Music has often been used to analyze thoughts and ideas surrounding a higher power. Hip-Hop is no exception. And even though rap certainly isn’t gospel, the honesty that the genre allows has permitted artists and the culture as a whole to explore religion in ways that few other things permit.
With all the religious overtones surrounding Kanye West’s Yeezus and recent conversation it has sparked, AllHipHop.com made a list of Hip-Hop’s most religiously inspired and seemingly blasphemous moments. Hate them or love them, it’s clear in both scenarios that spirituality is a source of inspiration.
10). DMX is no stranger to bad press. But beyond the arrests, family issues, and drug problems, it is evident as well that Earl Simmons is a religious man. All seven of his studio albums have prayer interludes. He also has songs where he converses with the Devil. Therefore, one of the most intense artists Hip-Hop has ever seen gives listeners his thoughts on the streets and spirituality without holding anything back in either instance. It’s a potent combination to say the least.
9). Fifteen years after the infamous shooting incident which created much debate and discussion (as well as one of Hip-Hop’s most memorable album covers), Bushwick Bill became a born again Christian. His most recent recordings are a far cry from the gritty rhymes he spit with The Geto Boys, instead he is rapping about his religious learnings.
8). With a crown of thorns atop his head, Kanye West appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone in 2006 being depicted as Jesus. In the cover story article, West defended himself and his ego. “You want me to be great,” he said, “but you don’t ever want me to say I’m great?”
7). Recorded in just one week in the summer of 1996, Tupac’s The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory album (released under the new stage name of Makaveli) has Pac being crucified on the cross for its cover. There are many interpretations to the cover for all of the imagery that it contains, but one thing that Makaveli makes clear is that “In no way is portrait an expression of disrespect for Jesus Christ.” It even says that on the cover itself.
6). When the album artwork was released for Game’s Jesus Piece album in October 2012 on Instagram, it depicted, among other things, a dark-skinned Jesus in a stained glass window with a tattooed tear, red bandana around his mouth, and a Jesus piece around his neck. The artwork even prompted the Roman Catholic Church to call Interscope Records about it. As a result of the controversy, that artwork was used only for the deluxe edition of the album.
5). On one of the lines in “From Scratch” Mase rhymes, “All my cars and homes and all my ice/If I could do it all again, I’d do it all for Christ.” Not long after, he retired (for the first time) from the music industry to become a pastor. In addition to Mase, MC Hammer and Run have also taken active roles in their church communities, as a preacher and Reverend respectively.
4). As part of the original edit for the video for “Hate Me Now,” the second single from Nas’ I Am… album, Nas and Puff Daddy were seen being crucified on the cross. However, Puffy wanted his crucifixion scene cut from the final version of the video. But MTV ending up playing the original. And moments after it hit the airwaves, Puffy went into Steve Stoute’s (Nas’ manager) office and beat him over the head with a champagne bottle. Stoute sued Puff and the case was eventually settled out of court.
3). The Notorious B.I.G. had his fair share of shocking lyrics (i.e. “Ready to Die,” “Gimme the Loot”), but the one that is arguably the most shocking comes from “If I Should Die Before I Wake”: “Hail Mary/F*** her, I never knew her/I’d probably screw her/ Left her body in the sewer.” When those lyrics were recorded, even producer Easy Mo Bee spoke up about how over the top the rhyme was.
Editor’s Note: The only place that Biggie’s controversial verse from “If I Should Die Before I Wake” appeared uncensored/unaltered was on a remixed version of Big L’s “Deadly Combination.”
2). For an interview with the Washington Times in 1989, Professor Griff of Public Enemy spoke to journalist David Mills and was quoted as saying, “Jews are responsible for the majority of the wickedness in the world.” Obviously, this caused a huge uproar. Chuck D later apologized on Griff’s behalf. This didn’t calm things down though and when Chuck felt the group was being unfairly persecuted, he responded to one of the group’s naysayers in “Welcome to the Terrordome.”
1). In the March 2006 issue of Playboy, Kanye West said the following, “I try to walk and be more Christlike. I’m a man and I have shortcomings. But I think if there were a bible written today in the new millennium, I’d be in one of the characters in it.” Many could argue that Kanye has saved music on a few occasions, but him likening his accomplishments to those found in The Bible is a stretch even for him.
What are your thoughts on religion in Hip-Hop? Please share your thoughts in the comments section!