-Z and Russell Simmons, who succeeded branching outside the music industry. Even though their message is faith-based, Black and Simmonds believe they can find the same success.

“We’re trying to create our own blueprint for gospel, but at the same time, make it so that it’s respected across the board, and can be followed,” said Simmonds, 32.

Hip-hop gospel has been around nearly two decades, but many followers say it didn’t start getting recognized until a few years ago. So far this year, there have been more than 500,000 CD and digital sales of hip-hop gospel, according to the Christian Music Trade Association, which operates Christian SoundScan.

Supporters also point to an increasing number of hip-hop gospel fan Web sites.

“I think holy hip-hop music is starting to make a move,” said Danny Wilson, a former road manager for rapper-actor LL Cool J and the main organizer of the Holy Hip Hop Awards in Atlanta. “Look how long it took regular hip hop to take. You’re talking about 25 to 30 years for it to really make an impact to the point that it’s a driving culture that’s known all over the world.”

Wilson said better air play of hip-hop gospel would make it a more effective tool in reaching the unchurched. He cites a syndicated two-hour radio show sponsored by Holy Hip Hop Awards that airs once a week in about 100 cities.

“We get letters from prison all the time,” Wilson said. “One man wrote, ‘I wish I had this music when I was out on the street, it might have saved my life.'”

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