God Loves Hip-Hop - Seminar Preview

Here's the 8th and final installment in the God Loves Hip-Hop discussion series. This discussion will serve as the preview for our seminar at the annual Pastors Evangelism Leadership Conference in Huntsville, AL on Dec. 8. Join the discussion on twitter #GodLovesHipHop.

Spiritual Growth in Ghetto Communities

Spiritual Growth in Ghetto Communities

Remember Biggie's song "10 Crack Commandments?" We memorized that song as a sacred psalm and held people accountable to its teachings. What are our frameworks, tools, processes, and systems for spiritual growth? If Biggie can systematize selling crack, surely there can be some sort of system for growing in the faith.

Read More

God Loves Hip-Hop - The Book


        People Keep asking me about it so here it is...We're practically working around the clock to bring you all of the great pieces that you've seen in the

God Loves Hip-Hop series

and more in one volume. Putting together a project of this magnitude always comes with some challenges so lift up a prayer for us. Nevertheless, you should have it in your hands very very soon. We'll intend to have pre-order options before the end of October.

Pre-Order Here.

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.

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.
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.

Ministering in Hip-Hop Culture (Panel Discussion)


Here's the highly anticipated #GodLovesHipHop discussion number 6. In this conversation we feature long-time rap artists, DJs, and producers who demonstrate deep commitment to 

Hip-Hop through their artistry, as well as to the church because they perform with the intent to edify and expand the Kingdom of God.

Please use the hashtag #GodLovesHipHop for twitter feedback or visit the google+ event page to ask a question live.

Why God Loves Hip-Hop (Pt. 1)


I'm amped and excited because we're adding a new piece to the God Loves Hip-Hop Series. You've already been following the Why We Need Hip-Hop series. Well now we begin a series of posts about Why God Loves Hip-Hop. And this first post "God Loves the World" is from a good friend of mine, Kurtley Elliott Knight. Kurtley is an exceptionally gifted communicator. He holds a Master of Divinity degree from Andrews University and currently serves as the pastor of the Hillcrest SDA Church in Pittsburgh, PA.

The statement that God loves the world is so often spoken by Christians that most people, even atheists, are familiar with its claim.

So popular is the statement that today it’s nearly impossible to walk into a church and not hear some language grounded in this fundamental truth.

As a pastor I think it’s great that many people know the statement.

The real question however, is do we comprehend what it means for God to love “the world?”

What is this “world” that God loves?

Moreover, what are the implications that arise from God loving “the world” for Christian theology and praxis, especially in relation to our topic of God loving Hip-Hop?

In the pages that follow I’d like to suggest that God loves the entire creation.

This includes all of humanity and everything associated with it.

He loves human language, culture, art, literature and systems.

He is intricately involved in the world as Sovereign, using what’s in the world to achieve His ultimate goal of reconciling the world to Himself.

This holistic perspective I believe, opens our eyes to God’s activity around us, providing us with rich resources for Christian spirituality and ministry.

Coming to this conclusion is not easy and will require a redefinition of “the world.”

For this, we’ll peek through the lenses of Hebraic monotheism, which claims God’s sovereignty over the universe.

This perspective will help to clarify that all things (with the exception of the pagan) are sacred.

With this in the background, we’ll briefly explore God’s love

the kosmos

as described in John’s writings.

Lastly, we’ll briefly discuss the implications of the theological framework.

The Sovereignty of God

Usually when most people talk about God loving the world, it’s within the narrow confines of a personal and private spirituality.

Although this perspective is certainly true, it doesn’t tell the whole truth.

Rather it implies a modern dualism that promotes a sacred versus secular divide. This divide prevents God from loving all the world (as I’ve described above), because it’s seen as being outside of and thus empty of God (hence the word secular).

This however was not the Hebraic worldview as expressed in the monotheistic biblical confession, called

Shema Yisrael

(Hear, O Israel):

“Hear, O Israel: The


our God, the


is one.

Love the


your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”

These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts.

Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.

Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.

Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

Remember, this was authored as the Children of Israel are preceding to cross the Jordan River.

They are within the context of a polytheistic culture where there was a god for every aspect of life (weather, rivers, harvest, etc.).

These gods controlled not only their assigned area of life but also brought to the same meaning.

Yet the ancient Hebrew won’t hear any of this.

To her Yahweh is not just the god of the weather, the rivers, the harvest, or anything else.

He is God over all, thus giving Him access and oversight into all areas of life.

This is in part what the text means by saying that, “The Lord is One!”

This declaration is a direct affront to the claims of other gods, while simultaneously embracing the sovereignty of Yahweh over everything.


When God used Moses to invoke the 12 plagues, He put Pharaoh and all

off Egypt on notice that He is Sovereign LORD over all created things.

The Hebrews developed this worldview during their exodus from Egypt. The plagues brought upon Egypt weren’t simply arbitrary punishments inflicted upon the Egyptian economy for their insolence.

They were demonstrations of God’s victory over the gods of that culture and hence the world.

Every time Yahweh turned the Nile River into blood, caused fiery hail to rain endlessly, or engulfed the countryside in the thickness of darkness with no end in sight He was saying something.

It was Yahweh planting His flag in the ground saying, “I’m sovereign over all the world and therefore can use the things within the world for my redemptive purposes.”

This is the very meaning of what it means to be a Christian monotheist.



is more than an ontological claim descripting the nature of God, but rather a theological lens to view all of life as under God.

The missiologist and church planter, Alan Hirsch, identifies the outcome of such a theology. He states, “A genuinely messianic monotheism therefore breaks down any notions of a false separation between "the “sacred’ and the “secular.”

If the world and all in it belongs to God, and comes under his direct claim over it in and through Jesus, then there can be no sphere of life that is not radically open to the rule of God.

There can be no-God area in our lives and in our culture.”


What exactly does this mean?

It means that God is sovereign over “all” the earth because “all the earth” is under Him.

It means that “the world” that God loves is not limited to any one area but everywhere.

Therefore, the sovereign God is free to show up anywhere He decides, without our permission.

For “from him and through him and to Him are all things (Rom. 13:36).

Moreover, it means that because of God’s sovereignty “the world” makes up the “sacred” (those things under God), while excluding the “profane,” the things that are against God.

God Loves

the Kosmos


God loves the world and everything

in it because it is His creation.  

The word


or “world “in ancient Greek can have several different meanings; including, the entire created universe, all of humanity and even refers to those who are alienated from God.

The Apostle John has an affinity for the word, repeatedly utilizing its various meanings within his gospel.

It’s true that he uses it in the latter negative sense “of those alienated from God” when he mentions that the world stands in judgment apart of Christ (John 16:8-11), that the world hates God (John 7:4), or referring to Satan as the ruler of the world (John 14:30).

Still, all these references (as well as others) only support the Hebraic monotheistic worldview.

The “profane” (those areas outside of God’s influence) though while literally called “the world” are, in fact, “the world that God loves.”

“The world” that God loves is His universal creation: that was made through Him and which He was apart (John 1:10), that He loves and does not condemn (John 3:16, 17), that He doesn’t want to take the disciples out of (John 17:15-18), that He brings light into which will shine as long as He’s present (John 9:5), that He removes the enemy from (John 12:31), and that He has conquered (John 16:33).

It’s the world that He doesn’t want to abandon, sending both His disciples and the Holy Spirit (John 16:25-27).

If God hates the world so much, if the world is such a terrible place, why go through all the trouble?

Furthermore, it’s this world and not heaven that is our final home (Rev. 21).

This creation that is loved by God includes all of humanity from across the globe.

This goes past just human beings; for how can we divorce human culture from human beings?

How can one be separated from the history, environment, and family that make up who one is?

This is impossible but what is attempted when we perceive God as just loving humanity but not everything associated with humanity, like culture.

Think about it.

It’s like a marine biologist trying to appreciate marine life while ignoring what the animals do under water.

The marine biologist who loves marine animals must also love the environment (or culture) in which those animals thrive.

If not, the biologist will not be able to truly love the animals because he or she lacks adequate understanding.

This is how I believe the apostle John perceives God’s love for the world.

God must love human culture (art, music, dance, literature, etc.) howbeit fallen because He loves human beings who are fallen.

He therefore cares about human systems and environments as He does the human being.

This coupled with the Christian monotheistic claim of God’s sovereignty gives us a broader perspective of God’s love and redemption.

God through Jesus Christ is sovereign over the entire world while loving and caring for it.

The combination of these two realities gives God not only power in the world but freedom to bring all things under his feet so that God may be all in all (1 Cor 15:25, 28).

Why Does It Matter That God Loves The World?

The above theological framework carries with it several implications.

However, I will only list two here.

First, there must be a recognition that God works within the world.

While He is a supernatural being, we should see God as primarily working “naturally.”

Namely, using human beings; thus, working within human culture.

Just as ancient Israel confessed the Shema, we must confess that God is free to work however, wherever He desires; including the culture we live in.

This practically plays out when Christians cease using language that creates dualism between the church and the world.

The coined Christian verbiage of “us” versus “them” or “the church” versus “the world” isn’t beneficial.

It only serves to create a wall between the “good” people (Christians) and “bad” people (everyone else).

When this is done, there’s no way we can admit that God can work within the world.

Let’s not forget that we all are “bad” people. For “all have sinned…”


During the gold rush men became experts at finding gold.

In the same way, we must discern God's work in the world.

Second, there must be a responsibility to discern God within the world.

It’s one thing to confess that God can work within the world but it’s another thing to discern it.

Discernment is the ability to see through the gray of life, and identify the deeper value and quality of a thing.

In this case, the surrounding human culture and systems.

We must discern whether there is any value. We must discern whether or not the things within the world speak any truth.

If so, we must listen.

This is Paul’s meaning behind his comments to the Philippians, “

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Phil. 4:8).

This gives us license to survey all of the world in an attempt to identify its complex and sometimes hostile beauty.

We’re liberated to discern the working of God in the singing of birds, the serenity of a lake, the laws of government, the beauty of fine art, the thoughtfulness of literature, the fun of pop, the mellowness of jazz, and the realism of hip hop.

All of these areas and more are resources for Christian spirituality and ministry but only when we can discern God within them.


The theme of this essay has centered on God’s love for the world.

But what does that mean exactly?

In short, I’ve argued that God is sovereign over all creation and loves all creation.

This creation includes humanity along with its culture.

Therefore God who both is sovereign over and loves the world is free to use human culture in order to reconcile it.

This provides the Christian with rich resources for spirituality and ministry only one recognizing and discerns the movements of God.

God is out there right now working in the world.

He’s using artists, musicians, politicians, and anybody He can find (be they Christian or non-believers) to proclaim and defend truth.

As sovereign, He’s subverting the kingdoms of this world in order to establish His Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

However strong, God enlists more help.

He enlists those who instead of criticizing the culture for its evils will, like Him, seek to subvert it with truth, hope and love.

This can happen on a large scale or a personal one.

The size of the participation is irrelevant.

What’s important is that the people of God seek to love everything that makes up the world, as God does.


Alan Hirsch,

The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church

(Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2006), 94-95.

Why We Need Hip-Hop (Pt. 4)

Here we go again with another piece in the God Loves Hip-Hop series. We are happy to have Dr. Delroy Brooks to add his expertise to our conversation. Dr. Brooks holds degrees from Oakwood University, Andrews University, and Fuller Theological Seminary. As a missiology specialist he demonstrates special commitment to evangelizing youth. He currently pastors the Juniper Avenue SDA Church in Fontana, California. Follow him on twitter @Dayufpasta.

"Hip-Hop is 'Street News.' It keeps us 
abreast and accountable to what's going on in the hood."

            In it’s now forty years of existence, Hip-Hop has gone through numerous phases. It started out as party music with the creation of the break beat DJs, break-dancers, and graffiti artists coming together to build a culture that would embrace all the hope, pain, potential and promise of inner city youths. Hip-Hop has not just become a vehicle to reach black young people, but all young people (George 1998). Hip-Hop has always been the vehicle for those who felt they had no voice. I remember listening to Melle Mel’s staccato ramblings on “The Message:”

Don’t push me cause I’m close to the edge
I’m trying not to lose my head
It’s like a jungle sometimes it makes me wonder
how I keep from going under
The Message, Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five

            I didn’t grow up in the ghetto. I grew up in a working class neighborhood in Springfield, Queens (on the Q3 bus line); just a few stops from the famed Hollis and Jamaica Queens that produced Hip-Hop heavyweights like, Run DMC, LL Cool J, A Tribe Called Quest, and others. And even though I didn’t live in the tight quarters of 40 projects or any housing project of the Bronx, I was very familiar with the realities of "The Message." There were days that I felt like I could be "close to the edge" walking to middle school or riding the bus to high school. His words were musical markers of my route when he said:

Broken glass everywhere
People pissin in the stairs you know they just don’t care
I can’t take the smell can’t take the noise
I got no money to move out I guess I got no choice.
Rats in the front room roaches in the back
Junkies in the alley with a baseball bat
I tried to get away but I couldn’t get far
Cause a man with a tow truck repossessed my car

It was as though he and the countless other Hip-Hop artists were there with me in the midst of that environment. He obviously could identify firsthand with the struggles of urban life and poor people. The soundtrack of my early adolescence and high school years would be filled with the sounds of the hip-hop, reggae, and even British pop, but it’s the music of Hip-Hop artists that taught me about my community, its struggles, and the unrealized dreams of my peers.

At its best, hip-hop identifies the ugly realities of urban communities under assault by poverty, violence, and racial injustice. At its worst, it seems to celebrate the horrors of gang violence, rape, and misogyny, hostility toward gays and immigrants, and an anarchic gun culture. The controversial "edge" of hip-hop can be recognized from such songs as N.W.A.'s calls to kill police to Snoop Dogg's explicit portrayal of women as sexual playthings to rapper Tyler, the Creator's jarring lyrics, controversial even in the hip-hop community: "Come take a stab at it faggot; I pre-ordered your casket."(Moore 2013)

            There are many ills that are a part of city life. Hip-Hop is our man on the street, giving us the 411 on what’s happening on the corner.  Hip-Hop and it’s itinerant group of beat reporters share the news of what’s going on in the urban neighborhoods; allowing a now global village to tap in to a hopelessness and rage that can only be known by people who have been oppressed. These beat reporters are the griots of the postmodern age, a new caste that uses the mediums of lyrics, graffiti and dance to create oral and aural catalogues of the local and globally local (glocal) community. Representing history within the reach of those who seize the opportunity to speak for themselves, to represent their own interests at all costs (Dyson 1996). According to seminal rapper Chuck D, rap has been referred to as “the CNN of the streets” and theologian Cornel West believes it [rap] to be “the last form of transcendence available to young black ghetto dwellers.” (Gutierrez 2008)

Reporters keep us aware of events in our community.
Likewise, rappers give us updates from the ghetto.
            In the midst of economic crisis and the loss of jobs in every sector of the economy, many inner city blacks, latinos and even whites are drawn to the informal underground economy that is portrayed in Hip-Hop lyrics. Every aspect of the black market, be it the trafficking and sale of illegal narcotics and pharmaceuticals, robberies and thefts, and the sale of counterfeit goods, etc. are all responses to economic issues. Furthermore, at their inception, gangs and gang activities were responses to social and familial dysfunctions. At the same time, those artists that espouse the more spiritual/positive side of hip hop also share a message among this class of city dwellers. Kurtis Blow reminds us that, “In the beginning it was really spiritual. It came out of a cry from an oppressed people. And it was beautiful” (Gutierrez 2008). These are those who despite the pain that they face, have determined to make deep meaning and positive values from their surroundings.

            This ability to tell a well-crafted story of the ills of the ghetto and street life cannot be lost on the local church. In the same manner that a pastor can get up in front of a congregation to share the good news of the gospel, Hip-Hop is reminding the church about the realities of sin and the need for grace—and returning the Hip-Hop community to its prophetic roots (Moore 2013). It is important for pastors and people of faith to tap into the CNN of the streets to stay acquainted with the issues of the underclass, the under-served, the under-aged, and the under-reported. It’s time for the church to listen to what the streets are saying and reach for all those young men and women who are so close to the edge that they feel like they may be falling. It’s time for the church to hear what they are saying and cultivate relationships that will allow entry into a world with which we are not familiar.

            We need these urban reporters of the inner city to keep reporting the information from the streets. We need their guidance to know how to reach out to them, and how to do so in ways that are relevant as well as redemptive. They are writing the roadmaps to the disenfranchised and the disaffected, the broken and the bruised, the helpless and the voiceless. If we do not listen and hear their hurt, pain, and perspective, then how will we know how to locate them? How will we know how to apply the salve of God’s grace to their struggles and needs? We as the church need to listen to the report and create the methods and ministries that can take action to affect our communities for the cause of Christ.

"Bringin tha Real" - Emotional Truth in Hip-Hop by Dr. Frank Thomas

I have been following the work and ministry of Dr. Frank Thomas for a few years now.  I would even venture to say that I consider him a distant mentor in that he has been very gracious to me in supporting my writing ministry (he bought all three of my books), and he's given me great advice on a few occasions. Today I was blessed to hear him preach about humility and servanthood. But then who knew that he would be lecturing about Hip-Hop in his follow-up plenary. Needless to say, I was thoroughly blessed and surprised that he was pratically standing up there writing my dissertation for me given that the majority of his scholarly work is in homiletics and preaching. Trust me when I say this is gonna challenge you and bless you at the same time.


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Hip-Hop and Homiletics (God Loves Hip-Hop #5)

Here's the 5th installation in the God Loves Hip-Hop series.

Be on the lookout for the next conversation in the series. Remember every third Thursday. And be sure to keep the convo going with the hashtag on twitter #GodLovesHipHop. Also, be on the lookout for the book: God Loves Hip-Hop. 

Of Trains and Tragedies (Reflections on Fruitvale Station)

It would probably be impossible for me to go to bed after what I just saw. Technically, I shouldn't even be writing this considering the fact that we are on vacation. We drove down to South Florida at the start of the weekend to see my grandma and the rest of the fam. Among a list of other things like going to the beach and sitting out by grandma's lake, we already knew we wanted to see Fruitvale Station. Mental note: choose lighter entertainment for future vacations.

I knew I wasn't ready to face Oscar Grant, but as a leader and out of respect, I knew I needed to watch it. And that's the thing. I don't think the world is ready to face Oscar Grant. I'm certain mainstream America isn't. And I know the church isn't. The real tragedy is just that. We don't hear Oscar Grant. We have not sympathized with his struggle. And I can hear the Bill O'Reillys, Don Lemons, and Uncle Ruckuses of the world already. They will say, "Pull up your pants." "These are the consequences of your actions." "Nobody made you sell drugs." "You have to pull yourself up by your bootstraps."

These are the ones who assume that Oscar's got boots to begin with. And if he has boots, where does he get the straps? I don't know. I never had any straps. Ask your dad. Speaking of fathers, anybody notice that there was not even a mention of Oscar's dad in the movie? Anybody seen Oscar's dad? Tell him his son's looking for him.

To mainstream America Oscar is a problem. And it's not because he's a convicted felon, it's not even because he got into a fight on the train. The cops never even took the time to effectively assess the situation on the train. The cop was at level 10 from the moment he first laid eyes on Oscar. "Arrest them. These punks are going to jail" (paraphrase). The cop never listened to what he had to say.

I have often argued the same point about rap music. We refuse to listen to what they're saying. "It's just sex, money, and cars," says one pastor. Does it matter that he's white? Just admit that you're not really listening. And we're not listening for a number of reasons. But maybe it's just that we don't know how to listen. It really does seem like cops these days don't know how to listen. So often they will escalate, rather than deescalate a conflict. Fact is, we're not listening to Oscar Grant.

In the film, Grant's daughter Tatiana begs him not to
go out into the night because she's afraid he'll get hurt. 
There are numerous dark foreshadowing scenes in the movie. His daughter tells him not to go. His mom warns him while he's in prison. And he even gives a quasi-threat to his boss while begging for his job. But the one that grabbed me the most was the moment when he finds the stray dog at the gas station. For a moment it looked like a boxer, but a pit bull is much more poignant imagery for urban black culture. I'll go with the pit bull. Oscar sees the pit, goes over and pets and coddles this docile beast. Then, in a few short moments, a reckless driver hits the dog and speeds away with tires squealing. Oscar calls for help, but nobody hears him. Nobody comes. Nobody's listening. To so many people, Oscar and the dog are one and the same. We all know what happens to stray dogs. They're dangerous. They lock them up, put them to sleep, or they end up dead in the street...or the train station. Nobody cares.

Speaking of trains. My son loves trains. He's a huge fan of Thomas and Friends, and he has lots of the little toy models of well...Thomas and his friends. Back in early spring, we took a road trip and drove all the way out to California. When you're driving out west you see A LOT of trains. I'm intrigued wondering where are all these trains coming from and going to. Little Christopher is convinced that they all go to Knapford Station. I seriously doubt it. Crazy thing, the route we drove took us through northern California. I looked at the map and was surprised how close we were to Oakland, San Fran, and thus of course, Fruitvale Station. Christopher wants to ride the train. I seriously don't want him to.

And there goes O'Reilly, Lemon, and Ruckus again. They say, "You black people are so paranoid." "Why don't you get over it?" "Let him ride the train." "Nothing's going to happen to him." But that's exactly what Oscar Grant's mom told him. She certainly didn't expect that her son's innocent train ride would be the last voluntary ride he would ever take. Kinda funny how something so innocent as riding the train to hang out with friends on New Year's, or going to the store to get snacks to munch on while you watch the game, can turn into a trip to the mortuary. White people don't normally have those kinds of problems, so they don't really get the fear, hopeless, helpless, nihilism thing. And they hate it when we say stuff like that.

And no, Oscar Grant was not a saint, so you may cast the first stone if you wish. However, Tracy and I agreed that we want to own the movie because we have a son who needs to learn why it's so important to make good decisions. Do the right thing. Stay on the straight and narrow. And if you must take that train ride, be careful because some stupid cop with no self-control might mistake his taser for his gun and murder you. I've never heard of this sort of thing happening to a white person. And yes Son, you can be anything you want. You can be an explorer who determines to ride every passenger train in the world. You can be a train conductor. Or you can be an engineer who designs and builds trains.  But just know, you have to be ten times better than the next (white) man or you'll never get your just due. You could even rise to the highest office in the world, but you'll still be able to relate all too closely with the Trayvon Martins and Oscar Grants of the world. Maybe it's time we read a book about the underground railroad. You should probably work on those kinds of trains. Apparently we still need them.

Racism, Resentment, and Renewal

I'm not sure if I ever made an official announcement, but I'm back in school in pursuit of a doctoral degree (specifically a DMin. - Doctor of Ministry), and as is made glaringly apparent by the nature of this blog, my research interest/focus is ministry to Hip-Hop culture. One of my recent courses was in ethics. My professor, Dr. Andrew Sung Park is also an author with quite a few books of his own in tow. At one point, the class was studying racism, and one of the required reading assignments was a chapter he wrote in a book Wading Through Many Voices - A compilation of essays by various multiethnic theology scholars on race, class, gender, etc.  Each essay contains a targeted response from a peer.

I highly recommend that you read the entire chapter written by Dr. Park here. However, if you're short on time, What follows is my response to his work.  There are a few points that I sought to respond directly to because I thought they were of prime significance. I post it here because one must know that racism (systematic, educational, institutional, and all the rest of its forms) are the bedrock of Hip-Hop culture.  There would be no Hip-Hop without racism.  Therefore it provides additional framework for the discussion in this blog. Here's a large portion of my response:

Dr. Park begins with a short survey of the approaches to multiculturalism in America.  It’s here that he questions, “All these models support either assimilation or pluralistic isolation, is it possible to appreciate diversity, yet improve the quality of diverse cultures without sacrificing our true unity?” In the simplest of terms, I would say that the answer is no; but I’d like to add another question. What unity? I assume that “our true unity” is meant to refer to the symbiotic bonds that naturally exist by God’s design and by the nature of our existence in the same geographical space. Yet, unity in the eyes of the normative group is assimilation…or nothing.  I have often argued that multiculturalism is often at best an agreement of middle class values. It’s economic, rather than ethnic. And that too is a framework built by euro-centered values of economy and democracy.  However, I propose that (at least for African-Americans, especially poor ones) the withdrawal approach actually involves escapism from the trauma of persistent systematic and institutional terror and abuse.

In Democracy Matters, Cornel West talks about the irony and the hypocrisy of the “American democratic experiment” in that the nation’s founders were trying to escape the empire while creating one of their own.[1]  They were seeking their own freedoms, yet simultaneously enslaving others.  It’s a deeply harrowing concept to me.  I’m inclined to suggest that the “experiment” had failed at it’s outset because it had compromised it’s own founding principles.  Historically speaking, the concept of “liberty and justice for all” has never been an American reality.  And so we continue to pledge our allegiance in the hopes that one day, someday, we will get it right.  But what is the pledge exactly? We are taught to approach it like a prayer, when it’s actually a pronouncement and a promise—a promise that often seems to have been terribly, irreparably broken.

Dr. Park prescribes that “we need to accept each culture as it is.”  This is an extremely tall order for dominant, normative culture.  Blacks can relate to and appreciate Native Americans, Latino peoples (and others), because we each have been systematically terrorized and marginalized by the dominant group.  Yet, normative culture lives in constant willful ignorance and denial of the realities that exist at their own hands. African-American culture is the house that oppression built. 

To accept and appreciate the field songs and spirituals is to accept and admit the legacy of forced labor and slavery that made them find solace in songs.  To accept the blues is to accept the bruises of Jim Crow. To embrace the black church is to confront the religious and hermeneutical manipulation that sought to sanctify and spiritualize oppression and injustice. To celebrate black intellect, innovation and achievement is to own the segregation and the glass ceiling that made such ground-breaking, record-shattering progress necessary.  

Rap music forces us to hear the heart, the hurt,
the pathos and the pain of the projects. 
To appreciate the beauty and power of Hip-Hop and contemporary black urban cultures is to unveil the institutional and systematic degradation and denigration of black communities with the concrete quarantine silos of the Cabrini Greens, Marcy Projects, Magnolia Projects, and Jordan Downs of the US. I’m not certain that the dominant group has enough acres or mules, or that they even desire to actually care.  Accept each culture as it is?  The normative culture was forced on blacks, but do they accept us is a more relevant question.

Yet, that’s the beauty of African-American culture. We took lashes, and developed thick skin.  We bent over to pick up cotton, and picked up an even stronger work ethic and resolve. We took the scraps that the slave master gave us, and made soul-food.  We took those tattered and torn textbooks and dilapidated school-houses, and built brilliant scholars and HBCUs.  We took the brick buildings, vacant lots, abandoned buildings and poor-excuse-for-playgrounds of the projects, and turned them into fortresses to incubate the next generation of overachievers, canvasses for urban art, dance floors for community parties and arenas for rap battles with perfect natural acoustics.

But one must not remain angry. Dr. Park presents a powerful hermeneutic of the cross and suggests that the dying to self demands “forsaking our outmoded identity means negotiating a new boundary by negating our old self that was negated by various oppressors.” He goes on to recommend that, “As long as we have racial prejudice within, we cannot fight against racism without.” I am convicted again that the cross renews us and demands that we like Christ would, despite the abuse, by the power of the resurrection, rise to walk in the newness of life—a life that is guided by grace.  The grace of God has been so freely given to me.  I must give it to those around me.  This is hard, but God is love.

[1] Cornel West, Democracy Matters (New York: Penguin, 2004), 42-45.  In the very first line of the book West addresses the “legacy of white supremacy” and the threat that it poses to authentic democracy. It’s in the second chapter that he explores the tension of a free society built by slave labor.  He argues that American Democracy is at risk because of remixed modes of imperialism. 

Why We Need Hip-Hop (Pt. 3)

I am proud to present the long-awaited third installment in the Why We Need Hip-Hop series. This time we welcome guest columnist, Lester R. Collins Jr. Lester is originally from St. Paul, MN. As a child, he spent his summers in the projects of N. Philly. He attended Morehouse College and graduated from Oakwood University with a BS in Counseling Psychology. He holds masters degrees in both Divinity and Social Work. A published author, he wrote a devotional for teens titled, Going Green for God. He and his family live in the DFW area where he pursues a PhD in Social Work.

Everyone has struggled at times to find the right words to express themselves. People often say, “I know what I want to say, but I can’t find the right words.” Ever since 1973, Hip-Hop artists have been masters of the art of finding the right words. Hip-Hop showcases an array of artists who possess the aim and unique ability to uplift people and express themselves with authenticity and excellence.
            Despite frequent use of the expressions “keepin’ it real” and “real talk”, the world is craving authenticity. The first example that comes to mind is Milli Vanilli. The infamous duo fell from the heights of Grammy-winning success when it was revealed that all of their songs were lip-synced. Ironically, their first album was entitled Girl You Know It’s True. It wasn’t. Authenticity means being true, sincere, genuine, transparent, honest.
Authenticity could pose a challenge for artists with humble beginnings of poverty, crime, violence, and struggle. Who would want to readily and openly share the despicable details of a deprived life? Not most people. Then there must be some level of tension within those artists who continue to sing about those things after achieving super net worth and living in gated communities. I wonder how an artist who is no longer struggling to pay bills can sing about struggling to pay bills? I often wonder what makes a gangster who is now a multi-millionaire rap about gang-banging as if it were his present reality. Wouldn’t it be easy to just walk away from that life; forget it all, and never look back on all that pain and suffering? But then, that would be considered “sellin’ out.” Nobody wants to be a “sell-out.” Everybody wants to stay true to where they came from and “keep it real.”
Rapper Rick Ross (William Roberts) has been heckled
by the Hip-Hop community for posing as a gangster.
Conversely, there are artists who haven’t had challenging beginnings; who vie for credibility when they express their reflections on topics that have never been associated with their backgrounds. The list is long of various artists who presented a hardcore persona on stage but were later found to be as soft as cotton swabs. One glaring example of this is when Miami-based rapper Rick Ross invoked the name of infamous drug kingpin Manuel Noriega, when he said, “I know Pablo, Noriega. The real Noriega, he owe me a hundred favors.” A crafty rap line, but an obviously dishonest one nonetheless. The entire Hip-Hop world had already been put on notice about his past life as a correctional officer, but these remarks and other related gangster name-dropping lines began to pile up fast. Soon thereafter, word got around that he was receiving actual threats from real gangs, which resulted in cancelled concerts and tour dates. Who knows whether or not that's true, but what we do know is that he still gets clowned for name-dropping people he's never met, and stealing the personas of legendary gangsters.
The truth is, there is a long list of these sort of rap music posers; posturing and profiling like thugs in an effort to garner mainstream success. Just google fake rappers. However, the story of Rick Ross is also a case study in the internal checks and balances of the Hip-Hop community. Hip-Hop culture (in general) and rap music (specifically) demands authenticity.  One of the longstanding rules of rap is to be yourself. Back in the early years of rap, artists who tried to sound like other artists were maligned, lambasted, and even blackballed from the industry. These days, whatever gimmick one can use to raise YouTube views and record sales is often celebrated. However, the old guard of Hip-Hop remains steadfast in its demand for authenticity. Phrases like, “Come correct” and, “Keep it 100” are perpetual pronouncements of an artist’s responsibility to be authentic. And despite the blind fandom of the masses, the keepers of the culture may have already quietly revoked your hood hall pass for swagga-jackin. A true Hip-Hopper would never want that to happen.
Closely related to this issue is a budding trend in which it seems some artists were actually making good on threats and getting into real legal trouble in order to bolster their “street cred.” Now with that said, it’s obvious that there are some rappers that actually do have criminal records and numerous street war stories to tell. However, it’s also true that there are many who are simply trying to make a name for themselves. This is not the type of keepin’ it real that society needs. None of us wants or needs to see more violence, crime, or negativity to help us believe you are a credible artist. Creativity does not require crime. And negativity does not have a monopoly on reality. Now that’s real talk!
On the other hand, sincerity does not equal truth. A person can actually be sincerely wrong. However, sincerity does equal truthfulness as far as the conveyer is concerned. If a person is being sincere what can be said to argue or gainsay against their expressions? However, it is not enough to be sincere and transparent. The challenges facing society are too great to be merely articulated. These challenges need to be addressed in constructive ways. And Hip-Hop has had a long tradition of constructively addressing difficult issues.
In 1989, KRS-One of Boogie Down Productions assembled an all-star cast to record the Hip-Hop classic “Self Destruction.” The song was part of attempts to stem the tide of violence in the urban African-American community. The following year, the west coast followed suit when Dr. Dre and a cast of about 20 rap stars formed the West Coast All-Stars and produced the track entitled “We’re All in the Same Gang.” Similar efforts were repeated in 2008 and 2009. And just this week, a group of legendary rap personalities came together to constructively discuss positive ways and means of moving forward after the controversial George Zimmerman verdict. One rapper even gave a live performance of the song he wrote in honor of Trayvon Martin. Others were also referenced and played during the show to show the solidarity and the heart of the Hip-Hop community. The song (Self Destruction) and its fruit are examples of the positive affects that Hip-Hop can have. Speaking of positive affects, this brings us to the issue of excellence.
            Excellence means aiming for and maintaining a high standard. Excellent speech--word selection, mental rigor, excellent aims--bring glory to God and bring people to God’s glory, so they can have God’s glory restored in them (Colossians 1:7). When speaking of excellence in Hip-Hop, the first thing that comes to mind is the fairly-recent album by unstoppable rap duo Kanye West and Jay-Z entitled “Watch The Throne.” The title itself speaks to the level of excellence they command and aspire to. Yet there are several tracks on the album that bespeak a rare type of musical genius and creative production.  Although there are some challenging theological issues interlaced in the songs, one can’t help but have thoughts of greatness when listening to tracks like “Otis” and “No Church in the Wild.” The former pays homage to an R&B - Soul luminary, Otis Redding, while meshing it with some of the best of what Hip-Hop production and engineering has to offer.
Rappers are exceptional artists. They combine literary
genius with charismatic flair in stage performances.
Then there are some Hip-Hop artists who often combine authenticity and creativity and score “perfect 10s” with their feats of lyrical gymnastics while using the art form to teach. Take for instance “Hey Young World” by rap great Slick Rick, or “Mathematics” by Mos Def or even Lauryn Hill’s “Doo-Wop.”  The list is too long to include here, but rappers have long sought to communicate life lessons with lyrical genius to spur their listeners on to personal development and growth. This takes the most careful and painstaking skill and ability.
Some innovative classrooms have built on this tradition and even utilized rap and Hip-Hop to help students learn. Take for instance the work of Dr. Christopher Emdin; Associate Professor at Columbia University Teacher’s College. His extensive research asserts that Hip-Hop is the perfect vehicle to utilize for science instruction. His work has led to city-wide rap battles where New York high schoolers can showcase their science knowledge and rhyme skills at the same time.

But it is the very art of rap that embodies excellence. People often forget that rapping is poetry, one must be a skilled writer to compose good rhymes. Rapping demands lyrical skill and a strong command of language. It is imperative that one know how to use words, how to construct rhymes, the various rhyme schemes, styles and types of composition and so much more. And all of that is just for the sake of writing raps. The art of performance demands a whole new set of skills. One must be adept in delivery: diction, breath control, timing, observation, and on and on. Then, on top of all of that, a rapper must mesh all of the technical work of writing and performing into their own personal style and voice. The number one fear of most people is speaking in public. Rappers have mastered the art of addressing a crowd, and those who do it best are excellence personified.
It’s one thing to be able to put together words with deep meaning, another to be able to assemble rhyming words; but it is ingenious to put together in-depth words that rhyme. Hip-Hop is full of potential to uplift a people and spur many towards excellence. It is my hope that when artists use vocabulary, or make allusions to political, historical, geographical, sociological, or scientific themes that are unfamiliar to their hearers – that the hearers make it a point to research those concepts and thus increase their knowledge, power, and progress. And this is why we need Hip-Hop. It spurs us toward those great divine virtues...authenticity and excellence.