Tupac Shakur

The God of Rap

Photo: Via Twitter/ @DailyLoud (pic.twitter.com/l5GjOx5zu5)

Rapper Kanye West and “white Jesus” on stage at his Seattle concert. Photo: Via Twitter/ @DailyLoud (pic.twitter.com/l5GjOx5zu5)

On the opening night of the Yeezus Tour, multi-platinum, Grammy award-winning rapper Kanye West brought out an actor to portray Jesus during his concert in Seattle. Most of the time when I see "White Jesus" depicted, I don't get offended because I don't find it to be historically accurate. But between this and the title and theme of Kanye's last album, Yeezus, I was initially fed up. His antics were disrespectful, offensive, and just plain unnecessary.

Before I began to write this post I searched for concert footage of the event, but I stumbled upon an interview Kanye had with Wild 94, a hit music station in San Francisco. During the interview, which was done a few days after his Seattle performance, he was given the opportunity to explain his motives behind bringing out Jesus.

"We do plays all the time. People play Jesus,” West said. “You know what’s awesome about Christianity is we’re allowed to portray God. It’s a painting, it’s a sculpture, it’s a moving opera, it’s a play, it’s a message. God knows where my heart is at.”

Then came the comment that changed the entire direction of this post:

“One of the things that I really wanted to get across is that you can have a relationship with Jesus. That you can talk to Jesus. This is the way I express it.”

A Hip Hop Gospel?

Holographic image of deceased hip hop icon Tupac Shakur "performs" at the 2012 Coachella Festival.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Hip-hop's all the rage at universities and seminaries these days.

Scholars parse its angry and often violent language. They sift out refrains of religious redemption or clever critiques of modern culture. In some traditionally African-American divinity schools, the rise and fall of response and call, old-school black preaching, is giving way to intricately rhyming rap.

Dozens of pop culture books have been written about using hip-hop to evangelize young people, to relate to their lives and bring them into the organized church. But Monica R. Miller, a visiting professor of religion and popular culture at Lewis & Clark College, warns that looking for religion in hip-hop is a risky proposition.    

"Seeing isn't believing," she says. Listeners who point to religious words in lyrics and assume their meaning, or those who spend hours trying to discern some artist's systematic theology, may be wasting their time and effort.    

Her new book, Religion and Hip Hop, argues that shared vocabulary doesn't equal shared meaning, and religious language sometimes sells rather than saves. In an interview, Miller talks about religion, hip-hop, and whether and how they overlap.

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