This Hip Hop Moment

Chance the Rapper won three Grammys the other night - for Best New Artist, Rap Album, and Rap Performance. Chance the Rapper is 23, and a worshiper of Jesus. His latest album, "Coloring Book," features a rendition of Chris Tomlin's "How Great is our God." We've entered into a new era of hip-hop. I admittedly am not a traditional fan of the genre, but I recognize creativity and excellence in music, and this is excellent stuff. This hip-hop moment is full of spiritual exploration, where we see rappers like Chance and Kendrick Lamar wrestling with real spiritual questions, and overtly Christian rappers like Lecrae and Trip Lee are gaining popularity in the mainstream. Hearing the stories of those believers and those who wrestle with their faith are instructive; we must listen and learn. 

I grew up in the tail end of politically-driven hip-hop with groups like Run DMC, but was more attracted due to my age and naivete to Snoop and Dre, because they offered something far more understandable but far more destructive to a young and impressionable mind. Most of 90's hip hop seemed to be geared towards a kind of carefree enjoyment of things, both virtues and vices. In this same decade also came the explosion of MTV, MTV Beach House, The Internet, and before our young eyes were things created for our consumption but not for our edification. I grieve this time, knowing what worlds it would open for young men especially. One of my favorite groups from this era was Naughty by Nature, and while they have a theologically accurate name, they proved mostly unhelpful in how I understood the world. 

But now the hip-hop world seems to have taken a welcome turn; artists like Kendrick & Chance talk about things that matter, do so with splendid creativity, and invite us to watch with them a world with many questions. Some may worry about the use of language and sometimes intense subject matter, but by comparison Christians love Sufjan Stevens, an emotionally raw artist who speaks frankly about his own struggles with sin, in words that can make one squeamish. Sufjan gets a pass because he's white and sings folk music. For some reason, we become more suspicious with rap, and it shouldn't be so. While we can be cautious about who listens and how it could be misconstrued, to walk in wisdom means to be discerning but an active listener to voices around us that articulate hurt, sorrow, and hopefulness for reconciliation. 

Use of poetic device is common in the Bible, with alliteration, acrostics, word play, and parallelism are just a few of the ways biblical writers communicate with creativity and power. Language is something unique to those made in the image of God, and as we are then called into creative service for the life of the world, poetry can be a huge part of that creative service. Whether it be strong spoken word, rap, or traditional poetry, what a beautiful time that we live in. Chance the Rapper also seems to be quite intentional about collaboration with artists across demographics - take for example his video for "Sunday Candy" with Donnie Trumpet; it's a feast for the eyes full of wonderful dancing, but featuring individuals from numerous ethnic backgrounds. When he performed "Finish Line/Drown" bravely on Saturday Night Live just before Christmas, adding the words "Jesus it's your birthday" repeatedly, did anyone else notice his background gospel choir was mostly white? As one who knows what it's like to be part of dominant white culture my whole life, I find this type of inclusivity both refreshing and challenging. In my church, in my life, and in love of neighbor, I must follow suit and want my own creative expressions of service to be this inclusive.  

After seeing Chance the Rapper's performance on SNL, and after watching him perform "Sunday Candy" at the White House online, my four-year-old daughter wants to be a rapper. Well, she wants to be a nurse and a rapper, but I think that is doable and it makes sense. She wants to bring healing to people, and now is her Chance. 

Mark RobertsonComment