Posted by: emilysuzanneclark | December 12, 2014

Religion and Hip Hop

What we need is awareness, we can’t get careless
You say what is this?
My beloved, let’s get down to business
Mental self defensive fitness

Yo, bum rush the show
You gotta go for what you know
To make everybody see In order to fight the powers that be

Lemme hear you say
Fight the power
Lemme hear you
Fight the power

This week my African American Religions class focused on Religion and Hip Hop. They read Juan Floyd-Thomas‘s “A Jihad of Words” from Anthony Pinn’s edited volume Noise and Spirit on Monday and they read a compilation of Hip Hop lyrics for Wednesday’s class, including Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power.” When starting graduate school I would have never guessed that I would lead a brief in-class discussion on the philosophical differences between east coast and west coast rap, but now I have.

We thought out loud about the overt and covert ways religion influences Hip Hop music. Lyrics are sometimes obviously religious through references to Islamic ideas or Christian ideas (while those were the traditions we focused on, they are hardly the only religious influencers). We also thought about the influence of black theology on Hip Hop and what KRS-One calls a “Hip Hop consciousness.”

After analyzing the lyrical content together, we watched some music videos to see what the audio and additional visual content could add to our discussion. This included Boogie Down Production’s “You Must Learn” and Lowkey’s “Terrorist.”

Even though Lowkey is not an African American rapper (he’s half Iraqi, half English), his work includes similar themes. He criticizes dominant culture and current power regimes. It also allowed us to return to an earlier conversation about Father Michael Pfleger and what makes something or someone African American religion: Is being African American a prerequisite for something or someone to be African American religion? My class wanted to think of the category in more subtle ways that went beyond a simple racial taxonomy. The Foucauldian in me swelled with pride. 

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