For as long as I can remember, hip hop has had an obsession with God and religion. I don’t mean to suggest that all rappers are religious devotees. But few rappers – or any artists for that matter – can shake the urge to include God somewhere in their art. It’s natural and good for us to speak about God, but the question is, what are we saying? Some will say, “It’s just music. Don’t take it so seriously!” But what a rapper says on the mic is more serious than you may think.
Some have used hip hop to express their sincere religious belief or lack thereof. Islam, The Five Percenters, Christianity, Agnosticism, Atheism, and other religions have all been promoted through the art form. I think hip hop is uniquely suited to express loyalty and devotion to anything we’re passionate about. Partly because of the culture’s compelling rawness and partly because hip hop allows for more words, thus you can actually “teach.”
But most of the time hip hop is more like a barbershop than a Sunday School class. Rappers recklessly run off at the mouth, whether they know what they’re talking about or not.
Sincerity vs. Recklessness
There are some whose rhymes reflect a sincere – though sometimes misguided – search for and struggle with truth. I respect that. One thinks of The Roots’ “Dear God 2.0,” or Kendrick Lamar’s “Dying of Thirst”.” *Even when I disagree with their assumptions or conclusions, I enjoy listening to sincere wanderings. And it often moves me to pray for my fellow emcees.
Hip hop has always had a darker side though, where artists treat God and religion with disrespect and irreverence. Rappers seem to say whatever words feel right in the moment – whether they actually believe them or not. And in a “post-Christian” nation like ours, these reckless assaults are usually aimed at Jesus and His church.
Of course, there are some things – like hypocrisy and money hungry “preachers” – that deserve to be mocked. But sadly, the Bible, the church, and God Himself are often treated like insignificant characters in a fiction story. I admit, hearing rappers talk about “freaky” girls in the church choir makes me cringe, but nothing grieves me more than mocking Jesus Himself.
Many rappers have called themselves God, put themselves on a level with Jesus, and have boastfully taken the Lord’s name in vain. They’ve built whole albums around irreverent religious themes. They’ve used their God-given creativity to insult their Creator. How ironic.
As a follower of Jesus, I am personally offended by what I hear, but more than that I’m afraid for the ones who spew these blasphemous words. We would all be afraid for a man who’d spit in the face of the President, but we should be even more afraid for a man who spits in the face of Almighty God.
Responding With Grace
So how should I respond? I could begin a campaign to boycott their music. Or, as a rapper myself, I could write a scathing diss record for the ages. I’ll let you decide whether either of those approaches are right or wrong. But honestly, I don’t think they would do much to address the real problem.
The music these rappers release is a reflection of their hearts. Our words are always a perfect picture of what’s going on inside of us. Have you ever tripped while holding a glass of water or juice? Whatever you have in the glass spills out onto the ground. As we all know, our clumsiness doesn’t produce the liquid, it just shows us what’s in the glass. It’s the same thing with our words. When we speak, or rap, the content of our hearts is spilling out. Speech and music doesn’t make us sinful, but it does expose what’s in our hearts and minds (Matthew 12:34).
In light of that, listening to some of the rappers who take up religious themes tells me two things.
First, they don’t understand who Jesus is. If they did, they would never speak of Him this way. Of course, they know Jesus was a Jewish man who was crucified two thousand years ago. But, they don’t truly understand Him.
No man or woman in their right mind would try to put themselves on a level with the absolute Ruler if they truly understood Him to be such. Nobody would disrespect Him by associating Him with lewd sexual acts or violence if they understood that He was the eternal Judge of their souls. They wouldn’t toss his name around like He’s a nobody and treat His name with such levity and disrespect.
When you’ve truly seen Jesus, you understand that He’s incomparable. When you truly know the King, you submit to His authority, you don’t challenge it. So the only conclusion I can draw is that they haven’t seen Him for who He is.
Second, we need the people who do know Jesus to speak up. Not just in songs and blog posts, but at the dinner table, in the boardroom, and in the classroom. Why? Because this ignorance and irreverence isn’t unique to rappers. Reckless art is just one expression of it. We live in a culture blinded to the truth (2 Corinthians 4:4).
Opening Blind Eyes
So if you know Jesus, tell your friends and family the truth. God is not to be toyed with. He’s to be worshipped, loved, obeyed, and enjoyed. He’s real. He hates sin and sent His Son to do away with it. In fact, His Son died and took the punishment for sin so we wouldn’t have to. And God raised Him from the grave so that we could live with Him forever.
Pass this Good News on to others! But please, do so with grace. Stop yelling at people, and start loving them. If you’ve seen Jesus for who He is, it’s not because you’re better than anybody. It’s because God opened your blind eyes. Pray He would do the same for your friends and family.
And if you don’t know Jesus, you should get to know Him. He’s indescribably good, and more than worthy of our devotion. There’s not a single one of us that can afford to ignore God or treat His Son like just another dude. Our eternity hinges on what we believe about Jesus. And the truth is, whether we believe in Him or not, we will be judged by Him.
So what’s God to a nonbeliever you ask? Creator, Sustainer, and Judge. And if we’ll turn and believe – Savior.
*Disclaimer: I’m not recommending that you listen to the songs mentioned above. One of them contains foul language that won’t be appropriate or helpful for many.