BLAS-FAMOUS (RAP & RELIGION)
The term blasphemy has often been used by the Christian community to describe the controversial music created by artists such as Kanye West and Tupac Shakur (2 artists who have stirred up the most media attention). The commonality shared by artists of today and artists of the past (of this particular genre of music) are the explicit messages embedded in lyrics and images. Hip hop or most commonly known as “Gangsta Rap” has been criticized for its overt religious content and reference. What is it about this particular style of music that, on the one hand renders such harsh criticism, while on the other hand maintaining a devout and growing fan base?
Historically, hip hop was used as an outlet to bring awareness to systemic social injustice and discrimination faced by black, impoverished communities. The devout hip hop/rap fandom is an important asset to artists who have chosen to use this particular outlet as part of a social enlightenment movement. “Fan communities are, or at least can be, places that embody a persons and/or a community’s expression of what it means to be human, to be in community…”(Porter 2009). This sense of community and relatability has the power to create a new generational awareness. The incorporation of religious rhetoric and symbolism, particularly pertaining to Christianity, has been amped by the need to illustrate both a political and personal stance on the ongoing struggle of black communities. Kanye’s song “New Slaves” speaks to this political/personal struggle…
“My momma was raised in an era when, clean water was only served to the fairer skin”…he goes on to say…
“its broke nigga racism that’s that “don’t touch anything in the store”,
and this rich nigga racism that’s that “come in please buy more”
Kanye explicitly describes a shift in racist ideology and makes clear reference to both a historical as well as modern conception of the reality of racial discrimination. The public are often misled to believe that the abolishment of slavery meant the abolition of racism and discrimination. However, Kanye challenges this dominant misconception and speaks to how much more of a complex issue racism is today. An environment of suffering and struggle creates a relatability to the experiences of Jesus Christ. As Tinajero (2013) argues “these rappers not only feel solidarity with the suffering Jesus, but actually see themselves as Jesus figures in that they encounter suffering, injustice, and persecution by an unjust society”.
In essence, rap has been an effective tool of resistance to ongoing systemic racism, prejudice and injustices faced by black communities. Expanding on Tinajero’s (2013) assertion, Christian teachings or passages from the Holy Bible preach about overcoming darkness and turmoil and many communities strife with poverty and crime often find solitude in religion and its messages of perseverance. Tupac Shakur also speaks about religious solitude and divine direction while incorporating a strong social justice stance in his song “Only God Can Judge Me” …
“Oh my Lord, tell me what I’m living for, everybody’s droppin got me knocking on heaven’s door” he goes on to say…
“I’d rather die like a man than live like a coward,
There’s a ghetto up in heaven and its ours,
Rap artists, such as those mentioned in this piece have successfully utilized their platform to bring about awareness to social injustices.
It is also important to point out that Christianity, an undoubtedly Eurocentric construct, was historically utilized as a weapon to disempower certain bodies ie. Indigenous communities , so what one might interpret as blasphemy or mockery is in reality a challenge to the moral status-quo or dominant ideology imposed on disempowered communities.
Whether audiences, listeners or critiques agree or disagree with the incorporation of religious rhetoric in rap music, one thing is for sure…in a sense, rap and religion have blended to create a unique artistic collaboration which has grabbed worldwide attention and successfully established a culture of music with distinguishable characteristics. As Forbes (2000) suggests, religion and pop culture evokes discussion and allows the opportunity to encourage “insight in understanding ourselves, and in understanding religion in the context of our culture”.
For the creative component of this post, I have created:
- a collage of artists who have incorporated religion into both their music as well as their image, please click on the collage below to listen to Kanye West’s “New Slaves” plus lyrics
2. “Match the Rap with the Rapper”, an Online/Interactive Puzzle, please click on the puzzle image below to play (the answer key can be found at the bottom of this page)
Robert Tinajero, “Hip Hop and Religion: Gangsta Rap’s Christian Rhetoric,” Journal of Religion and Popular Culture 25. 3 (2013): 315–332.
Porter, Jennifer. “Implicit Religion in Popular Culture: the Religion Dimensions of Fan Communities,” Implicit Religion 12.3 (2009): 271–290.
Forbes, Bruce David. “Introduction: Finding Religion in Unexpected Places.” In Religion and Popular Culture in America. Ed. B. D. Forbes and Jeffrey H. Mahan, 1–20. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000.
MATCH THE RAP WITH THE RAPPER *ANSWER KEY*
“Religious like the preachers, Came here to warn yah,
Listen bitches I’m the teacher ” -Nicki Minaj (Dead Wrong)
“I am God, Even though I’m a man of God, My whole life in the hand of God, So yall better quit playin with God”- Kanye West (I Am God)
“Ha, Tony told us this world was ours and the bible told us every girl was sour,
don’t play in the garden and don’t smell her flower”- Lil’Wayne (A Milli)
“How did it come to this? I wish they didn’t miss, Somebody help me, tell me where to go from here, Cause even Thugs cry, but do the Lord care?”- Tupac Shakur (Only God Can Judge Me)
“I’m hard, Jehovah said I’m barred from the pearly gates, Fuck him, I didn’t wanna go to heaven anyway”- Notorious BIG (Deadly Combination)