God Talk: The Relationship Between Hip Hop and Religion

I found peace and solace in my radio, not looking for religion but for voices and sounds that quieted the noise in my surroundings.
My religious journey has been one detached from the institution of religion, but drifting in and out of being spiritually in tune and aware. As the daughter of Caribbean immigrants, I was raised to believe in God, so I did and to some degree I still do in a generic and oblivious manner. I would talk to God through my imagination, my writing and by listening and communicating with my spirit through music. I wasn’t a churchgoer, my church was Hot97.1, WQHT.

I found peace and solace in my radio, not looking for religion, but for voices and sounds that quieted the noise in my surroundings. Unknowingly this was God’s work, it was his way of touching me when I was by myself. That hip hop thing, was God talk, it was spiritual talk.

A few months back, I was able to participate in the Rap & Religion program at the grand opening of the Mini Hip Hop Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. It was beyond enlightening to know that the way I was cloaked and comforted by the prose of Lauryn Hill, DMX, Tupac and A Tribe Called Quest; my neighbor was covered and taken by the words of Common, Outkast and NWA. We worshiped in the same way and loved beyond the limits of our states and cities to embrace the culture of hip hop. We can talk about what that thing called hip hop really is, but for right now just know that my hip hop doesn’t have to look like your hip hop; and the hip hop that I subscribe to understands that Lauryn Hill’s “Lost Ones” and “Forgive Them Father” is gospel in its truest form.

In the room there were people of many faiths prepared to have a discussion regarding the intersection between hip hop, the culture, the music that we hold dear and religion However, we as individuals interpret that to be. I immediately began to have a conversation in my mind and the word that kept coming forward was ‘prayer.’ I pray through my writing and my conversations with myself in the mirror, it’s so much beyond falling to my knees, which I have done on occasion. Many of these songs are visceral and raw conversations the artists are having with themselves. They are recorded for my ears, yet transcends any audience and is really a message to the powers that be—the real ear of understanding, mercy, forgiveness and unconditional love. That is what we really connect to as an audience. Many of the tracks that we call classics—”NY State of Mind” by Nas, “Meet The Parents” by Jay Z, “Suicidal Thoughts” by Biggie, “Liberation” by OutKast—are either prayers or testimony, if not both. The culture was birthed from the struggle of people and the love/hate relationship they have with their environment as well as the people and experiences that define it.

When I close my eyes I can see their hands outstretched pleading, testifying, searching for peace, balance and endurance. Isn’t that what we all seek in religion? A metaphysical space for inner peace and purpose. After the museum’s program, I went home and listened to the album “Resurrection” by Common. It is one of the many vinyls decorating the walls that line the Mini Hip Hop Museum. This album is Common’s form of worship for a culture that he feels has allowed him a new life, a sort of rebirth. Hip hop was a vehicle for a closer connection to his authentic self and a power larger than himself. Aren’t religions just vessels to connect the individual to God? Why not the culture? Why not hip hop? Hasn’t it changed lives? Doesn’t hip hop insight feelings of love, worth, understanding, communion, admonition, good, evil, absolution and connection to a higher being? Maybe, or maybe not. We are dynamic people that decipher codes and languages from as far as Los Angeles to Harlem. Much of our cultural and historical struggle is unique and affords us the ability to be multilayered in our expression. Like much of God’s talk in other forms, it is not a straight line. There is no doubt that there is an intersection between hip hop and religion but there are moments when they run parallel to one another. Teaching the same lessons and sending the same message on different frequencies.

Words: B. Morgan
Photography: Anaya Katlego

SEPTEMBER 16, 2018

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