Friday, September 19, 2014
We Mix Melodies with Felonies?
* sigh. *
I don't wanna write about music. I don't like writing about music any more because people either think I'm an elitist snob or a fundy hater. And when I write about my displeasure over rap and hip-hop, people also figure I'm a bigot.
So, to set the record straight, I have a radio setting in my car tuned to a local R&B station, and I listen to it just a little less often than I listen to our local classical station. I don't own any CDs anymore, but when I did, I had some Ella Fitzgerald and Nat King Cole in the mix. Black people who can actually sing are as appreciated by me as white people who can actually sing. And to prove that I'm a Brooklyn boy, I can't say that I'm not beyond a little disco now and then, although I still don't dance.
No, I'm not one of those sophisticated multi-cultural, all-music-is-good-music people, but whenever the subject of rap and hip-hop comes up, I really feel like I'm missing some key link to pop culture. I mean, really? Rap and hip-hop? Poetry set to electronic thumps? That's music?
Confusing things for me even further is that a lot of evangelicals say yes; rap and hip-hop are not only music, but they're valid genres for Christian musicians to pursue. Right now, even Reformed evangelicals are digging mighty hard to justify their elation at a Christian rapper reaching the top of the Billboard charts. And getting a spot on the newly-hip late night pulpit of Jimmy Fallon's Tonight Show.
"There’s an angry weariness in these verses," writes Mike Cosper for the Gospel Coalition regarding Lecrae's lyrics in his just-released album, Anomaly. "A sense of being fed up with pressure to conform to other people’s expectations of him."
Does that sound like the Gospel to you?
Cosper, along with cultural ethicist Anthony Bradley, call Lecrae's music "prophetic," as if it's utterly remarkable that a young black man these days can understand Reformed theology and convert it into poetry that can be sold to the masses.
But does this sound like the Gospel to you?
From the same city as the B-I-G
Wanna serve these bars, gotta see ID
Now I'm on their radar, where B-Dot be?
Was a slave for the cars, then we got free
Used to only wanna pull up in a black sport
Just a white man excelling in a black sport
Now I'm really doin' pull ups
Got a honeymoon for the summer tryna get a six-pack for it
Say I won't catch 'Crae slippin' in the studio at like 3 AM
Autograph that forehead with a Sharpie pen and then Instagram
Might swag out a fanny pack
I might bring Velour back
Nobody wanna change the game, man y'all just want more trap
Okay, say I won't rap over bagpipes
Say I won't talk about that price
To know Christ and live life like every night my last night
'Bout to switch up the program
I rock name-brand, I rock no brand
My whole life GoPro cam, got rap like I had no fans, nope
They say, I know I say, "veto"
Danny the vido, en el pachino, those are my people
Also I'm rockin' the speedo
This that casino, you bet your revenue
Thinking you'll stop me, no never not letting you
You must be high on that medical thinking I won't
But I know better, know that I bet I do (kill 'em, ooh)
- Verse 1 of "Say I Won't" by Lecrae, on his album, Anomaly
Okay, so maybe Lecrae's fans look upon middle-aged white men like me - men who find rap and hip-hop to be merely urban bling - as stodgy and unsophisticated. And it's true: I have no idea what B-I-G and B-Dot are. But if you have to be in some special group of people to understand the lingo in rap, how does that make it any more appropriate as God-glorifying music than the type of music rap's fans say doesn't relate to them? Talk about discrimination: Exclusivity and elitism doesn't just apply to rich white folk!
You slow me down 'cause you know me now with my phony smile
And I'm acting like it's all copacetic
It's so pathetic, so juvenile
Know what you do
You keep me cool in the summer
When they be dressin' less and I be wantin' to show off and stunt
There ain't nothin' to want, you give me all that I need
All I need is you to keep that fire burnin' for me
All I need is you
- Part of Verse 2 of "All I Need Is You" by Lecrae, on his album, Anomaly
Why is it bigoted of me to ask why such simplistic lyrics and self-aggrandizement seem so necessary as Gospel aids? White elites may presume that blacks from the ghettos don't possess the grammar and vocabulary skills to understand much more than a mish-mash of swaggering rhymes, but do the ends justify the means? Besides, at what point does encouraging such simplicity actually help perpetuate the limited theology of its target audience?
I’m just a broken instrument in the hands of the Greatest
So if the notes are off it’s ‘cause I ain’t nothin’ to play with
And you can fault me, but ain’t we all off key
Majorin' in the minors like there ain’t no errors behind us
Somehow we still mix these melodies with my felonies
I ain’t buyin' nothin' they sellin' me what you tellin' me
Broken pieces actin' like we ain’t cracked
But we all messed up and cain’t no one escape that
- Part of Verse 1 of "Broken" by Lecrae, on his album, Anomaly
Nevertheless, I'm compelled not to criticize people like Lecrae and his fans, but to ask out loud why rap and hip-hop have such a peculiar hold on them. Is it because they've been taught to believe that any and all cultures have validity? If that's the case, then let's compare that notion with the Bible, which has been written for all peoples across all times in every part of the world, regardless of their race, ethnicity, socioeconomic level, politics, or age. Or culture.
So why should culture shape the Gospel? Doing so would simply be another form of ethnocentrism, right?
This is what we're talking about when we say God's Gospel is timeless and eternal. It is sufficient, complete, and whole on its own. On the other hand, cultures evolve, and rarely with the objective of glorifying God more. Indeed, since when has any culture been a reliable arbiter of things that glorify God?
So again, I find myself asking: What's the big deal about rap and Lecrae? And if evangelicals are simply trying to use rap music to become more multiculturally attractive to blacks, why haven't we jumped on, say, the reggae bandwagon?
Is it because reggae isn't as marketable as rap?