"I love hip hop. Some of my fondest memories growing up involve listening to and reciting rhymes from Wu Tang Clan’s C.R.E.A.M., Onyx’s Slam, The Roots’ Do You Want More, or Pharcyde’s “She Keeps On Passin’ Me By.” Growing up in hip-hop culture and listening to the music has instilled in me certain values. The funny thing is that I didn’t think of them as values as much as “codes of the street”. These values were also divorced from any spiritual implications for me until recently.
As I have matured and have grown spiritually, the “code of the streets” began to make sense as guiding principles for life. Authenticity is one of the highest values in hip-hop. The drive to be true to reality, one’s self, and others is paramount in hip hop and God agrees. Part of the reason there tends to be such a separation between hip hop culture and the Church is because one is real even when impolite and the other is polite even when not being authentic.
Now, admittedly, there are some natural tensions that exist for the Church as it espouses virtues that it admits it can never fully attain. But that hasn’t been the beef that hip-hop has had with the church. It has been the more mundane hypocrisy that many of us struggle with to be real with ourselves. The great thing is, God agrees with hip-hop. God isn’t down with lip service either. To Him, our faith looks best when it entrusts him with what’s really going on in our hearts and not just what we like to show others or Him. I’m reminded of this by one hip-hop artist, Da T.R.U.T.H., who shares this reality on his song “After Your Heart.” He says in relation to his desire to pursue God, “I really wanna want you without all the stuff/ and fall in love with your person/ I wouldn’t call your bluff/.”
Sometimes we have to admit, we don’t want God, but we just really want to want Him. That’s real. In addition to being authentic, hip-hop teaches us to be proud and claim whatever you are a part of. At hip hop concerts, emcees raise the question, “Is Brooklyn in da house?” Now, I’m from Philly, so that’s my cue to be quiet. But if the question goes forth, “Is Philly in da house?” That’s my signal to make some serious noise. And it’s not just about where you are from. In hip hop, the expectation is that if you’re into a specific artist, or genre, or even worldview, that you represent that issue boldly and even defiantly.
Hip-hop has never been sheepish about the issues it stands for or stands against. Once again, God nods in agreement with hip-hop culture. It is so easy in our society to give lip service to a belief in God. It’s almost expected that we have a belief in some sort of Supreme Being. But, too often, that belief falls short of real faith that is meant, not just to be believed, but to be proclaimed. Another snag in the integration of hip-hop culture into the Church is the lack of boldness that church has even in reppin’ the God who it’s supposed to be in existence for. Jesus Himself said, "If you deny me before men, then I’ll deny you before the Father.” Jesus was demanding unwavering representation from his followers in the world.
What believers can learn a lot from hip hop is how to represent boldly and unashamedly, the truth we believe and let folks know! Even in a climate like hip-hop culture, known more for rebellion to authority, than embracing God’s authority, it’s possible to represent God in this way. One such example that comes to mind is an artist, “The Ambassador”, whose name is derived from being a representative from God to man. He has a song called, “One Two” in which he states, “Religion sells but we dwell in anti-Christian realms/ so if you love Him then you’ve got to represent Him well.” The group The Ambassador rolls with, Cross Movement, is an example of what it means to be authentic culturally and yet represent God wholeheartedly.
Hip-Hop heads love to have a good time. I remember performing Slick Rick and Doug E. Fresh’s classic Loddy Doddy at a talent show in elementary school years
ago. “Loddy Doddy we likes to party/ we don’t cause trouble/ we don’t bother nobody.” A couple decades after Loddy Doddy, much has happened in hip-hop culture and many fads have come and gone. The “Dirty South” has risen as a major sub-genre within the culture captivating the culture with its zeal for fun and life. The phrase “Get Crunk” has emerged from that southern flavor. It reveals the value hip hop places on enjoying life and having a good time. If it isn’t already obvious, this again is an obstacle between a hip-hop perspective and that of the church at large.
Typically, Christians are known more for what we’re against than what we enjoy. An enthusiastic zeal for life and fun is not something that has characterized a relationship with God, but it should. Once again, God is feeling hip hop. In the Psalms, a book of celebration to the Lord, one writer exclaims, “Praise Him” with horns, dancing, percussion, and everything you got. That sounds like a good time. One hip-hop artist from “da dirty south”, LaCrae, puts it this way: “Represent! Get Crunk! Represent! Get Crunk! If You Know reppin’ Jesus go ahead and throw it (hand) up!”
Hip Hop can teach us a lot about how to relate to God. Much like hip hop culture, God values “keepin’ it real” and being authentic about our relationship with Him. He also places a high emphasis on “representing him well” and of course at the end of the day, it’s all about getting’ crunk in the sense of having a passionate relationship with Him that is contagious and attractive. Just as I learned how to cock my hat to the side through hip hop, and nod my head to a beat, I’ve learned how to bow the knee of my heart to God through this dynamic and vibrant culture."
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