Street Gospel And Rap Derived from Black Theology of Liberation
Religions always been the driving force of rise and fall of empires. It was the force that freed Israelite’s from Egypt Pharaoh and it was the force that freed Muslims from Pagans. Similarly, this chapter talks about how black people got their inspiration of freedom and liberation from religion. This chapter basically focuses on the black theology, source, and norm. The holy scripture is the word of “God” and prophets brought the revelations from God to men in need. That being said, there are tons of history written on the holy scriptures either in Bible, Torah or Koran. The basics come down to the use of that scripture.
However, there is a new form of scripture that has been forming, innovating and changing since last century. The kind of gospel that was hard to be contained and is evident to everyone. The message doesn’t need to inscribed in a holy book, but rather be heard and memorized by heart. These are the gospel made by human-kind, sick of their oppressors and sick of the daily struggle. These gospels have taken an artistic form and the words are rhymed to depict an instance, personal story and struggle. That’s the becoming of a new religion known as Rap music. This paper will touch down the street gospels made my African American rappers, in which, they have devised their way to aware and motivate current and future generations to be the driving force in face of injustice and oppression. This paper will touch down the brief history of Rap and the comparison between different rappers to establish a link to new religion.
Gospel could be interpreted as a book of beliefs. A certain book containing the commandments and revelations of the God. However, the structure of the gospel has been changing and now, there have been two categories of the books known as the Sacred text (the original commandments and revelations from God written down) and the Gospels (The interpretation of the commandments and revelations). However, the gospels aren’t limited to the sacred text such as bible and Torah, however, the gospel have taken many forms as many as there are cultures in the world. One of the form is known as the Street Gospels. These gospels are different from any other gospels, as it’s taken shape in the ghettos of African American neighborhoods. They incorporate struggle, the spirituals, the raps, the music and every word flowing like a rhythm and particularly a Religion. Rap is the biggest form of these gospels. The Rap contains the culture of African American community from a different aspect and angle. These include their daily life struggles as the beings of untransformed territory, the oppressed and degraded people in the American ground.
Hence, every rapper or musician makes his/her own gospel, in which, they write their struggle, their interpretation of life, political, judicial and religious view and sing that. The point of these rap is to motivate a community and bring awareness. It’s just like a battle hymn that the war hasn’t ended and there is a need to continue this war until the evil forces are haunted down and people get their promised liberation. The raps include references to black history or personal struggles of African American community. These battle hymn is released to the masses, where millions of people get to hear it, from radios to person stereos and the message is delivered. These words, raps, hip-hop and other forms become the gospels and as majority of rappers is from the street, hence, they form their own Gospel, namely, Street Gospel.
Black Christian Church as the way to attract African Americans to Church. The gospel music or spirituals African American was a way of worship and had been introduced since 1930s. Although, the critiques detest this relationship of music and religion, however, the change was irresistible. There are countless gospel music all over the internet and it’s a new style adopted by Black Churches to worship God, to praise him, to make a prayer and ask for mercy and repentance. For instance, Sam Lucas’ De Gospel Cars was the source of gospel music in the church. Many of the gospel music include instances from world war and civil wars. Even before the civil war, these spirituals were the founding stone of motivation and escape plans for former slaves. The hymn of battle, O Mary don’t you cry and many more spirituals were there for motivation and strengthening of African Americans’ will towards liberation and freedom. However, now, Gospel music has spread across the whites as well. Now, males and females, in form of solos or choir, are making gospel music and it’s the reason that many of the forms has taken place into the current world, like rap. The latest example is from 1992, when Marion Williams’ Amazing Grace was recorded (Loc.org).
Brief History of Rap
Rap emerged from the hip-hop culture impoverished in South Bronx in mid 1970s. It was innovated by DJs and MCs in the club, when playing and breaking the record in the clubs. It made a beat and on the dance floor, everybody, girls and boys had a specific reaction. However, this was the first formation of rap. Later, the artist found this way of music and beat as a cornerstone to fit their poetry. Rappers adjusted their language or innovated the English language to fit perfectly with the beat, rhythm and rhyming. Some of the rappers found a spectacular way to fit the idea of rapping to the historic events. That’s where, the struggles and modern day spirituals were born. The idea of invocating daily life struggles, historic events and motivational message, the African American community found a new way to spread the message across the board. As hip-hop culture was introduced by the African Americans in the South Bronx, this particular rapping culture was innovated and reformed over years and somehow it reached the world as the message was so powerful and irresistible. That’s where, most of the famous rappers found refuge and made a name and have become part of a new theology (Bradley, and DuBois).
Rap and Religion
People used to believe that the rap is a message of love, hope and God. Many rappers started out as to earn millions but their background stories are all related to God. Kurtis Blow, who was known as the King of the Rap in 1970s, lost all of his fame and glory. Records stopped selling and he recalled his Childhood memory on the day, when he could hear the cop’s siren and a scared little boy on his bed in Harlem. On that day, he recalled that God spoke to him and after years later, he realized that he needs to rap in the streets praising God and he did with many rappers in the record, Payback Blood. The similar instances took place with many rappers like Jahneen Otis. She made fame with her record, The Gigolette, but after years, she found peace in God and worked $75 an hour as a music director in the church. For whatever reason, most of the rappers felt it irresistible to connect their rap to God and Religion (Gutierrez).
Rap and Religion are connected and to prove this, Dr. Utley’s, Rap and Religion: Understanding the Gangsta’s God, book makes it evident. Today, the world sees rappers as Gangsters but Dr. Utley sheds light on that subject. Gangster’s image was the way through rap in which, African American males proved their physical and sexual prowess. However, after 9/11 attacks, most of the Muslim Rappers stopped taking Islamic references after targeted shootings on Muslim Rappers just like Tupac Shakur. However, the shift changed into Christianity rap mode and rappers began to inscribe their bodies with cross, crucifixes and Jesus tattoos (Utley).
Dr. Utley also detailed the relationship of Rap with Religion with rappers and their meaning to connect religion to their art. It involves rappers like Jay Z, Nicki Minaj and Snoop Dogg etc. Rappers used words and rhymes to communicate with God, interpreting the meaning of life, tackling with the social ill and understanding God’s will. In Award shows, rappers thank God for making a positive change just like Snoop and Nicki, however, rap comprises of much more. It connects to the relationship with the Divine and Human-kind. It also takes biblical forms and detest satanic beliefs (Utley).
Rapping, A New Black Christian Anthology
Christian Theology is the theology of Liberation as discussed by Dr. James H. Cone, in his book, A Black Theology of Liberation, however, a new kind of theology based from the slaves from the nineteenth and twentieth century has begun to take place and it is in the form of Christian rap (hip-hop Gospel) (Vastos). These rappers are known as spiritual activists and they have taken their message from the Negro spirituals and now spreading the current problems of the race in the context of political, socio-economic struggles in America (Moody).
Gospel rap is being used to attract younger black audience to Black Churches in order to evangelize them and the research statistic shown by Barnes (2008) depicts a correlation between increase in younger audience, especially the male black population in churches with increased used of Gospel rap in its proceedings. Although, there is conflict between White Churches or Evangelist Churches in generals as it deviates from the path of true religious congregations and the debate is endless. Nevertheless, black churches have found that Gospel rap reaches out to younger males as well female black population than the conventional and traditional customs and practices involved in church proceedings. (Barnes)
Lastly, irrespective of the rap’s contribution towards religion, another research by Yasue Kuwahara depicts that rap is a source of empowerment and pleasure leading to resistance in Afro-American students. He found that hearing to rap music provides black students with the motivation to resist the social and racial injustice towards them and lyrics holds the power for their expression of physical and sexual prowess. It is the medium through which black students are able to have higher retention rates in colleges and higher educational institutes. It is equally popular in white students as well. Hence, the research emphasizes on the importance of rap medium to reach younger audience to interact or relay the message of greater change (Kuwahara).
Young Thug Vs. Meek Mill Rapping
Even though Young Thug doesn’t rap about the struggles, his songs still hold different meaning. They might not be considered as modern day spirituals, but he was just recently named most influential rapper of the 21st Century. Thug makes millions and then teaches people, how to make them. He helped Gunna, Lil baby, Wheezy, Lil Uzi and Lil Keed come out. Meek Mill, on the other hand, raps about the African American struggle. He raps about the School to Prison Pipeline. Also, he raps about things going on in the world right now. His songs are considered as modern day spirituals. Thug and Meek mill have a couple of great songs together, yet their rap styles are different and what they rap about is different but they still make it work.
Meek Mill Song’s Analysis
Meek Mill – 1942 Flows
Started off poor with plans to earn more
Now we own stores and fuck the baddest whores
I was on tour with niggas that’s so raw
Started selling white, we won’t sell it no more
I’m like, Trump ain’t feeling us, cops still killing us
Niggas taking shots, can’t stop me, they ain’t real enough
Cut her off, act like she’s dead and it’s killing her
New dawn, Hermes seats, I left the ceiling up
Just to get to kill ’em softly
Ooh, get them off me, try to crucify me
Like I’m Jesus, the way she cross me
As it is evident that this is comprised of personal struggle of Meek and his perception of how African Americans are doing White’s people bidding or merging into the white culture. The message is violent and uses a strong language, but a relationship with Divinity has been made here. The Jesus is known as the embodiment of Divine and as he went through persecutors, crucified and redeemed, there is a relation to that biblical context in this song. In this video, Meek just came out of the jail as a reference that he was persecuted. He is making an analogy with himself and Jesus as people are trying to crucify him and the black people, as they are merging into the white culture. But after being coming out of jail, he has been redeemed. He found redemption and will try to maintain his identity.
Young Thug Song’s Analysis
Young Thug – Just How It Is
Yeah, R.I.P. Nipsey, I can tell you how they get rich
I can tell you how to die or how to live in this bitch
I can tell you how to talk the most impeccable shit
I can show you how to walk like you got decimals, bitch
Show you how I can get the top from all the top ten bitches
Although, the in itself doesn’t hold a motivation message or struggles, it still is the shout out for his African American people to come to him and he’ll make them stand above the crowd. Dr. Utley’s book does include something which is relatable here. For instance, in her book, he quoted Snoop Dogg’s speech in an MTV Award festival saying that he is thankful to God for letting him do something positive. I believe that the same context is valid here. Although, he isn’t trying to motivate African Americans or strengthening their will against injustice of the political structure, he is helping his fellow African Americans to step out of the shadows and become his disciples as, he will lead them to the top. As discussed earlier, Young Thug did help many African American artists, he is doing something positive in his own way. It may not be a modern day spiritual but it’s doing more than that. It is inviting black people with some talent of rapping to come to his and in turn, get rich and famous and to give their voices the power to be heard by the whole world.
Comparative Analysis of Young Thug and Meek Mill
Even though Young Thug doesn’t rap about the struggles, his actions show that he trying to change or contribute to the betterment of his Afro-American community. Although, the aims of these young rappers reveals that, not only Kanye wants to run for president, but also young thug. He said that in one of his interviews. Never show up early to a Young Thug concert because he always sings last. Every rapper has their own way of trying to influence people and make them relate to what they are rapping about. Whether it’s Meek Mill rapping about his never ending probation or young thug rapping about fun and drugs. In the end, the voices are being heard by the masses and it’s equally important to know that younger audience is always associating themselves with these rappers. Hence, rapping is the new Religion or Religious Cult, where followers are ever more increasing in numbers.
African American people have always found inspiration and motivation from the music. Be that as it may, in the era of slavery, civil wars or modern day world, music variable has always stayed the same. However, this variable has taken many forms as the cultural development progressed in United States. From spirituals to hip-hop to rap, it’s been the journey, where artists performed for the betterment of the whole community. The purpose of the rap or any other spirituals is to connect these black people towards the path of liberation set forth by the God. As the theologian Dr. Cone stated in his book, A Black Theology of Liberation, that the Christianity has always been the domain of white evangelists and has been used wrongly by the ministers of Churches to enslave black people and justify the degrading treatment towards them. However, he said that God is with the oppressed and not the oppressors. Hence, he made an analogy that if God is with the oppressed and black people are oppressed than, God is black and so is the Jesus.
Similarly, black rappers have made connections or analogy with themselves and Jesus. As black people are crucified and lynched in the modern era, in the context of incarceration, as depicted by Dr. Cone in his book, The Cross and Lynching Tree. Hence, Rappers uses that reference for the community as Jesus faced persecution, he was crucified and redeemed and so does the black people in US. They are being persecuted for their low socio-economic status and crucified in the form of incarceration but through all that, they’ll be redeemed as Jesus was redeemed. So, rap and religion has shared a common territory and is being used as the Gospel for the youth. Every street rapper has made his own Gospel; it’s just comes down to the follower that whom he’ll seek to get the message of redemption.
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Bradley, Adam, and Andrew DuBois. The Anthology Of Rap. Yale University Press, 2010.
Gutierrez, Eric. Disciples Of The Street. Seabury Books, 2008.
Kuwahara, Yasue. “Power To The People Y’all: Rap Music, Resistance, And Black College
Students1″. Humanity & Society, vol 16, no. 1, 1992, pp. 54-73. SAGE Publications, doi:10.1177/016059769201600105. Accessed 10 Dec 2019.
Loc.org. “African American Gospel”. The Library Of Congress, 2019,
Moody, David L. “Political Melodies In The Pews?: Is Black Christian Rap The New Voice Of
Black Liberation Theology?”. Bowling Green State University, 2010.
The Spirituals. Dir. Ari Palos. Dos Vatos, 2007. Kanopy. Web. 10 Dec. 2019.
Utley, Ebony. Rap And Religion. ABC-CLIO, 2012.
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