“Holy trinity” of hip-hop injecting redemption and rejoicing into songs

“Rap got religious in 2016. Its beats and bars were baptized by holy lyricism and Gospel samples,” writes Zac Davis in the Jesuit magazine America (March 6). Kanye West started the trend, which is also in evidence among such rap artists as Chance the Rapper and Kendrick Lamar. Davis writes, “For much of the 2000s, rap music garnered mainstream attention and a fair amount of radio play. But it had been significantly sanitized for popular consumption….” After West went through a period of personal crises and expressed such emotions over these hardships in his songs, it became more common for rap artists to use emotions in their work. “And with emotions, religious feelings would surely follow,” Davis adds. “West became hip-hop’s Christ figure, taking the ugliness of suffering, diving deeply into it, and from there allowing for a resurrection and reunion with the divine.” Lamar, the “second person of hip-hop’s holy trinity,” has “sent music bloggers scrambling to explain his theology of hope and justice. The hook to his song ‘Alright,’” which can be heard at Black Lives Matter protests, is “anchored in eschatological trust in the arc of God’s justice (…‘But if God got us, then we gon’ be alright’).”

Davis writes that Lamar “speaks to a generation that has largely given up on organized religion” by stressing that he is no better than anyone else and “never sounds preachy.” He adds that while “West and Lamar’s music focuses heavily on sin and redemption, Chance the Rapper fills out hip-hop’s bend toward religion with an injection of rejoicing.” His song “‘Blessings (Reprise)’ looks hopefully toward a Christian utopia,” while “celebrat[ing] his relationship with God (‘I speak to God in public, I speak to God in public / He keep my rhymes in couplets….” One reviewer writes, “In an age overloaded with irony, Chance’s belief in God, religion, and the capacity for social change are presented so earnestly that they come off as rebellious.” Davis concludes that while “big networks and record labels are often hesitant to engage taboo subjects like religion, rappers need labels less and less thanks to streaming services like Spotify and TIDAL.”

(America, http://www.americamagazine.org)