From Intern Quentin . . .
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and Lord Jesus Christ.
Throughout this year of internship, I will be looking at where our faith life can intersect with the world of pop culture. This first letter will look at where the musical genre of hip-hop can sometimes intersect with our faith life. But before that, we need to learn about the history of southern gospel music and how it builds the foundation for the hip-hop movement.
Going all the way back to 1619, the first Africans were brought over to serve as slaves on plantations. As the American slave empire rapidly grew alongside the developing nation of the United States, Africans were forcefully converted into becoming Christians and were taught Christian doctrine on plantations in the southern United States. It was here that the African slave population would create and sing songs of lament documenting their suffering as slaves and questioning where God’s presence was in their suffering. These songs of lament are known as African-American Spirituals, and some are even present in the Lutheran Book of Worship, such as “Were You There.” A hymn popularly sung on Good Friday to help us reflect on the suffering death of Christ and God’s presence in that moment. These Spirituals laid the foundation for southern gospel music, the blues, early jazz, and eventually the hip-hop movement.1
And it is here in the genre of hip-hop that a similar voice of lament documents the suffering of the ghettos and questions God’s presence in a shared experience of violence. In the song “So Many Tears” by Tupac Shakur, also known as 2Pac, he questions the violence he has experienced in his life as a witness, a victim, and a perpetrator of this violence. It leaves 2Pac to ask questions like “Is there a heaven for a G[angster]” and “God, can you feel me” in a way that quietly screams out like the psalmist, “my God my God, why have you forsaken me!”2
However, because of the rich culture and diversity of hip hop, not every song carries these religious themes found in 2Pac’s “So Many Tears.” And even in this example, 2Pac details the violence and suffering of his experience in a real and serious way in his lyrics. Yet, the tradition of African-American Spirituals carry into the lyrics and culture of hip-hop to ask is God truly present in the suffering of our lives? Is God truly willing to forgive our sins? Can God truly feel our pain? It leaves the rapper, and the audience, to sit at the foot of the cross and the before the suffering of Christ to be reminded that God is with us in the most God forsaken places and God has and continues to forgive all our sins.
When given a chance, hip-hop and other forms of pop culture, allow us to seriously question the world’s suffering around us. When given a chance, it allows us to question what the church’s role is in response to the suffering of the world. When given a chance, it can lead us to act in service towards one another through the uniting love and grace of the God. So, I encourage you to give hip-hop and other pop culture a listen to see where God might be leading and guiding you this month in service towards family, neighbor, and
Peace and Blessings,
1 Cordova Genette, “Negro Sprituals are the foundation of Black American msuic, its traditions come full circle with hip hop,” Revolt, June 14, 2021.
2 TJ Pancake, “Lyrics of Lament: Suffering and Theodicy in Hip-Hop,” Christ and Pop Culture, October 21, 2021.