Ryan Paxson: Hip-Hop’s Christian Rhetoric Positively Shapes Social Movements

Modern-day Hip Hop has raised awareness for social revolutions in inner cities through the use of Christian rhetoric. Mainstream Hip Hop has been riddled with religious rhetoric. Despite the avid protesters of this religious influence in rap, its use actually stems from the artist’s struggles and can actually be the starting point of a social revolution. Hip Hop artists who use this religious rhetoric use the Jesus ideology in order to make a connection between the struggle of life in ghettoized neighborhoods and the struggle of Jesus Christ.

In Hip-Hop today, Christian imagery is used as a sign of hope for struggling cities and communities that they will someday fix its flaws. Flaws such as gang-violence and police brutality that date back to the origins of Hip-Hop, an issue which remains virtually unchanged. This is so evident in Hip-Hop because its artists are mostly minorities who have been socially and economically marginalized. In fact, only one out of Complex’s Top 20 Hip-Hop artists of 2016 was not African American, proving the domination over the genre and highlighting its potential for assisting change in struggling neighborhood, specifically those heavily populated with minority groups. One prominent artist, Chance the Rapper, released his much anticipated third mix tape, Coloring Book, was filled with Christian themes and ideas, was streamed 57.3 million times via Apple Music in its first week. Chance grew up in the South-Side of Chicago which is riddled with gang violence and police brutality. In the album Chance re looks his life through a Christian lens, observing his and his cities flaws and looking at ways to fix them. Despite not signing to a label, Chance’s gospel message rang loud throughout the Hip-Hop community inspiring nothing less than a local social revolution. In his song, “Blessings (Reprise)”, Chance proclaims:

I speak to God in public,

He keeps my rhymes in couplets,

He think the new sh*t jam,

I think we mutual fans.”

When he says, “I speak to God in public”, Chance is openly and unapologetically professing his strong Christian faith, a faith that some hip-hop artists would attempt to hide. This line also acknowledges that much of Chance’s success is thanks to his strong Christian faith. Chance says that, “He think the new sh*t jam”, referring to God approving of the new direction of his music is taking and admitting that they are “mutual fans” insinuating Chance’s love and faith of God. Chance attempts to spread the loving word of God throughout his city, Chicago, using his messages on his mix tape. In his song, “Angels”, Chance says his intent to, “Clean up the streets so [his] daughter can have somewhere to play,”. Chance wants to use his influence and stardom he has gained recently through his gospel mix tape in order to make real changes in the city. Chance also hosts local open-mic events to try to inspire high schoolers to take a different, more artistic path. In 2014, Chance spread a movement to end shootings in Chicago for 42 hours over Memorial Day. No one was shot in the 42 hours, however 69 people were shot over the weekend. This has become an annual event that Chance promotes every year to try to limit the amount of deaths in his home city. Even though he only made an impact for 42 hours this is only a first step of the long process. Chance is trying to do it all on his own by echoing the message of God throughout his city and it is working.

This religious hip-hop movement is not only confined to Chicago, in fact hip hop artists from all around the nation are using these religious themes in order to make a positive change in their communities. Born in Compton, California, hip-hop artist Kendrick Lamar grew up in one of the most violent cities in the United States. Even though Lamar and his family were directly touched by the violence of the streets, he never became involved in it. Instead, Lamar used his voice to try to make change in the struggling city by devoting his life to God and hip-hop. Quickly rising to stardom, Lamar’s word spread throughout the struggling city of Compton with the direct intention to end the plague of gang violence and police brutality. In an interview with Complex, Lamar shared his conviction that his success was divinely inspired stating, “God put something in my heart to get across and that’s what I’m going to focus on, using my voice as an instrument and doing what needs to be done”. Kendrick Lamar has not only spread his message through his songs, but he uses his influence in many other fields to attempt to stop gang violence. An example of this is Lamar recently dropped a new pair of sneakers with one shoe that reads Blue on the back and the other reading Red, these represent the identifying colors of the two prominent gangs in Compton, the Bloods and the Crips. Lamar released a video showing two rivaling gang members coming together and talking about the shoes, saying, Music is real influential, so when you got someone like Kendrick promoting unity […] it makes kids wanna be cool with each other, no matter what neighborhood they grew up in”. Thanks to Lamar’s God driven desire to see peace in his home city, he has already, and will continue, to make an impact to end gang violence through his messages of Christian faith in his music.

Mainstream Hip-Hop has seen a wave of religious rhetoric in its music and this trend is not solely artistic, but progressive as well with artists’ calling for positive social reform for their home cities. By embedding positive messages and Christian themes in their music, artists are able to spread their message throughout struggling cities looking for hope. Unlike other efforts to combat police brutality and gang violence in major cities Hip-Hop has the powerful advantage to connect to anyone through melodies, beats and lyrics making it the perfect vehicle for large scale change across the country. Its positive message and religious references can do nothing but convince skeptics of Hip-Hop’s potential to bring lasting change to violence in cities.