At a glance hip hop and religion seem to have no place in the same sentence. However, once examined closer and given a second or third listen it seems very fitting that hip hop artist are more vocal about their religious beliefs than any other genre of music. With references made to say a hustlers prayer while out on the streets dealing drugs to statements of “praying to God so long that we are atheist” (Jay Z). Hip-hop as always pushed the limited for better or worse when it comes to sharing religious beliefs. During a movement in the early 80s that continued until the 90s most fans of hip hop associated their favorite artist with the Nation of Islam religion. Which has was commonly referenced in most lyrics for example it was not uncommon to hear, “what’s today’s mathematics” which is a part of the 5% percent religion a part of Islam to references to being the GOD M.C. Where is religions place in hip-hop today?
When Run DMC came out in 1993 as born again Christians most hip hop fans wrote it off as gimmick and a ploy to get people interested in their music again. Nevertheless, Run DMC changed the game with their single , “Down with the King” where their focus was on God while Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth were paying homage to their role models who helped inspired them to get into music. M.C. Hammer is another example of a Christian who just happens to be a rapper. Little known fact about M.C. Hammer is that he was dedicated his life to God in 1984 and was a youth ministry and had a Christian hip hop group entitled Holy Ghost Boys and produced their hit single “Son of the King” before Hammer Please Don’t Hurt Him. In while Hammer is not considered a rapper who was living on the edge after all he made a pop Christian –Rap single “We Pray”. Hammer became addicted to fame and due to this addiction it left him bankrupt. Hammer made the decision to rededicate himself to God and when to make more Christian rap songs like “He Brought Me Out”, than the party songs that he was made famous for. Sole’ most famous for her platinum single “Who Dat” left the music business altogether to focus on being a mother to 8 kids and a wife to husband at the time, singer Ginuwine. Sole’ stated that the only way that she would come out of retirement is if Kirk Franklin asked her to do a song. Salt of Salt n Pepa also began to take her relationship with God to the next level when she realized that even though she had the type of success most people dream of she was depressed. Salt still performs with Pepa she now does toned down versions of their all records so that it does not conflict with her beliefs. Ma$e made the announcement in 1997 that he was leaving Bad Boy and the rap world behind to pursue his faith. Ma$e gave a clue that the decision had been laying heavily on his heart in the verse “From Scratch” he raps, “If I could do it all again I would do it all for Christ”. Ma$e is still a devoted Christian but it seems that there is still music in him that he would like to release and has been playing the idea of a comeback. Ma$e did make it clear that even though he is a Christian not to expect his raps to be Christian hip hop and that he would embrace his Murder Ma$e image that got him his first deal with Bad Boy. Jin known for his Freestyle Friday win on 106 park and the being the first Chinese rapper to be singed to a major deal was baptized in 2008. Once Jin became re-born so did his music Jin’s new music can be described as inspirational in his Christian impact can be heard in his track on “Welcome to the Light”. Jin is still making hip hop music while the critics say that his flow is watered down he is making music with a high purpose. A recent addition to the growing list of Christian hip hop artist is , No Malice, formally Malice ½ of the Dope Boy group The ‘Clipse. No Malice made a serious commitment to change his life after seeing the reality of the life that himself and his brother glamorized. No Malice still makes music but this time with a different message behind it and is set to release a solo album titled, Hear Ye Him. While the presence of Christian hip hop artist as increased where is the strong 5% percent or Islam presence that was noticeable before?
There are still M.C.’s that practice the religion of Islam such as Lupe Fiasco, Q-Tip, and Mos Def. Az said it best on his classic verse in Life’s a Bitch “ We were beginners in the hood as 5 percenters’ but something must have got in us cause we all turned to sinners”. Because of that lyric just like many Christian rappers even though MCs share the Muslim or Islamic faith they are not as vocal about it for fear of being judged for their lyrical content or behavior. Freeway came into the hip hop game with the deal dealers’ anthem, “What We Do” and set the hip hop world on fire. As Freeway has gotten older his obligation to is Islamic faith has increased and he views his early work of songs that were a part of his pass but not in line with his beliefs today. Freeway stated, “Faith means everything to me it keeps me going throughout the day” . Freeway was also there to witness the spiritual awaking of fellow artist Loon. Loon converted to Islam in 2007 and changed his name to Amir Junaid Muhadith to become more in lined with his faith. Amir also made public appearances on tv shows and blogs to talk about the embrace of his new found religion. Even though Amir is a celebrated Islamic brother that did not stop him for being arrested in November 2011 on suspicion of dealing heroin between 2006-2008. Amir is currently awaiting trial on the charges said this in regards to music and faith “ I love music the life style is a bad influence the music can lead people to do positive things and also detour people from practicing their faith” While there will always be a Muslim and Christian power movement in hip hop what about those artist in a grey are? Where do they fit in? Who represents them?
When Live at the BBQ first came out many hip hops heads had to rewind his verse “When I was 12 I went to hell for snuffing Jesus”, that sort of blasphemy and disrespect for Jesus was unheard of at the time. Nas and Diddy even did a mock crucifixion in the, “Hate Me Now” video where Nas debuted his God’s Son tattoo. Some Christians viewed the tattoo as another sign of disrespect to God. In spite of this, Nas went on to explain that he considers himself one of God’s children because we all are God’s children and he did not mean it to be taken that he was Jesus. Over the years Nas views have changed with in his music on his 1999 Nastradomus C.D. he has two tracks that reference God, “ Some of Us have Angels” and, “God Loves Us”, which Nas’ raps “ God loves us hood n*ggas cause next to Jesus on the cross was the crook n*ggas.” Nas also released an album call God’s Son with inspiring track call “Heaven” and on his last album Life is Good he rhymes, “Goosebumps cover me, mother’s here, I could feel her Blood of Christ covers me, our savior and healer” . Time will tell whether Nas will officially announce that he is a Christian or not however his music has shown his spiritual as well as personal growth. Another artist that has grown in their faith is Shyne. Shyne has embraced the Orthodox Judaism religion and has changed his name from Jamal Barrow to Moses Levi. Shyne references his new belief in his music in a song titled “I am Sinner”. Shyne still plans on recording music and showing the world that he can still rhyme and practice his religion without any conflict with his beliefs. Kanye West in came in to hip hop the exact opposite way that Nas did and that he put a rap on his first C.D. called “ Jesus Walks” where he showed the world that Jesus can help anyone make a way out of impossible situations and he even did a remix with Ma$e. As time has went on in Kanye’s career his sense of religion has faded away from his music that is apparent in “No Church in the Wild,” on the Watch the Throne C.D., Kanye raps “We formed a new religion no sins as long as there’s permission”. New comer to the game Tyler the Creator also has his fair share of blasphemy in his music however unlike Nas and Kanye his reason for the lyrics are due to no belief in either God or the Devil. Tyler knows how to push buttons of others that do not share the same views on religion that he does but tweeting that he is praying to the atheist god. Time will only tell where the journey of spiritually and music take these three artist one thing that can be said about all three is at least the word play will be interesting.
In general to tell the stories that most rappers tell and live the life that some of these rappers live there should be a support system present. While expressing their beliefs over tracks may be frown upon but many it helps their fan base and their religion. Everyone has the idea that because there is an organized religion present that mistakes cannot be made. The exact opposite is true because there is religion present there is more temptation to be lead down a path that there is no turning back from. What do you think about religion in hip- hop is there a place for it comment on this below.