If you've ever gotten crunk for Christ, jammed for Jehovah or for raised the roof for your redeemer, then Gregory Thomas has a TV show for you.
Known in Christian circles as "Brother Greg," the 47-year-old is creator and producer of Outside da Box, a public-access show that features gospel rap, drama, poetry and other arts.
The weekly program is taped at Tampa Bay Community Network on the University of Tampa campus and airs live, with a mix of in-studio performances and pre-recorded church concerts. More churches are encouraging "gospel rap ministers" to perform for the congregation, Thomas said, giving talented young Christians an alternative to the club scene.
In each episode, host Chad "Da' Decan" Bagley shows a video clip, invites the featured artists to perform a capella and chats with them about how they rep God through music. That's why Thomas named the show Outside da Box.
"It doesn't mean to stay outside of the church building, but what are you doing once you leave the building?" said Thomas, of Tampa, a member of Revealing Truth Ministries.
In Outside da Box's two-month history, guests have included the rap group True, singer Avari, House of Prayer Women's Trio and rap-rock-hip-hop trio HGA (His Glory Alone).
Seckond Chaynce, a member of HGA, found the experience of performing in studio "real professional." The 21-year-old, whose name is Trevor Thomas (no relation), leads a weekly Bible study with his fellow group members in their USF-area apartment. Seckond Chaynce said he also appreciates the show because not everyone wants to hear about drug dealers and gang-bangers. "I don't have to eat the garbage that I'm being fed. There's some healthier food out there," he said.
Each episode has a theme. Past topics have included the role of politics in churches and a discussion about church members who consider gospel rap un-Christian.
But Outside da Box isn't just about preaching.
"It's all about the skill, as well," Thomas said. "It's that whole culture of rap ... but it's on a righteous level."
Performers are not paid but get their video played on the show.
Thomas, a waiter at the WestShore Plaza P.F. Chang's, ran a cable show in East Orange, N.J., in the mid-'90s called Club Nubian. The program was basically a secular version of Outside da Box. Thomas said he's received 17 e-mails since the show started. All were positive with the exception of two viewers who wanted him to air more hard-core rap.
"What I'm offering is a choice," he said. "You get all the pop and the bang of the music, and yet you still get a message."