The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of AllHipHop.com
Last week the world was all abuzz over the Papal Conclave. The Pope remains a significant public figure and is highly influential not just because there are an estimated 1.2 Billion Catholics. (That’s approximately 1 out of every 6 people in the world). And while a Pope’s conservative stance on reproductive rights and contraception are a hindrance to stopping the spread of AIDS in Africa at the end of the day that power doesn’t affect most of us with first world problems.
While religious faith plays a larger role in the lives of the truly devout, young people today are less religious than ever. There is a God Vacuum in the popular culture like never before. I can watch TV for hours without one honest representation of a person of faith. And no the buffoonery of Tyler Perry’s broadly stroked stereotypes don’t count. (Unless you people of faith want us to think of you that way). People might mention God in passing but depictions of them actually worshiping are rare. You are more likely to see a church as backdrop for a violent shootout between a rogue cop and a mob boss than to see someone taking communion. Mosques and Jewish Temples are almost never seen on TV. As an Atheist I really have no problem with this on a personal level. But that’s not what this is about.
My advice for the Pope or any pastor, imam or rabbi looking for a youth outreach strategy is simply this… embrace hip-hop. Hip-hop has been written, created, and performed by people of all faiths. One of the most legendary groups in rap history consists of three Jewish kids from the suburbs (RIP MCA). Lupe Fiasco the popular Chicago firebrand is undeniably a part of the legacy of Black Muslim truth-tellers that have been exposing racial injustice since the 50’s.
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Everything young people hate about religion can be mollified with the help of some good spokesmen. Like those churches where people can wear jeans, hip-hop has a shockingly low cost of entry these days. These rappers are effortlessly adept at connecting with today’s youth in a way even the coolest Sunday School teacher could only dream of. So when a rapper raps about Ciroc or Club Liv in Miami, or as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, Molly and Bugattis these things become part of the pop culture lexicon.
I’m not advocating gospel rap by any means. Gospel rap can be cool I guess but for most us hip-hop heads it’s corny. It’s a sub-genre for a niche market of those that already strongly identify themselves with their religion. But some of the most spiritual moments in hip-hop come from those who have been labeled “gangsta rappers”. Scarface’s Five Mic Album The Fix was infused with a spirituality that moved even the most ardent agnostics (which I was at the time). It didn’t feel forced, it didn’t feel like it had an agenda and although he has self-identified as a Muslim a lot of the songs felt like good old fashioned church.
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There’s a touch of the subversive in hip-hop after all the best music is rebel music. One of my favorite tracks is CNN’s “T.O.N.Y” with Nore’s famously defiant line “Fuck you and you’re weak religion”. It was bold, edgy and full of the renegade energy of youth. Today we have Tyler the Creator who’s shock raps and antics have made him the personification of all that is strange about being a black youth in America. But the majority of rappers are the unlikely champions of religious dogma. Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.a.a.d. city reminds at least twice a week that Jesus died for my sins.
It’s almost cliché for rappers to thank God after they win awards for their sex and drug anthems. Rappers will talk about God and debasing women in the same verse. Some call it hypocrisy others say it’s an accurate reflection of the duality of man. I use it as just one of the many examples of how morality isn’t dictated, informed or very much influenced at all by religious affiliation. Last summer Meek Mill’s street anthem “Amen” featuring Drake was a massive hit. It also mocked and exploited Christian themes by espousing values counter to the conservative core of the black church. One pastor took umbrage with that and had a heated debate with Meek Mill on the radio. I kind of saw the pastor’s point even though the church doesn’t have a trademark on the word “Amen” I personally didn’t have a problem with the song but then again I’m the atheist here. I wonder if that pastor picked up Big Sean’s mixtape Detroit. The song “Mula” has a very interesting hook that I think would make him appreciate Meek Mill’s Amen a little more.