Why God Loves Hip-Hop (Pt. 2)

I'm excited about this newest piece in the God Loves Hip-Hop series. Just a few weeks ago we started talking about Why God Loves Hip-Hop. We continue along that same vein as we explore God's love for the artistic gift with this piece from the gifted Dr. Andrea Trusty-King. 
Along with a Master of Divinity degree from Andrews University, she received her Doctor of ministry degree from Fuller Theological Seminary with a research emphasis on Youth, Family and Culture. She currently serves as the Senior Pastor of the 16th Street SDA Church in San Bernardino, CA. She is married to Pastor Kurt King and they have two young children. You can follow her on twitter @andreaking or visit her website at www.pastorandrea.com


God Loves Artistry


I strike like lightning and don't need thunder
Inhale imagination and breathe wonder
-Common, “Invocation” 


Both the Antelope Canyon (top) and
the Danxia landform are God's own
works of artistic genius and creativity.
On the creative and artistic level, God has skills. Period.  When we look at all God has created, it becomes evident that God loves diversity and color.  The earth and everything in it is a masterpiece.  When you look at the Antelope Canyon in Arizona,[1] or the Danxia landform in China,[2] it’s hard not to imagine God with a spray can tagging the walls of this world.  The beauty is breathtaking.

            It is God’s style to make things beautiful just for our pleasure.  When God created the trees, he didn’t allow the practical function to dominate His design. Genesis 2:9 tells us “And out of the ground the Lord God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food.”  God made sure the trees were something to enjoy both with the eyes and the mouth. 

When the priestly garments were made, the Bible says that these garments were not just to be functional, but fashionable.  Exodus 28:2 says, “And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty.”  God wanted these creations to be splendid with style.  They had pomegranates of blue, purple and scarlet woven around the hem.  This in itself is another act of God’s creative imagination, because blue pomegranates do not even exist in nature. Indeed, this was a remix!

            Artistry and creativity is of God, and it flows from God.  The first people that Scripture records as being filled with the Spirit of God were not the prophets, the preachers or the priests, but rather the artisans: 

Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah.  And I have filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, to design artistic works, to work in gold, in silver, in bronze. Exodus 31:1-4

When God was giving instructions for the temple, He told Moses that He was going to fill Bezalel with the Spirit of God to design artistic works.  Creativity and artistry were so important to God, He filled Bezalel and others with the Spirit of God so that they could create works of art with gold, silver and bronze.  Their artistry was an act of worship.
           
God appreciates and encourages artistry and creativity.  This is not just limited to visual arts but also in literary arts.  Second Timothy 3:16 reminds us that “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God.”  A large portion of the Bible is poetry and throughout scripture is the prolific use of metaphors, similes, acrostics, parallelisms, and other literary devices employed to encapsulate ideas, craft compelling stories and lay down lovely lyrics.  God inspires creativity in all kinds of art. 
           
Many of the literary devices found in Scripture are mirrored in Hip-Hop.  Talib Kweli, in his song, “The Manifesto.” credits God for giving Hip-Hop the music.  My style is all that's seen and all that's heard/God gave us music so we play with our words.”  The lyrics and style of Hip-Hop in some ways mirror the literary style of scripture.

Proverbs 30:15 utilizes a unique use of numbers throughout the verse, employing the numbers two, three and four: “The leech has two daughters— Give and Give! There are three things that are never satisfied, Four never say, ‘Enough!’”  Mos Def in “Mathematics” employs a similar technique with numbers one through ten:

Yo, it's one universal law but two sides to every story
Three strikes and you be in for life, manditory
Four MC's murdered in the last four years
I ain't tryin to be the fifth one, the millenium is here
Yo it's 6 Million Ways to Die, from the seven deadly thrills
Eight-year olds gettin found with 9 mill's
It's 10 P.M., where your seeds at? What's the deal.

In Proverbs 1, wisdom is personified as a woman who raises her voice, cries out at the gates of the city, laughs, mocks and calls outside.  In Run DMC’s “My Adidas,” shoes are personified, as agents of the Hip-Hop order. They attend concerts and travel into foreign lands:

Now me and my Adidas do the illest things.
We like to stomp out pimps with diamond rings,
We slay all suckers who perpetrate,
And lay down law from state to state.
We travel on gravel, dirt road or street.
I wear my Adidas when I rock the beat.

            Although it is not evident in English, there is rhyme in some of the biblical poetry.   It was also common for Hebrew poets to rhyme ideas and use word-play.  Psalm 122:6 says, “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: May they prosper who love you.” In Hebrew, when the verse is transliterated, a play on words emerges, “Shaal shalom ye-ru-sha-la-im (Jerusalem) shalah ahab.”[3]

Eminem is widely respected as one of the most gifted
lyricists in the history of rap music. He has mastered
the art of word-play as well as delivery.  
Rapper Eminem offers masterful rhymes and plays on words like the above passage. However, unlike the above passage, which is laced with a prayer for peace, his lyric is laced with profanity and pain.  In his song, “The Way That I Am,” he confesses:

And since birth I've been cursed with this curse to just curse.
And just blurt this berserk and bizarre sh*# that works.
And it sells and it helps in itself to relieve
All this tension, dispensing these sentences.
Getting this stress that's been eating me recently
Off of this chest and I rest again peacefully.

Eninem employs alliteration and plays on words and sounds in a masterfully artistic manner.  We must not deny the creative artistry in this and other expressions of Hip-Hop.  Still, it seems almost blasphemous to juxtapose Eminem with the Everlasting, to compare Proverbs with Hip-Hop prophets.  The fact that many of Hip-Hop’s creations are corrupted by coarse language makes it’s comparison and connection to scripture even harder to swallow.

Hip-Hop artists are often lambasted for the explicit nature of their music and videos.  There are often disturbing images that depict violence, gang activity, and illicit sexual activity.  These images are both visual and verbal.  Senseless violence against other young people, blatant disrespect of women, explicit and derogatory language are just a few of the tools used to paint these disturbing pictures.  In their defense, artists say they are just “keeping it real.”

The question, then, is how does the Bible react to the notion of keeping it real?  For starters, the Bible is replete with examples of “keeping it real.”  The Bible is home to the good, the bad, and the ugly.  The stories of the Bible are laden with honesty and a real account of the people of God.  It includes graphic descriptions of violence, sensual sonnets on sex, pains and politics of corruption in government and the hypocrisy of the “holy” men and women of God.  Furthermore, God keeps it real in his dealings of those who cross Him.  In no uncertain terms, the Bible is clear that the enemies of God ought to beware.  He will exact judgment on those who war for His enemy.

What makes the Bible different from pieces of literature and art (which include the sordid descriptions of life that are found not only in Hip-Hop, but in American culture as a whole), is that the Bible does not only expose a problem, but it offers a solution.  The Bible describes the curse and consequences of sin, but also delivers a cure for sin.  It shows how people fare who ignore the principles of the Bible and the divine cure that God has given us.

Here lies the deficiency in Hip-Hop culture. “Keeping it real” is needed, but that is just the beginning.  Instead of just highlighting the problem, the church must help to provide solutions.  For starters, the church must look past the pain-ridden language and sickening descriptions in order to understand the painful realities a large segment of young people are facing everyday.  Let the church arise with righteous indignation not at how these realties are described, but rather that these realties exist and are ever-present for millions of people.  When some of the horrors they see everyday are dealt with, then they will have less objectionable material from which to pull.

While speaking at Rosa Park's funeral in 2005, Al Sharpton
challenged rappers to clean up their act. While rappers often
claim to "keep it real," others urge for them to "get it right."
This however is not a call to excuse Hip-Hop from its responsibility, but instead a call for us all to do and be better.  It is not enough to allow Hip-Hop just to reflect the pathology of society.  The church must come alongside of it and help Hip-Hop take the next step.  This provides an opportunity for Christianity to inspire.  Hip-Hop cannot just be a mirror.  As Al Sharpton remarked:

[Speaking of rappers]‘We just mirrors that reflect what we see.’ Well there’s something strange about that.  I use a mirror every morning, but I don’t get up out the bed, hair all over my head, sleep around my eye, slobber around my mouth, and walk outside talking about I’ma keep it real.  Mirrors are not only to reflect what you see; mirrors are to correct what you see.[4]

That is the call for the church to come alongside Hip-Hop and assist in bringing some correction to the awful reflection.  It is a well-known saying that the truth hurts.  For this reason, truth, in the Bible, is seldom by itself.  The truth of this sin-scarred world is debilitating and depressing.  Truth then, is often accompanied by something to take the sting out of it.  Often “truth,” in the Old Testament, and especially in the Book of Psalms, is accompanied with mercy or lovingkindness (chesed). Chesed is a Hebrew word that means, “unfailing kindness, devotion, i.e., a love or affection that is steadfast based on a prior relationship”[5]  It is often translated mercy in the King James Version. In Psalm 57:3, David is grateful that God sent mercy (chesed) along with truth, when his enemies tried to swallow him up.  Truth and lovingkindness (or mercy) often traveled together. [6] Paul, in the New Testament echoes this same sentiment when he admonishes the truth be spoken with love, (Rom. 4:13).

By example, the church can demonstrate love in dealing with Hip-Hop and those who adhere to its lifestyle.  The church can even applaud Hip-Hop for its authenticity and truthfulness but help to inform Hip-Hop that this is just the beginning.  Reflecting the ills of society is only half of the battle.  The call is for a partnership to begin correcting the ills of society. 

That is the hope of Scripture, to recognize the wretched state of affairs but realize it does not have to stay that way.  The Bible brings hope and that same hope must reach Hip-Hop so that their songs, movies, books and other works of art can begin to not just reflect hurts of sin but the hope of the Savior.  When the church engages and enlightens Hip-Hop culture, we can begin to help them see a new reality through the blood of Jesus, where Satan works are destroyed and the kingdoms of this world become the kingdom of our Lord.

So yes, God loves Hip-Hop because God loves artistry. Yet, He loves the artists of Hip-Hop the most. What if we learned to love them too; curse words, tattoos, weird clothes and all? What if we learned to listen, look and appreciate their art? Might we be the hands and arms of God to embrace this lost generation and win them into the family of God? Who knows? I’m willing to try. Are you?





                [1] Antelope Canyon picture can be found at: http://alierturk.deviantart.com/art/Upper-Antelope-Canyon-corridor-III-340612592
                [2] Danxia Landform picture can be found at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2174115/Unique-rock-formations-China-look-drawn-sweeping-hand-impressionist-artist.html
   [3] “Figures of Speech Homeopropheron (alliteration),” Truth or Tradition, accessed September 18, 2013, http://www.truthortradition.com/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=1251.

[4] Al Sharpton, “Speech at Rosa Parks Funeral” Online Video YouTube. Accessed July 31, 2008. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pCLVs2FuPCA
[5] James Swanson, "Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Hebrew (Old Testament),"  (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), Electronic Resource.
[6] See also Psalms 25:10, 26:3, 57:10, 85:10, 86:15, 100:5, 117:2.

Bibliography
Callahan, Allen Dwight. The Talking Book:  African Americans and the Bible. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006.

“Figures of Speech Homeopropheron (Alliteration),” Truth or Tradition, accessed September 18, 

“God, the Bible and Art, Part 1,” BJU Press, accessed September 15, 2013,

Schaffer, Francis A. Art and the Bible.  Downers Grove, IL:  Intervarsity Press, 1973.

Al Sharpton, “Speech at Rosa Parks Funeral” Online Video YouTube. Accessed July 31, 2008.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pCLVs2FuPCA
James Swanson. "Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Hebrew (Old
Testament)."  Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997, Electronic Resource.

Watkins, Ralph C., Jason A. Barr, Jamal-Harrison Bryant, William H. Curtis, and Otis Moss III. The Gospel Remix: Reaching the Hip Hop Generation. Valley Forge: Judson Press, 2007.