Jul 31, 2012

The One Where Rappers Suddenly Find Jesus

I've noticed a trend over the past few years and it's an interesting one to me.  I've noticed that many rappers are starting to sprinkles religious references into their music.  And not in a "Kanye West does Jesus Walks" type thing where it's sort of out of left field because, seriously when was the last time you heard a top 40 station playing a song praising God.  More to the point of the Meek Mills "Amen" which has lyrics such as the following:

Now it’s a lot of bad bitches in the building (Ooh, Amen)
A couple real
n****s in the building (Amen)
I’m finna kill
n****s in the building (Amen)
I tell the waiter fifty bottles and she tell me say when
And I say church (Preach)
We make it light up like a church (Preach)
She wanna fuck and I say church (Preach)
Do it live on Sunday like a church (Ahh, Preach)

Or you have the new Kanye West song "Mercy" which says, in part:

Well! It is a weeping and a moaning and a gnashing of teeth
It is a weeping and a mourning and a gnashing of teeth
Cause when it comes to my sound, which is the champion sound, believe [me]!

And of course there's the Jay Z & Kanye collaboration album "Watch The Throne" which features a whole plethora of references to Religion in general and the Christian God and faith specifically.   And while Jesus Walks was a fairly praising and adulating ode to God and West's faith, these other artists that are including these references, such as Rick Ross, are doing so not out of a sense of praise, but almost out of a sense of shock value.

There's really not a lot of other options that I can gather.  Why else would Meek Mills, as an example, name his song "Amen" and use a lot of lyrical imagary that conjures up things that fly in the face of what he is referencing in the Church?


Whatever you may think of about the idea of Christianity and whether you do or do not believe, I think most people can at least acknowledge that those who are especially faithful to their Christian beliefs, would find these things offensive.   Mills claimed in a heated interview with a local Philly pastor who took issue with the "Blasphemous" lyrics, that he (Mills) didn't even believe in God.

Before I heard the interview I was kind of shocked that Mills would say the things he did and thought the Pastor had a point.  But then when he said he didn't even believe in God, suddenly I didn't really see the need to be upset.  I mean sure that might offend you if you are prone to being offended by that type of thing -- and that's fine -- but why would you expect someone who doesn't believe what you do, who does not feel the reverence towards God that you do, would have the same reverence and respect?

Why would you think they would even consider whether something is blasphemous or not? I mean it brings to mind that line from another song of this variety, "No Church In The Wild" off the Watch the Throne album where Frank Ocean sings "What's God to a non believer who doesn't believe in anything?"  You tell someone who doesn't believe in God "You're blasphemous", what do they even say to that? The background and history is not there like it would be for you (if you believe in God).

So once Mills said that, I lost all incentive to be upset because really I wouldn't expect him to feel any sort of way about it.  If someone takes offense, he could perhaps apologize or say he didn't intend to offend, but that's really up to him.

But back to the main idea of this whole thing.  What has brought about this sudden influx of inflammatory religious imagery in music?  Things that are not designed to uplift, but are used as a sort of shock value of "Look at what I'm saying?  I'm using a religious deity in ways that some will find disrespectful! Aren't I edgy?"

There's been this type of thing before, of course.  Nas had the mixtape "Carry the Cross" where he was made up like Jesus with a crown of thorns on the cover, and even had himself crucified in a video for "Hate Me Now".  Nas was full of insanely over the top publicity stunts, like the time he wanted to "Hang" Jay Z at Summer Jam and when Hot97 told him absolutely not, he cancelled his entire performance.  However while this isn't entirely a new phenomenon, it is something that has recently experienced an uptick.

And there is a lot of analysis out there of Kanye West's lyrics in particular and his supposed involvement with the Occult or him and Jay Z's being involved with "Free Masons" or "The Illuminati" or whatever, but I never bought all that stuff.  I just think it's shock value stuff, and since people believe that stuff, they just figure they'll play along and make money off of it in the process.

Rick Ross seems to be the latest to do this, along with former Clipse member "Pusha T" (who incidentally is signed to Kanye West's G.O.O.D. Music Label) who's new single is "New God Flow", with Ross' new album titled "God Forgives, I Don't"

Now I've talked about this with a friend of mine extensively over the past several months and he seems to be a lot more offended than I am.  I chalk this up to the shock value aspect, but also lazy writing.  It's like the rappers who use the N word as simply another form of punctuation.  Just another word to rhyme.  Plus you can rhyme it with "trigger" so that's just making their job easier, I suppose.

Also I think that with Kanye specifically he's had a really bad few years personally with the bad break of his relationship with his girlfriend and the death of his mother around the same time.  That birthed his album "808's & Heartbreak" which I liked a lot for what it was.  It was an exercise in pain and agony and it was sort of his outlet to just unleash the suffering that he was dealing with emotionally.

After the death of his mother, I believe that he lost the grounding aspect to his life that kept him from spiralling out of control and being caught up in all the craziness with the business and whatnot.  Listen to Kanye's music from before his mother passed (everything before 808's & Heartbreak) and then listen to the music he's done SINCE 808's and Heartbreak and it's a polar opposite.

Now suddenly he's doing songs like "Monster" which has a lot of violent demonic imagery, he's suddenly filling his lyrics with all these arguably blasphemous verses and symbolism that was not there before.  I think that his mother was his grounding force.  His "Constant" to use a phrase from the hit ABC series "Lost".

In that show Desmond's constant, the thing that kept him grounded in his timeline and kept him from losing his mind and dying was the love of his life, Penny Widmore.   Kanye's constant was his mother, in my opinion, and when she passed, he no longer had anything keeping him grounded in the Church and the life that she had raised him in.   And once she was gone, you can see the dramatic change in his music.

And while my friend is offended very much by things like this, I'm slightly less offended by it.  At least on the religious angle.  I've never been one to take offense when people who do not believe the same as I do, express their views or opinions, even in a way that is clearly blasphemous.  I can point out and say "hey dude, that's kinda fucked up" but as far as getting upset over it, that's not me.

I'm secure enough in what I believe that I'm not offended or anything like that. Not saying that my friend, or anyone who takes offense is NOT secure with what they believe, I'm simply saying that for ME, my faith is not defined or affected in any way by someone else's belief or lack thereof.  If Kanye wants to completely do a 180 on his religious beliefs and go from making Jesus Walks to posing on Rolling Stone with a crown of thorns as if he's Jesus, then that's on him.  If he wants to do a song saying "I made Jesus Walks so I'm never going to Hell", that's on him.  But I doubt highly that he does either of those things if his mother was still alive.

The way I look at it is that if it truly is blasphemous, and if God TRULY is offended by it, then He will deal with West, Ross, Jay Z, Meek Mills, Pusha T and all the other rappers that are taking delight in taking His name in vain.   Those who are profiting off of this type of thing will face their judgement in due time, but that is not up to me.   I can't affect them.  I can't stop them from putting those songs out, all I can do is not support it.  Not buy any more releases from Rick Ross, or Kanye or Jay or any of them.  And if enough people agree and do the same, then perhaps a message will be sent.

Whether the message will be received and understood, that's another matter altogether.  They have the right to write and perform and do whatever they want, as long as it is within the law and it's not harming another human being.   And others have the right to voice their displeasure in that.

I don't know everything, but I do know this:  Life is way too short to get bent out of shape over things that we can't control.   All that will happen is we'll stress ourselves out by essentially pissing into the wind.

And nothing good ever came from pissing into the wind.

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